Stories and anecdotes work. Statistics and facts work. Questions and quotations work. Each form of grabber works to attract attention, engage it, set a tone, and supply a direction—all in the first few seconds.

That's what makes a grabber so important.

It's important, too, because it provides a point of return as you unfold your argument and as you close it.

It's a touchstone.

But it has yet another value, a very practical one: The grabber can help you muscle your way through writer's block, can help you get started or keep going when you are unsure how to proceed.


Boom, boom, boom. As a grabber, the rhetorical device percusio (think percussion) or epitrochasmus (from the Greek for "to run swiftly over") presents a point or fact and then goes to another and another.

Each point or fact receives solid emphasis because each is stripped down, bare bones, and delivered quickly. The series of points in percusio serves as a reminder for those familiar with the topic and a preview for those less so.

It sets context quickly; the percusio that opens this Speak Previews® lists effective tactics for beginning a presentation or text, signaling that the rest of the article will focus on tactics that work.

As a way through the sometimes turbulent seas of getting started, percusio sets you up to include and explain additions to the series, discuss or evaluate those presented, argue for or against their effectiveness, or describe ways they can be used.


The title of this article makes use of allusion, a rhetorical device that makes reference to a person, place, event, passage, plot, or phrase. The sources of an allusion can be real or fictional, current or past. They can be historical events of any scale, mythology, folklore, geography, landscape, literature, legend, art, music, film, religious texts.

Thus in a grabber you can allude to Homer or Homer Simpson, the River Thames or the River Styx.

Why allude? Allusions can engage the audience, set tone or context, deepen or broaden audience understanding, set up a comparison or contrast, and place messages within a larger sphere. The opening of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (1863), for example, begins with an allusion that does all of these things: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

Finding an apt allusion can get you started and can help you structure your text. At the closing, a return to the allusion or an extension of it closes the circle.


You can also begin by insisting that you don't know what to say. Termed aporia, this device allows you to express real or pretended doubt about whether you are capable of addressing the topic at hand.

Aporia can elicit empathy from audience members, alert them to the complexity of your messages, or edge them toward an uncertainty that you will later resolve.

Beginning a draft with aporia is a good way to sort your thoughts and build your position. As you proceed, you might occasionally return to your doubts—or you might clear them up entirely.

Musician and activist Bono began a keynote address at a 2006 National Prayer Breakfast by saying, "If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well so am I. I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is—is leather. I'm certainly not here because I'm a rock star…" In the 1940 film Knute Rockne: All American, Rockne begins his "Gipper" speech with the sentence, "Well, boys, I haven't a thing to say." But he did.

So do you. Grab 'em, Danno.