Student Presenters

ANSWERING QUESTIONS: Presenters

The Role of the Presenter in the Public Sphere

Public scholarship, is some sense, is simply an excuse to prompt dialogue and future scholarship. The questions you get at your presentation can be understood, generously, in that light.

What Is a “Good” Question?

Some questions may ask you to elaborate on work you’ve done but didn’t have time to include. (Savvy presenters often drop verbal footnotes that lament their limited time and suggest taking up some matter “in the Q&A”).

With any luck, the audience, the moderator, or your co-presenters will push you to consider other approaches, examples, or emphases you haven’t yet considered  -- whether by choice or through blissful ignorance. Such questions invite you to think out loud, improvising your part in a scholarly exchange: a frightening, but ultimately exhilarating prospect.

Strategies for Anticipating Questions and Improvising Responses

Give yourself a moment to think. No one expects on-the-spot genius. And even the briefest delaying tactic (“Huh, I’ve never thought of it that way, but you’re right: that could be an interesting approach. Let me begin to answer by…”) can give your brain a chance to process the question.

Ask the questioner to elaborate on their question. A well-meaning question is an invitation, not a test. Take some time to examine the question with your questioner ("Can you clarify your question?"). A question is itself an example of thinking out loud, and they may appreciate getting another chance to frame it  properly. They may have an example or comparison in mind they haven't revealed (“That’s interesting: what made you think of that?”). Or there may be a question behind the question (“Have you been working on a related project that inspired your queation?”).

Acknowledge the limits of your own research and knowledge. No scholar has world enough and time to explore every nook and cranny of their subject. It’s fine to be more interested in some things than others (“That wasn’t where I focused my research. I was more interested in…”). But it’s also wise to accept questions that point out your limitations for the gift that they are (“Why, no, I didn’t come across that information/writer/approach in my research: tell me more”).