Presentation Tips: Taking Questions (5)

  • Author: Richard Threlfall
  • Published Date: 02 June 2015
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
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Making presentations engaging for an audience can be a challenge. Richard Threlfall, Managing Editor, Asian Journal of Organic Chemistry, gives you some tips on how to design your slide show, step into the spotlight and take questions.

You Want to Have Questions

Question time can be one of parts that most people dread about a presentation and this is perhaps with good reason. Spontaneously debating your own work in a public forum can be intimidating, but a presentation that generates a lot of questions is a good thing. It shows that your content and your delivery have kept the audience engaged, and that the audience wants to know more about your work should be taken as a sign that you’ve done your job as presenter well.

Be Honest

As with answering questions in a poster session, being honest if you don’t know the answer is generally a good thing because you can get yourself into awkward situations if you try to answer questions that you really don’t know the answer to. Again, treat it as a discussion and an opportunity to learn by saying something like: “I don’t know the answer to that, but perhaps if you’ve got some ideas we can talk later on in the coffee break/lunch break/reception/whatever free time is coming up next”. By showing yourself as open to learning and discussion, you look professional and confident in your position, but you’ll also appear cooperative and as someone who is worth having a serious scientific discussion with.

Jumping forward and backward through your slide show to answer questions is often disorienting for people. It can also take a little time, of which there’s generally not much anyway, to get to the correct slide. Therefore, it’s often easier on you and on the audience, who may be waiting to get out to lunch or to the next session, to avoid doing this where possible.

Stay Calm

Occasionally, there will be someone in the lecture room who will want to vigorously and perhaps even aggressively challenge your findings. This situation is also similar to that with posters in that you should stay calm and try to point out where the respective points of view agree and disagree and your evidence for your claims.

If you feel that the discussion is getting too long or even too aggressive, then don’t spend a lot of time arguing, instead say something like: “I can see we’re going to disagree on this and this is going to need more discussion, so how about we can talk about it in the coffee break/lunch break/reception/whatever free time is coming up next?”. Once again, you’ve shown that you’re not afraid to tackle criticism, but that you’re confident enough to diffuse the immediate situation so that everyone else in the audience who isn’t directly involved in the disagreement is not unduly affected by, for example, overrunning your time or a heated argument.

This professional and courteous approach will win you recognition for your scientific knowledge and your people skills in equal measure, which is the hallmark of an accomplished presenter.

  • Next month: Tips for Your Presentation: Making it Memorable (6)

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