Don’t say “that’s a good question” after your seminar!

A good presentation will have questions afterwards. All too often, the speaker answers by saying “That is a great question,” or something like that. It may seem like you are congratulating the brave questioner for their brilliance, so you may think it is a good thing to do. It is not.

The reason is that this answer takes the listeners’ attention away from the substance of your talk and makes them start thinking about questions, good, bad, stupid, or brilliant, instead. This is not what you want. You want them to think about the material you have presented.

Besides, why would you say this is a good question and that one is a bad one? Of course no one ever says something is a bad question, so if you don’t say good to every question, then when you don’t it seems like they are bad questions. There are questions that are more profound than others, but what you want is for people to keep thinking about the cool stuff you just presented.

Saying “That is a good question” interrupts the conversation. This may be what you want as you struggle for the best answer. But there is a better alternative. Repeat the question so everyone can know what it is. This is particularly important in large rooms. As you repeat the question, you can formulate your answer, keeping everyone’s thoughts on your great topic.

This is one more little way to forge ahead with talks.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Seminars, Talks and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Don’t say “that’s a good question” after your seminar!

  1. knharpe says:

    I think I do this reflexively. Now you’ve got me thinking. Thanks, great post!

  2. Thanks for brining this up. I often forget to address this, but to me it generally seems patronizing and pandering during job seminars. This exception to this, in my opinion, is if a speaker thinks about it for a moment–where you can really see their wheels turning–and then says it followed by a salient answer. Repeating the question is quite good advise. Thanks!

  3. I agree that judging the question seems a bit pandering, and certainly takes the ever fickle attention of the audience elsewhere.

  4. I remember my english teacher told me that it can be a good tactic to win some time to think about the question (I think it is what happening usually)

  5. eratosignis says:

    I’ve noted this tred “over here” as well. It’s an American thing.

    In UK, you say something like: “Actually, I don’t think that’s relevant because …” OR “Yes, but …”.

    Purely cultural difference. So I don’t agree with you, and think you should not advise people to avoid complimenting the questioner in this way! It’s a local politeness culture that is at times charming, and also, of course, at times frustrating. It changes over time, and I think your readers should be in tune with the latest behaviour they encounter that they feel is good behaviour.

    Do what you would like to be done unto, and not what you would find annoying if you were on the receiving end! Because as you are part of the community, you will know what is going on at this time.

  6. James says:

    That is a very strange reasoning: “The reason is that this answer takes the listeners’ attention away from the substance of your talk and makes them start thinking about questions, good, bad, stupid, or brilliant, instead. This is not what you want. You want them to think about the material you have presented.”
    … had the opposite effect on me (ie encouraged me to keep[ asking & never distracted so easily).
    So I will not follow the ‘command’ (“don’t say”).

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