Questions – my conference nightmare

Conferences are the gala shows of our science, but not all of us are born showmen/women. For some of us this highlight of the academic year can instead be nightmare. We can be haunted by presenting in front of people or endless networking. Yet those were not my fears. I was most scared of the last three minutes of my presentation time – the time to answer audience questions.

I am always terrified I will stand there in stunned silence, unable to utter a word. Or that I will say something out right wrong. I think this is because presentations can be rehearsed, PowerPoint accommodates presenter notes and so on. In other words, it is possible to prepare. But how to prepare for questions?

One day, just prior to my PhD thesis defense I realized that IT IS possible to also prepare for the question time. While I will never have an idea what the questions will be, I could prepare strategies for how to react. Here is a list I created for my PhD defense, adjusted to my own weaknesses. For example, at times I might be defensive or interrupt in long questions either out of eagerness to answer or fear of forgetting the long question. That is why my first reminder is to breathe and pause in order to give space to the person posing the question and thus appreciate their engagement. During my PhD rehersal I jumped in and interrupted and was haunted and felt guilty about it for a long time.


So to conclude,  if like me you fear the questioning part of your presentation, I recommend you prepare that part as well. Perhaps my way works for you or find your own, but my general advice is:

  1. Find out what do you struggle with most.
  2. Ask others for suggestions for how to react well.
  3. Prepare something to remind you of the strategies once you are at the podium.

Now you are ready to conquer those three minutes with style and dazzle everyone with your knowledge. And this preparation is also useful for job interviews. If you have specific tips yourself or want me to expand on mine, feel free to share your reflections in the comments.

Good luck and enjoy the highlight of the academic year.


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