Skills Earth Sciences


Now the debate begins! If you have attended any conferences or symposia you will have noticed that a very wide variety of questions can be asked by many people of different scientific backgrounds. This section can get fairly heated, especially if the research is new and/or controversial.

Always make time in your presentation to answer questions from the audience. Most conference talks are structured in a way that allocates 12 minutes to present, followed by 3 minutes for questions. You can also allocate time during your presentation after important sections for this, which is especially useful in longer presentations or lectures to make sure everyone is still following your story. Questions are often a good indicator of the level of understanding amongst the audience.

Have a look over your slides. What kind of questions would you ask if you were to attend this presentation? Anticipating questions allows you to prepare useful slides ahead of time and can help with nerves. At the end of the presentation you may include the extra slides containing more in-depth information regarding certain methodology and results that were too specific for the presentation narrative.

It is also useful to identify the controversial or complicated aspects of your presentation and try to place yourself in the position of the audience. Practicing with a friend or classmate can help to see your presentation from another perspective and provide some examples of possible questions.

Of course, you can never be fully prepared for all questions. A useful trick to deal with nerves and to buy yourself some thinking time is to rephrase a question that is posed by a member of the audience. Moreover, by rephrasing the question you can confirm if you and the rest of the audience understood the question properly.

Based on their questions, you can use this experience to reflect on which parts of your presentation went well and which ones deserve more attention in the future. Furthermore, the audience may give ideas for new research questions to work on. For presentations on research projects, like a thesis, it is better to present before the very end of the project, so that you can use the questions asked during the presentation to inspire or improve your thesis/report/article.