I was at a nice restaurant recently and when the first person at the table gave his order, the waiter said, “Very nice choice.” In fact, the waiter said, “very nice” or “good choice” to everyone at the table . . . except me.
I ordered the fish. The waiter just nodded and walked away. I felt a little offended. He didn’t tell me I made a nice choice. The rest of the meal, I wondered if I had ordered poorly.
Similarly, it’s not a good idea to say “That’s a great question” when someone asks a question during a presentation. Once you say “great question”, you’re put into the position of having to say “great question” to everyone who asks a question.
After all, everyone thinks they’ve asked a “great question.” Failing to say so to everyone, once you’ve said it to one person, will seem like a snub. Also, so many presenters say “That’s a great question” that it often seems patronizing and insincere.
Of course, we understand why people say “great question.” They want to connect with their audience and prod more questions. One of the most uncomfortable parts of presenting is when you open the floor for questions and no one speaks up. So the thought is that by giving the question positive reinforcement, other questioners will volunteer.
Rewarding questioners is a good idea. But you don’t need to do it patronizingly with “That’s a great question.” Instead, reward the questioner by treating the question as if it were a great question. Smile at the questioner, nod your head seriously, and give a strong answer. Most importantly, don’t do anything to indicate that you think the question is stupid. Don’t snicker or roll your eyes.
If you’re giving interesting and lively answers, the questioners will want to ask more. And you won’t have to tell everyone that they’ve asked a great question.