Heard a speaker in my litany of observations this week use back-to-back rhetorical questions to start of the program. One started with the “How many of you…?” format, and at the conclusion of the introduction, she asked, “Does that sound like a valuable use of your time?“Rhetorical questions are used widely, and are an effective way to get your audience either on board with you or considering what you’re about to enlighten them on. But when you ask questions that have a yes-no response and your purpose is to get people agreeing with you, then you better ask questions that will get 99.9% of the folks to agree with you.In the case of this presenter, the “how many of you… ” query did not elicit shouts and cheers, and only about half the audience showed a response. My first reaction when asked about the use of my time was to cringe, because I had already figured out that if I answered honestly, the answer was “no“. It wasn’t a horrible glitch in this context, because this presenter was in control and immediately went to an interactive element of the program, but it’s not hard to imagine situations in the corporate world where this would backfire and cause an audience to flat-out turn on the presenter. If that presenter is you, I’ll bet you wished you had taken another approach, don’t you? (See, you agree, if it was you, you’d want to have done something different.)Point is, don’t give your audience an exit point or a reason to jump off the ship. If you’re going to ask a question you want them to agree to, it better be phrased in such a way that the answer is what you want and expect.
Ask questions you either a) know without a doubt what the answer is or, b) want to know the answer to.