Don’t EVER Use a Rhetorical Question to Open Your Pitch

Don’t EVER Use a Rhetorical Question to Open Your Pitch

A couple of weeks ago at the Startup Next program in Seattle I was providing feedback on (short) pitches. In this specific case, a one minute pitch. Yes, that thoroughly contrived, yet necessary effort to communicate your idea to a group of people in 1, 3 or 5 minutes.

One Founder started their pitch with a rhetorical question. After the other mentor’s feedback, I commented that you should NEVER fricking start a pitch with a rhetorical question.

Some of that group is pitching at the Washington Technology Association First Look Forum today in Seattle and in the pitch coaching from a presentation expert this week they were told to consider using a rhetorical question to start their pitch. That generated an email to me asking for the “why” behind my obviously strong statement.

So why should you NEVER use a rhetorical question to open your pitch? Simple really, the risks don’t track to the reward:

  1. You have a short time – make a statement, don’t waste time
    1. By the way, people don’t like to raise their hands – even if you want the affirmation during the stressful time for you
  2. Your not a teacher, talking to students and getting them to think at you lecture – you’re talking to investors and did I mention, you have a short time?
  3. A dumb ass question like “how many of you here today drive a car?” is supposed to show that your market is everyone! But we know your market isn’t really everyone so – FAIL
  4. If you ask an obscure question that you think is clever or is niche to your industry you risk that people will nod and smile and still not have a clue about what you are talking about – investors (likely all people) don’t want to look foolish.

I majored in Communications and studied rhetoric. I’ve blown my share of pitches, trying to be clever and leaving people confused and I’m sure I even took some consultants advice and started a number of them with a rhetorical question.

Just remember purpose of the contrived pitch is to get you into a real conversation.

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