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During seminars and talks, some presenters hear a question and compliment it by saying "Good question." Could this possibly offend the asker? Could this be viewed as a tactic to pretend being unfazed by a difficult question?

Or is it really a good psychological ploy to mollify the interrogator so that he/she is more accepting to the answer?

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    Or perhaps it's actually a good question ... – user102 Sep 26 '13 at 23:52
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    When a presenter responds this way to a question, I usually take it to mean that s/he does not know the answer, and/or needs time to think (The answer may be politically charged, so care is needed with the exact phrases used). – J. Zimmerman Sep 26 '13 at 23:53
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    Hmm... good question! – Bitwise Sep 27 '13 at 0:15
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    I will admit that when someone says "good question" to me, I feel unreasonably pleased, even though I am aware of this effect. – Suresh Sep 28 '13 at 3:23
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    "One question is better than no question, hence, every question is a good question." – Dirk Sep 28 '13 at 18:59
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As an economist I can rant for hours about people's ulterior motives... as a speaker I can tell you that this reaction springs in me spontaneously, when the question has good timing with what I am presenting, meaning that it is a good opening for the next issue (or next aspect of the current issue) I was about to start speaking on. It makes a presentation rolling with the audience, and you cannot ask much more than that.

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    +1 I consider a talk well prepared if such a "good question" can be answered by using the very next slide – Tobias Kienzler Sep 27 '13 at 9:56
  • @Tobias Kienzler This is exactly what I meant! – Alecos Papadopoulos Sep 27 '13 at 10:00
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    Although there may be the occasion Yoav Kallus mentioned where the question is about details you actually would have loved to include but couldn't for the sake of talk duration... – Tobias Kienzler Sep 27 '13 at 10:03
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    @ Tobias Kienzler ...in which case enhance my answer by "...or it is a good opening for the next issue I had regrettably decided not to talk about for the sake of talk duration..." – Alecos Papadopoulos Sep 27 '13 at 10:07
  • Indeed - and it's one thing you can discuss at a later occasion, e.g. conference dinner – Tobias Kienzler Sep 27 '13 at 10:11
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I actually tend to do this more with a younger, less experienced audience. I remember being terrified to ask questions during talks, and how much it helped to have a speaker with this attitude. So, in part, when I say it, it means: 'It's good that you asked a question'. Of course I only do it if the question is reasonable. I was recently at a summer school for PhD students and postdocs where the speaker started his response with: 'That's a very basic question, of course'. I think it was a language issue and that he actually meant it's fundamental, but nobody wanted to ask any questions afterwards.

In contrast, in an audience of peers, I usually take 'good question' to mean that it's something that the speaker has found intriguing at some point, because that's usually when I would say it.

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There are several reason why a presenter (of any kind) will comment "Good question."

  1. The question is good and the speaker wants to provide positive reinforcement for other participants to ask questions (feeding each person's need for praise)
  2. To give themselves time to think of an answer
  3. They don't know why, they just do it.

In the case of (3), it is usually taught for the reason (1). That is, speakers are taught to play to the ego or rather give positive reinforcement to the audience which will in turn lead the audience to think more highly of the speaker ("Wow! That speaker really sees how amazingly clever I am."). There is a very real psychological issue going on here and one which is properly used all the time (in and out of the classroom). It is not to patronize, it is to give credit where credit is due. Those who do not know why they do it, can end up patronizing but that is just from a lack of understanding and experience.

The reason is psychological but only partially to make the person asking more receptive to the answer. It is also to encourage others to ask more questions.

Point (2) does happen and it perfectly acceptable. It is not the comment that is the concern. The concern is whether the speaker should know the answer and does not. When I am asked questions for which I need to think for a moment, I will openly say so: "Hmmm, I've never heard that question before, let me think for a moment." If the needed thinking time is too long I will refer the asker to follow up 'offline' so it does not interrupt the overall flow.

In any case, if a presenter is dancing around an issue to avoid showing ignorance shows a lack of confidence which is usually also shown other ways leading to a weaker overall presentation.

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    I sometimes find myself using it when (4) the asker brings up a point I intentionally glided over in my talk, usually for lack of the time needed to adequately address it in the body of the talk. – Kallus Sep 27 '13 at 9:05
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I would usually respond 'Good question' to

  • A question asking something that I have thought about before, but which is not obvious. This could be something I forgot to include in my talk, something I am about to get to, or something which I decided to skip over.
  • A question asking something that I haven't thought about before, but immediately see that maybe I should have.
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After the first question, a speaker once explained that there are three types of question: great questions, good questions, and interesting questions.

  • Great questions are answered on the very next slide!
  • Good questions are answered in an upcoming slide
  • Interesting questions need some research before they can be answered

Made sense to me, and no-one need be offended by the category assigned to their question :)

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The problem with saying good question is that when you have said it once, you have to say it every time - otherwise it implies that you're saying that the next question is not a good question. So I don't say it unless the person looked nervous or appeared to need encouragement.

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An amusing issue! This sort of response can be done in a good way, or in a not-so-good way. It is rhetorically constructive to not be combative, and also to deflect potential combativeness, but/and not good to be sycophantic (which will offend some people). It is also not so bad to give oneself time to think while being polite and positive to one's audience.

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I doubt it's a tactic or a ploy, except maybe to reassure the ones who asked the question that they have not asked a stupid question. How many questions never get asked because members of the audience are afraid they will look like fools if they raise their hands and ask a "silly" question?

Your question almost makes it sound like the speaker is trying to cover up a weakness. Ironically, I think it conveys a strength, because, by saying "good question," the lecturer may be inviting more questions.

Others have listed several spontenous reasons why a question might be considered good – its timeliness, its relevance, its insight. I'll add one more:

  • When the question reminds me to cover something I had been intending to cover, but almost forgot.

I'd call that a "good question" – perhaps aloud, even.

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I think it also depends on the culture of the speaker. I spent some time in the US and France, and I keep hearing "[great|good|excellent|etc.] questions" in the former while it was quite rare in the latter.

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