Questions after a presentation

The Emmy

We have all been in the audience at a moment like this. The researcher is well known in her field. She presented her cutting-edge research. She wrapped up by acknowledging her research team, and only one person asked a question. It was the Moderator.

It must be because she presented everything about the topic, right? And no one in the audience needed to question her approach or findings, right? Or maybe it’s because no one wanted to challenge her expertise…  

While any of these reasons might be true, it’s more likely that her presentation was unclear. Her presentation was actually confusing. It was so confusing that no one could formulate a question before the moderator moved to the next speaker. 

I want to bust a myth about scientific and technical presentations: Not having questions after your presentation is NOT a good thing.

When you think of the psychology behind it, most of us dread the Q and A portion of a presentation.  We want to avoid confrontation. We don’t want to be put on the spot. We don’t want to lose control by giving someone else the mic.

But when we consider the entire purpose of giving a presentation, we should embrace the Q and A. It gives us an opportunity to receive feedback from our peers.  It gives us ideas and direction that we hadn’t thought of. We should look forward to a vibrant Q and A session so we can continue our quest of scientific inquiry.

How do we set ourselves up for that vibrant Q and a session? We need to tell the compelling and engaging story of our research. We need to tell the story as if it were going to be nominated for an Emmy. Our message needs to be clear so it can open up the opportunity for questions and scientific inquiry.

The audience needs to follow our plot line. Maybe this episode of our research is a cliff-hanger, and there is obviously more work to be done. Picture the audience on the edge of their seats when you finish presenting. Maybe this episode is the season finale where you have closure to a large body of work. Imagine this is when you mention to your friends that you were so glad the lead character succeeded in the last episode.

Regardless of where we are at with our scientific drama (or sometimes sitcom), we want our research and presentation to be something people talk about. We want our peers to say “what if” or “why didn’t you” so we can push the boundaries of our field with the next episodes of our research.  

The key here is that we need to train our brain to accept this feedback with grace.  We need to embrace a growth mindset and be open to the new opportunities the questions will bring. This could move our own thoughts in a new direction that could generate new hypotheses for our work.  We might make new personal and professional connections that blossom into collaboration. 

Creating and delivering an effective scientific presentation is more than just ticking a box.  It’s a platform for us to dive into the next episode of our research, and introduce new plotlines and characters along the way. Want to give that Emmy-winning presentation?  Join me at Growing Brilliance in a community of motivated and energized women scientists that support each other on their professional journey.  The community opens in Summer 2022.  Stay up to date by joining our email list here.

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