Being accepted to present your work at a conference is a big achievement. You get to showcase your work to a larger audience. However, the Q&A session is just as important as the presentation itself. Here are some tips on how to handle the conference Q&A session.
Set your stall out early
Before you begin your presentation, let the audience know when and how you’ll handle questions. A lot of conferences may have an allotted time at the end of your presentation for questions. The session chair may have pointed this out to the audience at the beginning of the session, but it’s no harm to clarify this.
Prepare answers in advance
The best way to answer questions is to prepare in advance. Naturally, you can’t read minds and prepare for every single question. But you’ve invested a lot of time in this area of research and preparing your presentation, so you should be able to identify at least 80% of the possible questions that your presentation may prompt. Ask your colleagues to listen to your presentation and grill you on it. This way, you’ll be getting practice presenting in front of people, answering questions and also get other questions highlighted to you that you may not have thought of.
Don’t get thrown off by the awkward questions
In most presentations, there will always be a curve ball thrown that you won’t have anticipated. If you don’t know the answer, just be honest. It’s better to admit you don’t know the honest answer than to give one you’re not confident giving. However, do show that you’re interested in finding out the solution – maybe suggest discussing the topic further over a cup of coffee with the delegate who asked the question.
If there are no questions
With a 20 minute presentation, it’s sometimes difficult for delegates to take everything in and ask constructive questions in such a short space of time. Sometimes, no-one will ask a question at all. If this happens, you should use your audience as a resource. Revisit a part of your presentation that you can ask the audience for their opinions. There may be opposing views, which will encourage discussion. Often once one question is asked, more questions will stem from it and delegates will be more willing to ask more questions.