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Helping people to listen when you talk!

We know that people attend our meetings, conversations and business pitches with their heads full of their own thoughts and feelings about the matter being discussed. Getting people to focus on what’s important can be difficult. And now that virtual presenting is so common, I’m often asked for little tricks and tips to help you better engage your stakeholders online too. 

One clever yet simple way to encourage people to focus on what you are saying is to signpost your points using rhetorical questions.

What is a rhetorical question?

A rhetorical question is a question that you ask and then answer straightaway. Ha ha! See what I did there?

Why use them?

Using rhetorical questions is a clever engagement tool for two reasons.  Firstly if the person is not listening, a quick sound bite phrased as a question can jolt them awake so they listen to your point. And secondly, if they are actually listening to you when you ask the question, no other thought can coincide in their mind. They can only wonder about the answer to your question. If forces them to think about the thing you want to talk about.

Let me show you.

I say to you, ‘Why is this important?’ If you are listening when I ask you that, chances are high that the only thing you are wondering right now is, ‘Yes, why is this important?’ You can see that the rhetorical question directs the thinking of your stakeholder and forces them to only think about the thing you are talking about right now.

How do you use rhetorical questions in persuasion?

A simple way to include rhetorical questions is to use variations of the 4MAT System questions from earlier in this chapter. For example, you could ask any or all of the following:

  • Why is this important?
  • Why should we do this?
  • What’s in it for you to approve this idea?
  • What is the challenge?
  • What is the issue on the table?
  • How might we solve this?
  • How will we fix this?
  • What are the next steps?
  • What do we need to do now?
  • What if we don’t act now?
  • What happens once you agree with the proposal to proceed?

An added bonus of using rhetorical questions is that it also signposts where you’re up to in your own mind, so it stops you going off track, or waffling too much. Your stakeholder will thank you for making your message clear and easy to follow.

Handy tip: Try bolding and/or underlining your rhetorical questions in your written communication. This helps to further signpost your data and improves the flow of information. It makes it easier for your stakeholder to work out what your key points are in your writing, and it ultimately makes you more persuasive.

Happy presenting and persuading! Mx

MICHELLE BOWDEN CSP is an authority on persuasive presenting in business. She’s run her Persuasive Presentation Skills Masterclass both publicly and in-house over 950 times for more than 12,000 people across industry and her name is a synonym for ‘presentation skills’ in Australia. She’s a multi-million-dollar pitch coach to her client list that reads like a who’s who of international business: banking and finance, IT, pharmaceutical, retail, telecommunications plus many more. Michelle is the creator of the Persuasion Smart Profile®, a world-first psychological assessment tool that reports on your persuasive strengths and weaknesses at work, the best-selling internationally published author of How to Present: the ultimate guide to presenting live and online (Wiley) and her new book is called How to Persuade: the skills you need to get what you want (Wiley). Visit

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