It may seem fairly obvious that, if you say something that gets an audience wondering or anticipating what’s coming next, you’re likely to increase their attentiveness and involvement. But it’s not always quite so easy to find an example that provides a clear demonstration of how posing a puzzle or a rhetorical question actually works.
Sometimes, television editors come to the rescue, as happened in the following clip from the speech by Tory leader David Cameron at his party conference in 2006.
As he pauses at the end of his rhetorical question, the camera cuts away to the audience, where you can see a woman on the left of the screen nodding in agreement with his anticipated answer. And you don’t have to be particularly good at lip reading to see that she is also saying “yes” – about two seconds before Cameron’s own “yes” triggers the more generalised display of agreement (applause).
As a footnote, it’s also worth observing that there are people like this woman, who respond more visibly than others, in most audiences – and very encouraging they are too, whatever type of speech or presentation you happen to be making. They are one of the reasons why maintaining eye contact is so important for speakers, because, once you’ve identified who these people are, you have a very useful and continuing barometer of how well (or badly) you’re doing.