As the producer of Aidpreneur’s Terms of Reference podcast and several other interview podcasts, I spend a bit of time each week listening to (and editing) conversations. In general, I edit lightly, but I do cut out most of the ums and ers, and sometimes I move things around so they make more sense for listeners than they did during the original exchange between interviewer and interviewee.
It’s interesting to listen to people talk when you’re editing, because you’re listening not only to content, but to the ways in which they speak, the ways they present their thoughts verbally. Some people, enviably articulate, open their mouths and offer a string of luxuriously appointed sentences, effortlessly arranged into well-ordered paragraphs, that provide a coherent response in what seems like exactly the right number of words.
Other people – most of us – use more ums and ers than we should, and sometimes employ other verbal crutches to give ourselves more time to think, or simply because we’ve picked up a tic (like “like”) and haven’t realized it. [If you’ve never listened to yourself speak, I highly recommend it. Record yourself and have a listen. You may be surprised that you’re less articulate than you thought, and the good news is that by making yourself aware of your verbal tics, you can start working on eliminating – or at least reducing – them.]
One of the things I hear fairly often when I listen to people being interviewed is, “That’s a good question!” As a response, usually, to a question we can presume the questioner indeed did think was a good question, or would not have asked it.
In some cases, “That’s a good question” is just a stall for time. A meaningless formulation designed to buy an additional two seconds of thought. Which is okay, but there are subtler ways to get that extra time. For example, you might try rephrasing the question as a preface to your response. “How did I discover the cure for cancer? Well, that’s quite an interesting story …”
In other cases, “That’s a good question” hints to listeners that the interviewee has absolutely no idea how to answer the question, and is about to embark on an overlong circumlocution that will fail to satisfy the interviewer (who may press harder), and will not fool many listeners. [Full disclosure: as a veteran communications consultant, I have written a number of circumlocutions (but of course, undetectable ones!) for corporate clients!]
Honestly, though, when I hear someone say, “That’s a good question,” I often think, “No, ‘How did life begin on earth?’ is a good question.” Or, “No, ‘Will we ever discover intelligent life on other planets?’ is a good question.”
Or more prosaically, “When will I have a flying car?”
Now that’s a good question.
Roberto De Vido is a communications consultant who has lived and worked in Asia for 25 years. He is the editor of Aidpreneur.com and producer of the Terms of Reference podcast.