It would be good if there was *some* guideline people could fall back on – if not mathematical, maybe something like “ask a couple of trusted colleagues their opinions about the rhetorical questions in your talk”. Or “keep only the rhetorical questions you’d use in a one-to-one conversation”. That second one sounds like a promising rule of thumb, but I’ll continue to think about a guideline that might work.
Thanks for the Ken Robinson link – it’s really useful to consider a real example like that. Like you, the 1st time I watched Ken’s talk, I didn’t really notice all the rhetorical questions. But now I’m aware of them, they’re quite obtrusive, which to me rings alarm bells. So *if* he uses them as part of his regular style, I think someone who listened to a couple of his talks would quickly start to be distracted by them. Also, such wide use lessens their power.
Anyway, thanks again for sparking this line of thought on a useful speech technique. I’m a lot more aware of the uses for rhetorical questions now!
Rhetorical has several meanings which are close enough in meaning that they may easily cause confusion. It can refer to the subject of rhetoric ("the art of speaking or writing effectively") in a broad sense, and may also refer to that same subject in a somewhat deprecatory sense ("given to insincere or grandiloquent language"). But perhaps the most common use of rhetorical today is found in conjunction with question . A rhetorical question is not a question about the art of speaking effectively; it is a question that is asked for effect, rather than from a desire to know the answer. “Would it kill you to stop chewing your food with your mouth open?” is a rhetorical question .