Research hacks #17: 15 tips on fielding questions after a conference paper

In this fourth post on presenting a conference paper (following on from planning and writing a conference paperdelivering a paper and timekeeping and technology), I want to think through the often panic-inducing issue of how to approach the question and answer time at the end of your paper. This is the first of two posts on fielding questions.

Fielding questions

Prepare for question time like you prepare for your presentation

  • The first thing to say is that preparing for Q&A should be considered a task of equal importance to preparing for your presentation. Q&A is an important time: people often remember the exchanges after a paper more than the paper itself. If you prepare well for your paper but aren’t sufficiently ready for the question time then your overall presentation may fall flat and leave an underwhelming impression. You wouldn’t dream of giving a paper without thinking about it beforehand and having at least some notes in front of you. Don’t take the question time any less seriously.
  • Prepare for questions by reading your paper through with a critical eye. If it helps, imagine that you are a particular critical reader you have encountered in the past. Ask yourself “what would he or she ask about this paper?”
  • You know the weakest moments in your argument. Think what you might be asked about those.
  • If you can, find people willing to read your paper and ask them to note down two or three questions that they would want to ask you.
  • Once you have a reasonably comprehensive list of questions, put them in a document and take your time working out possible responses to each of them. Write the responses under the questions (preferably in key-word form) and take that document with you to your paper. Bring it out at the end of your presentation, and use it to jog your memory during the question time.

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