Conference Presentations, Part III: Q&A FYI

Today I’m continuing my series on all things related to giving presentations, inspired by a day of workshops masterminded by SSU Theatre and Speech Communication professor Julie Kiernan.

As some of you know, I presented at my first academic conference this past January. I practiced my talk by myself several times, recorded myself and listened to it on a loop, and made my friends and family listen to me and give me feedback. I thought I was READY.

Spongebob I'm Ready!


To my credit, my talk went just about as well as I could have hoped. Then my panel ended and the chair opened it up for questions. [Insert record scratch here.] Um, what?!

I was so focused on delivering my talk in a comprehensible and engaging way that I totally forgot to plan ahead for the question and answer session… oops. I think I acquitted myself okay (not totally sure, I may have blacked out for a sec), but that experience made me realize that in the future, I need to not only prepare myself to give my presentation, but ALSO to respond to any questions that might get thrown my way afterward.

Luckily, Prof. Kiernan shared some Q&A words of wisdom with me that I’ll now share with you. Here’s the 411 on Q&A:

Scrabble Q and A tiles


  • Anticipate possible questions ahead of time. Try to imagine what kinds of things an audience hearing your paper for the first time might want to know. Or read it to a family member or friend and ask them what questions they have afterward. Write them down, then write out how you would respond to them.
  • It is okay to repeat the question. Repeating a question back, or restating it in different words, can serve several purposes, including buying you some time to think, and making sure everyone else in the audience heard what you were asked. Similarly…
  • It is okay to ask clarifying questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your questioner for more information, to be more specific, etc.
  • If you don’t know the answer, don’t try to fake it. If you try to fake your way through it, there WILL be someone in your audience who will be able to tell. Similarly…
  • If you don’t know the answer, don’t apologize. Apologizing diminishes your ethos. And let’s face it, you ARE the expert on your research. You have nothing to apologize for. The best response in this scenario is, “Oh, that’s very interesting. It wasn’t covered in the research that I did, but I may look at that in the future,” or “I would need some more time to think about that. I would love to get your email to talk more about it.”
  • If you get asked a long-winded question… Feel free to take notes to keep track of what the actual question is.
  • If you get asked a “question” that’s really a long-winded comment in disguise… Don’t try to respond as if it were a question. If there is no question, simply say, “Thank you for sharing,” and take another question.
  • If you get asked a question that is offensive or makes you/others uncomfortable… Unfortunately, it is YOUR job to navigate out of this sticky situation. Prof. Kiernan suggests that compliment may help here; try something like, “Wow, I’m so glad you could be inspired to think in that way because of my paper. Those are valid/interesting points, thank you for sharing them,” and move on.
  • If no one asks you a question… Ask yourself a question to get the conversation started. Allow for some silence, since people may need time to think, but if no one speaks up, you could say, “Well, some people have asked me X about this research.” Draw this question from your previously generated list of possibilities!
  • If no one asks your fellow panelists a question… It’s considered polite to ask them one yourself. Keep this in mind during their talks so you can plan for this possibility.
  • Don’t answer a question that is not addressed to you. Just. Don’t. Do. It. However…
  • If someone asks a question of the panel, and a colleague is struggling… You may be able to politely jump in and help your colleague out. But this is only if the question wasn’t asked of a specific speaker, and if you actually have something to say about it.

Well, what questions do you still have about Q&A for ME? I’ll be taking them in the comments. In the meantime, enjoy this hilariously accurate spoof of Q&A sessions over at The Toast.



3 thoughts on “Conference Presentations, Part III: Q&A FYI

  1. Q&As are the worst for me. My first conference talk, I had someone “ask a question” aka talk to show he was smart, and it was uncomfortable. What it made it more uncomfortable was he was like “well, I guess I didn’t have a question. haha.” All I could do was smile, give a similar polite “haha” and say “thank you”.

    Great post, Megan!


  2. Pingback: Conference Presentations Part IV: Top 10 Most Randomly Useful Tips You Never Knew You Needed | Breaking Grad (School)

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