There are good rhetorical questions and there are bad rhetorical questions. At least, that’s the way I see it. The bad ones lead to “forced rhetorical answers”. They’re manipulative and can even annoy your audience. My suggestion is that you avoid manipulative rhetorical questions when you speak in public.
Public speakers have been using rhetorical questions for thousands of years. The reason? To get an agreement. A rhetorical question is a question that doesn’t require an answer. The answer is obvious. Normally, it’s a Yes/No answer, but not always.
Who on this planet would disagree with me when I say, ‘New York is an exciting city?’ Nobody or no one – that’s not a Yes/No answer, but it’s also a rhetorical question.
The normal case is a sharp Yes or No ringing in the minds of an audience, after you ask them questions like,
- Do you believe that a positive cash flow is important for the healthy growth of your company?
- Did Donald Trump always say the truth during the 2015-16 election campaign?
The moment you say Yes or No in your mind, you agree with the speaker, and that’s exactly what he or she wants to achieve – agreement. An agreeing audience is less skeptical. I use rhetorical questions a lot, and I never had negative experiences with them.
But – there’s a special breed of rhetorical questions I avoid in my speeches. And these are questions like,
- Are you with me?
- Do you agree with me?
- Does it make sense?
- Do you think this is a good point?
Every time I hear this kind of rhetorical questions I mentally switch off. Speakers impose their points on me; I don’t like that. I agree with speakers based on the arguments they use, not because of their manipulative rhetorical questions.
Next time you hear one of those manipulative rhetorical questions in a speech or presentation, listen to your gut feeling. Ask yourself, Do I like it?
I know the answer.