Keep attention by mixing questions with answers

Where’s the beef?

Even if you’re too young to remember actress Clara Peller asking that question in an eighties-era TV ad, the catchphrase probably sounds familiar. “Where’s the beef?” quickly became shorthand for expressing skepticism, and as such soon graced more than a few speeches and presentations. While Clara’s line might be considered a bit hackneyed today, injecting rhetorical questions into your scripts is still a good idea. 

In the book POP! Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline for Anything, business communicator Sam Horn writes: “Declarative sentences sit on the page. Questions engage.” The same is true when language is spoken. Audiences like to hear questions. See below for three reasons why you should ask questions and how to use them to engage, intrigue and move listeners through a speech or presentation.

Questions provide vocal variety. A steady stream of declarative sentences can be boring to the ear. Popping a question every once in a while forces the speaker to moderate his or her tone of voice. That change is enticing; so much so that it can even lure back listeners who have drifted off into their own thoughts.

Questions create two-way communication. Posing rhetorical questions turns a monologue into a dialogue. Listeners welcome the invitation to reflect on what they’ve heard. Just remember to pause briefly after asking the question to give the audience some time to answer back in their heads. (If you’re writing for someone else, write the instruction [Pause] into the script.)

Questions work well as transitions. Finding ways to move from topic to topic in a way that listeners can easily follow is always a challenge. An effective segue is to end a discussion with a question that leads into a new discussion.