Rhetorical questions: when was the last time you used them properly?

By 23/06/2015 NLP No Comments
rhetorical, question, mark

Rhetorical questions are everywhere. Are you looking for this? Need a that? Do you have t’other?

People use rhetorical questions because they sound right, and they sound `salesy`. And because everyone else is using them. But the trouble is, everyone else is using them in the same way.

And it’s often the wrong way.

Rhetorical questions – questions where no answer is actually needed – are a really powerful tool in sales and marketing. A common Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) technique, they give clear signals about the content your’e about to read and are incredibly powerful at sparking a thought or impression in the readers mind.

But they’re also a really lazy technique. And that’s why they often get used lazily. And lazy content not only sounds naff, but it doesn’t work. At least, it doesn’t work how you expect it to.

Closed questions = closed responses

The problem will rhetorical questions is they’re often closed questions – your audience can answer simply by saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This could be doing more damage than good.

We often forget that whilst we don’t EXPECT an answer from our audience, they still create an answer in their heads. And the answer they create can have a profound effect on how your audience think about that message you’re giving.

What I mean is:

  1. If they answer yes, you’ve then got to re-engage the ‘conversation’, much like if a reported asked a closed question, they get a closed answer, and have to then ask more questions and do more digging;
  2. If they say ‘no’, not only having you used negative language (which should be avoided because language, thought and actions are all connected), but you’ve now suggested to your audience that maybe this page isn’t for them when in fact it could be.

And even if they did answer yes, you’ve still done very little to engage them on an emotional level.


EXCEPTION – framing rhetorical questions so that the answer almost certainly HAS to be ‘yes’, can be powerful. But you need to make sure ‘no’ isn’t really an option. “Would you like to spoil yourself for just one day?”

Remember, at the heart of this is YOUR target audience. Different questions will create a different response in different types of people with different emotions, attitudes and actions. So think about the questions that you can ask that mean your target audience can’t help but say ‘yes’.

Open the question, open the mind

Think about asking  open rhetorical questions – simply, those that can’t be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

You’ll be breaking free from the `salesy` voice and make your audience think more carefully about exactly what it is you want them to think about.

Open rhetorical questions mean they have to think in more detail and create a greater emotional connection with your topic.

When was the last time you truly let your hair down? is far more effective than Need a break? or Need a day to relax?

The first rhetorical question needs the audience to think more carefully. Better still, some of your audience will start to really feel the times when they thought they were letting their hair down, connecting their thoughts and feelings with their actions.

Plus, it suggests that maybe what these guys have to offer is more than your standard, run-of-the-mill services. Maybe using this service I really will be able to relax.

So when it comes to using rhetorical questions, don’t use them because they might sound good. Use them because through your language you can help to guide you audience’s thoughts, their emotions, and ultimately their actions.

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