Academic presentations: dealing with questions

time to complete: 15 minutes

Dealing with questions can be really nerve-racking! You have planned and practised and just delivered a wonderful presentation, and now you have to deal with the unknown: answer the audience’s questions!!! Although it’s impossible to know everything you might be asked, there are a few tips to help you manage the Q&A part of your presentation.

Nothing goes to waste!

When planning your presentation, you might find yourself leaving out  information due to time constraints or because it is too detailed. You simply can’t put everything in it! Yet, do you think your audience might want to ask you about this information? If yes, why not ‘save’ this for the Q&A part of your presentation. So, if you don’t have time to delve into something, briefly mention it in the presentation to show you’ve thought of it and then say “I would love to talk more about it in the Q & A section”.

Tell them when!

It’s always a good idea to tell your audience that you will take questions at the end of your presentation; this seems to be the norm at conferences. Though questions will definitely arise while you’re presenting, it’s best to deal with them in the end. This way you won’t get interrupted and you can focus on delivering your presentation without being caught off balance by an unexpected question.

Be all ears!

It’s question time! What do you do? Listen carefully. What is the purpose of the question? Are you asked to repeat, clarify, expand on something? Are you being challenged? Is the questioner just showing off their own expertise? It’s very important to understand what they want to know, as this will help you interact with them effectively. So, take a brief moment to understand the question or perhaps make a comment about it to buy some time. If you’re not sure, do check with the person that asked you the question.

“Keep calm and carry on…”

Now, the big moment: the question itself! Is it irrelevant, or perhaps unnecessary because you have covered the answer? Is it too simple or perhaps too difficult? The main thing is to remain calm and not get defensive. Below we have some strategies and responses that demonstrate each strategy.

  • Be positive by acknowledging the importance of the question.
  • Try to understand the question; ask for elaboration.
  • Show that you understood the question.
  • Be honest if you don’t know – don’t lie!
  • Be ready to repeat or explain again using different words
  • Pass it on to someone else (group presentation only)

To sum up

This brings up to the end of the Academic Presentations webpages. The main points to remember are:

  • an effective presentation requires much more than just beautiful slides; it depends on preparation, time management, content, structure, communication skills and use of technology
  • spoken language is different from written language
  • signposting language is an essential part of presentations
  • presentations require clear language that shows what you are talking about e.g. definition, process, cause-effect, comparison, etc.
  • there are several techniques you can use to manage the Q&A part of your presentation