Two confident entrepreneurs present their business in the hope of securing investment from the Dragons. By asking a preliminary question ‘What would you do if I were to give you this lovely crisp £20 note?’ and providing an answer, the argument leads onto the second question. ‘What would you do if I were to give you each one of these gift cards?’. This is used to state the problem that ‘research has shown that 1 in 5 gift cards go unused’.
This is an example of a pre-persuasion landscaping technique (Pratkanis, 2007) as the entrepreneurs are stating the problem and creating familiarity with the Dragons before they introduce their business ‘solution’.
By posing these questions the entrepreneurs are encouraging the Dragons to formulate answers before the business solution has been provided. Research has shown that light use of rhetorical questions before message content is given can facilitate persuasion. Experiment 2 of a study by Ahluwalia and Burnkrant (2004) compared advertisements using light rhetorical usage with heavy rhetorical usage. They found that light usage at the beginning of an argument encourages the recipient to pay attention to the rest of the message. Heavy usage on the other hand was found to have detrimental effects on persuasion.
The light use of rhetorical questions at the beginning of the pitch is therefore likely to facilitate persuasion and increase attention for the rest of the message.
If the Dragons receive a pitch loaded with rhetorical questions, they may be unconcerned with the message, despite the fact that if portrayed differently, they would view the problem as relevant and the business as an appropriate solution.
Pratkanis (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress.
Ahluwalia, R., & Burnkrant, R. E. (2004). Answering questions about questions: A persuasion knowledge perspective for understanding the effects of rhetorical questions. Journal of Consumer Research, 31, 26-42.