Why “That’s a Good Question” is a Bad Answer

Media Interview AnswersI love interviewing people and training people to give better media interviews.

It’s always exciting to exercise your curiosity as an interviewer, asking questions and getting the story.

One thing I dislike is when you pose a question and immediately get the response, “That’s a good question.” This sentence must be written in some “How to Give Interviews” rule book somewhere. It’s not a good idea.

Is it the worst thing in the world to say? No, of course not. I hear experienced Newsmakers say it all the time, but I’ve interviewed people who said, “That’s a good question” after nearly every question!

Plus, it’s a reporter’s job to ask questions. To me, praising the question sounds as if you’re surprised they came up with a good one!  Ouch.

It Pays to Pause

Here’s what I tell my media training students. Don’t rush to get out your answers.  Pause! Breathe!  I don’t mean a huge dead-air delay which broadcasters dread, especially in radio, but a half beat, about the same amount of time it takes for a breath.

Most interview questions are predictable. Give a lot of interviews and you’ll hear the same questions again and again. I suggest you still pause briefly, even if you are saying the same thing you’ve said a dozen times before. You want to appear thoughtful, not robotic.

  • “I haven’t looked at it that way before.”
  • “That’s something I haven’t given much thought to,”
  • “I’ll have to think about that for a moment.”

You never want to just start talking. Long rambling answers or thinking out loud responses can take you places you don’t want to go. Pause. Compose the response in your mind before you speak.

Practice for Poise Under Pressure

Media interviews can be stressful. Even though you’re an expert in your field, you may worry about what a reporter will ask and how you will handle it. That’s why it’s valuable to spend time developing the confidence to talk to the media in a genuine way, no matter the question.

As a trainer, I’m not a big fan of brainstorming every possible question you could ever be asked. You could spend hours or even days practicing brilliant answers to tons of wild questions, only to meet a reporter who comes up with the one question you never thought of.

It’s better to polish up your responses to basic questions you are likely to face. You want to have facts, figures and brief anecdotes ready to support your key messages and know how to subtly return the interview to the points you want to make.

Beyond being prepared to say what you want to say, you have three choices when asked a question:

1) If you know the answer and are willing and able to give it, answer the question simply and concisely. Don’t spew everything you know about the topic like a fire hose. Be a garden hose and answer only what was asked and nothing more.

2) If you know the answer but for some reason, are unwilling or unable to give it, say so. Be honest. Never make something up on the spot just to give an answer and please avoid saying the words “no comment.”  Instead, say you’re unable to talk about that and give a reason why you cannot provide the information.

3) If you don’t know the answer, “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable response. No one knows everything and while reporters may push you to speculate, be careful. “What if” questions may get you into hot water.

You can’t control a reporter’s questions. Some will be good and some not so good, but you can always control yourself.

David Frost once said, “You can determine the quality of a question by the quality of the response you get.”

This article is modified from the original which appeared on LinkedIn.