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Is there really a good or bad question

The Etiquette of Lecture Q&As

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I graduated from medical school more than 30 years ago and I have been in the field of oncology since 1983. During these long years of experience, I have attended a lot of conferences and meetings and have closely monitored the interaction between the lecturer and the audience. I have observed on many occasions that a lecturer replies to a question from the audience with “Oh, that’s a good question” and I have also witnessed over-confident participants who begin their questions with the phrase: “I have a silly question…”

My question is: is there really a good or bad question? Or is there a silly or sensible question? In my point of view, there are no such kinds of questions during conferences.

When I became a lecturer 15 years ago, I discovered that when a lecturer says “Oh, that’s a good question”, it is often a ploy aimed to reduce and discourage more questions from the audience. Nobody from the audience would want to ask a ‘bad’ question and, curiously, the audience member who often asks a ‘good’ question knows the answer beforehand. This type of audience, who I label as ‘chronic listeners’, are found in every conference and seek recognition and a compliment from the response “Oh, that’s a good question”. As a result, other members of the audience, for example newly graduated doctors, are disheartened to ask simple but important questions because they feel are not good enough for the lecturer.

When the lecturer stops complimenting audience members, it encourages everyone to participate and ask questions meant for the lecture. In the same way, it discourages ‘show-offs’ and ‘attention-seekers’ from dominating the exchange during the question and answer portion of the conference.

I therefore call on all lecturers to stop saying “Oh, that’s a good/interesting question” and answer questions directly. This will promote a healthy interaction between the lecturer and the audience and will give a chance to young doctors who have travelled long and far, and paid huge expenses, to learn from questions they truly want answered.

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