Why “that’s a great question” is not a great answer

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Are you trying to hold attention and be remembered when you speak to your team at work? Whether you are speaking live or on video, attention spans are extremely short and it doesn’t take much for your audience to click off and multi-task.

I’ve interviewed hundreds of executives on webinars and a long-running technology talk show, and there is one annoying habit I feel compelled to speak up about. It must still be being taught by other presentation coaches, because it happens so often. When the host asks a question, the guest buys themselves time to answer by starting with “That’s a great question…”

In my humble opinion, this has become so cliche that it can actually distract an audience rather than hold their attention. Why? Because it is not sincere, and it’s often so repetitive that it becomes hypnotic. I’m sorry, but every question is NOT a great question. So many questions in corporate interviews are rehearsed softballs with a scripted response that follows.

What should you say instead of “That’s a great question” the next time YOU are being interviewed? Just answer the question. Perhaps pause for a moment, but get to the point. Don’t waste any time. If the interviewer actually surprises you with an unrehearsed question, give your genuine reaction. Something like:

  • “Hey that’s a hardball question, but I’m glad you’re giving me an opportunity to address it.”
  • “Are you asking <repeat the question> because you are <insert possible motivation here>?”
  • “You know, I’ve been hearing that question from the team a lot recently. We don’t have an answer yet but I want everyone to know we are working on it diligently…”

An interview format is more engaging to watch than a lecture because it is a conversation. The host should be representing the audience with real and relevant questions that are on the top of their minds. If the conversation feels authentic, you will get and hold attention. If the audience smells overly rehearsed talking points or corporate buzzwords, they will tune out.

Are you willing to take the risk to be original and authentic in your next interview? Now THAT’S a great question.

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