Beyond Rhetorical – 5 Paths to Purposeful Questions


Sometimes, as presenters, we need to put on our facilitator hat to engage our audience, check for understanding or both.

And good facilitators ask questions to do this…right?

We’re all guilty of letting rhetorical questions like this slip from the podium. These questions are neither purposeful nor effective. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it – we’re just using filler words with a bit of upward inflection.

Worse yet – these kinds of rhetorical questions could be doing your presentation more harm than good.

You know? Right? You follow me? 

While on the surface you’re checking for understanding, how many audience members would have the guts to jump in with, “Actually no, I don’t get it”?

If you want to keep participants engaged, transfer information effectively, and truly check for understanding, you need to ask purposeful questions.

To best leverage the value of questions in your presentation, consider which type of question best matches the level of engagement you’re after:

  1. Closed (yes or no answers – limited engagement)

Have you used this process before?

  1. Open (Many possible answers – a lot of engagement)

How might you use this in the field?

  1. Direct (Directed to someone – limited and focused engagement)

John, how have you used this in the field?

  1. Indirect (Directed to anyone – broader engagement)

What are other ways any of you have used it?

  1. Redirect (Directed to someone else – re-directed engagement)

Can anyone add to what John shared?

And to really create that engagement, remember to pause and listen. Your audience needs time to process your question and then, they want to know they’ve been heard.

What type of questions will you keep on deck to get your next audience engaged?

(Image: Leo Reynolds via Flickr Creative Commons)

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