Asking questions during a presentation can be a great way to engage your audience. It helps the speaker connect with the room and allows the audience to guide the narrative around topics they’d like to explore more. However, it’s becoming increasingly popular for speakers to ask rhetorical questions during presentations. Rhetorical questions, or questions where the speaker doesn’t actually need an answer from their audience, can undermine the power of a presentation for a number of reasons.
1. Disrupts flow
Instead of making statements that connect to form a cohesive story, rhetorical questions disrupt the flow of a presentation. For example when a speaker says:
So why did we do this? Well, we did this because…
What is the new product? The new product is…
Rhetorical questions create a choppy tone throughout a presentation. This stop/start pattern can also make it harder for the audience to follow along, since we tend to remember narratives that connect and flow together. Therefore, it’s better to avoid questions and make statements instead. For example…
We did this because…
The new product is…
Making statements is a stronger way to connect ideas in a presentation.
2. Gives your audience permission to stay silent
Rhetorical questions don’t require answers. Thus, when a speaker asks a lot of them, the audience gets accustomed to not answering or sharing a response. Then, when a speaker asks a question where they do want to elicit a response, the audience might not engage because they have fallen into a passive pattern and stay silent.
3. Questions can add in a hesitant tone
When a speaker asks too many rhetorical questions, it can affect how solid their idea sounds. If an audience is going to trust that a new project or idea was well thought through, it’s better to make statements about how everything came together. Then, if someone does have a question it stands out as an avenue to explore. Having too many rhetorical questions can create a doubtful undertone throughout a presentation.
Rhetorical questions can disrupt flow, make your audience disengage, and can add hesitation to your content. Instead, I recommend only asking questions when the audience can actually respond. By asking active questions, speakers show they value engagement by opening up a meaningful dialogue with their audience.
Author: Bri McWhorter
Bri McWhorter is the Founder and CEO of Activate to Captivate.