How to Handle Q&A Sessions During Research Presentations

Steps for Answering Questions in Q&A Sessions

Dealing with questions from audience members can be one of the most difficult aspects of presenting your research. In addition to the pressure of speaking in front of a crowd of your academic peers, questions can often be difficult to answer for a number of reasons: communication difficulties, lack of information, inability to understand the exact question, or even difficulty hearing the speaker. Even if you know your research topic inside and out, these questions can cause a lot of frustration for even the best researchers.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for the Q&A session and make it a productive part of your presentation. The following guideline provide a comprehensive approach to answering questions you are likely to encounter during your research presentations and gives you some simple advice on how to respond to these difficult questions and awkward situations.

Before Your Presentation

Before you even give your presentation, there are some basic strategies you can use to make sure you are not caught off guard by any questions you will be asked.

  • Create a list the possible questions you will be asked.

Imagine you are a fellow researcher sitting in the audience. Which questions would you ask about your study? Break down your questions as they relate to different sections of your research paper (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Conclusion) and write down as many questions are possible regarding this information.

  • Divide your list into 1) questions you CAN answer, and 2) questions you CANNOT (or do not want to) answer.

Among the questions you write down, some you will be happy to answer, some you will be incapable of answering, and still others you may not want to answer (at least not in front of an audience). Divide your questions into these categories so you know exactly how you will begin your response to them if they come up.

  • Practice asking and responding to the questions out loud.

Go through each question and ask it in a couple of different ways (as there are several ways to ask the same question). Practice giving your answers using both your own knowledge about the topic you are researching and the sample sentences provided in this guideline. Practice makes perfect!

During the Q&A Session

Step 1: Open the Q&A Session—Tell your audience that you are starting the Q&A session.

Presenter: “I will now answer any questions you have about this research. Please speak slowly and clearly.”

Step 2: Clarify the Question—You should understand a question before you try to respond. Here are some phrases to use to respond to clarify the question in different situations.

Situation How to Clarify
You didn’t hear the question “Sorry, I didn’t catch all of that.” “Could you repeat your question, please?”
You don’t understand the overall question “I’m afraid I don’t understand.” “Could you please rephrase the question?”
You aren’t sure about the details of the question “I don’t quite understand…” “Are you asking about (the 1995 study)?” “Are you referring to (the peptides discussed in Figure 2.3)?” “Do you mean (the patients in the placebo group) ?” “Could you be more specific?”
You still can’t understand the question even after repeating “I’m sorry. I still don’t understand your question.” “Could I come back to you later?” “Could you please talk to me after the session?”

 

Step 3: Respond to the question—Once you understand the question, you can respond to the audience member.

3a. Begin your response with a polite comment—When you respond, it is a good idea to first thank the audience member for the question and/or give them a compliment.

Polite Comments for Audience Members
“That’s a great question. Thank you for asking.”
“I appreciate your question and am happy to answer it.”
“What a thoughtful question! I’m glad you asked.”
“What an interesting question! I’ll do my best to answer.”

 

3b. Give an appropriate answer—Every question is unique and there are many kinds of responses. However, here are some phrases you can use to respond to questions depending on your ability to answer it.

When you cannot or do not want to answer the question: If you are unable to or would rather not answer a question, you can let the audience members know this using these phrases.

Situation How to Respond
You don’t know the answer to the question “I’m sorry. I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that question.” “I will look into that and follow up with you.” “I can’t answer now, but I will try to find out more about this.”
You don’t want to answer the question publicly “I’m sorry–could we discuss this issue after the session?” “I’d rather discuss this issue privately please.”
You don’t have enough information to answer  “We aren’t aware of any details at this time.” “We don’t have information about this yet.”
You have to await  further research “We are awaiting further research on this issue.” “We need to do more studies to answer this.”

Examples of this Kind of Response: Here are some real examples of research-related questions and responses.

Situation Question Examples How to Respond
You don’t know the answer to the question “What about the data collected between 1994 and 1997?” “I’m sorry. I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that question.”
You don’t want to answer the question publicly “When is the latest version of this study going to be published?” “I’d rather discuss this issue privately, please.”
You don’t have enough information yet  “What are the findings of other state hospitals on this issue?”  “We don’t have information about this yet.” “We are awaiting further research on this.”

When you can answer but need a little time or more details: Sometimes you need to further clarify a question or give yourself some time to respond. Here are some responses to tell the audience what you need.

Situation How to Respond
You have to think about the question [*Repeat the whole question or part of it]“Please give me a moment to think about this question.” “Just one moment—I need to consider my answer.”
You need more details about this question “Just so I understand…” “Are you referring to (the methods of analysis or to the experiment)?“Do you mean (the Smith study from 2014)?“What information are you referring to exactly?”

Examples of this Kind of Response: Here are some real examples of research-related questions and responses

Situation Example Questions How to Respond
You have to think about the question “Were all sample groups in the study in the same cohort?” In the same cohort? Please give me a moment to think about this question.”
You need more details about this question “What about the data collected between 1994 and 1997?” The data collected between 1994 and 1997? Which data are you referring to exactly?”

More Q&A Questions by Research Paper Section

In addition to answering general questions about the research, you can also respond to questions about parts of your paper with some general answers to get you started.

Questions about Methods

Question/Comment How to Respond
“Have you used this approach?” “No, but thank you for your input. We will look into this.” “We considered this approach. But there were some problems.”
“Why did you use this method of analysis?” “There were several reasons for this. First…” “We found several other methods to be problematic.” “We have explained our rational fully in the paper.”
“What limitations to the study did you identify?” “We didn’t identify any specific limitations.” “We did identify a couple of limitations. These include…”

 

Questions about Findings/Results and Implications

Question/Comment Possible Responses
“Could you elaborate on the results of X?” “Yes. What results would you like to know about?” “I’m afraid I can’t say more about the findings now.”
“What are the implications of these findings?” “Most importantly, these findings imply that…” “There are several implications here. First…” “I’m afraid I can’t say more about the implications now.”
“Could this study impact any other related areas of research?”  “These results might impact areas of (medicine/patient care/administration, etc.).” “We need more information to answer this question.” “Our conclusions are limited to this area of research.”

Reviewing and Referencing Visual Aids: You can also review your presentation notes and use materials such as visual aids to help answer questions.

Situation Example Questions How to Respond
Reviewing a part of your presentation “Could you repeat what methods of analysis you used?” “As I mentioned earlier…” “Let’s look at this slide again…” “Yes. Looking at slide 34…”
Referencing a visual aid “Are the data in Figure 4 representative of all sample groups?” “What is being measured in Table 2.2?” “Let’s take a look at this figure again.” “As you can see in this chart/graph/figure…” “Let me explain this figure again.”

General Q&A Session Techniques for Success

It is just as important to be prepared in attitude, posture, and voice as it is to practice your Q&A responses. These simple tips will help things go smoother throughout your presentation.

  1. Stand up straight and tall—this will give yourself more confidence when speaking publicly.
  2. Be friendly and warm—smiling and answering politely will make your Q&A session more relaxed.
  3. Delay your answers and take your time—speak slowly and don’t rush through the questions or answers; make sure you understand each question before trying to answer it.
  4. Display a slide with your contact information—this will allow you to easily tell audience members where to contact you if they have further questions.

Wordvice Resources

“How to Write a Research Paper Introduction” 

“Which Verb Tenses to Use in a Research Paper”

“How to Write an Abstract for a Research Paper”

“How to Write a Research Paper Title”

“Useful Phrases for Academic Writing”

“Common Transition Terms in Academic Papers”

“Active and Passive Voice in Research Papers”

“100+ Verbs That Will Make Your Research Writing Amazing”

“Tips for Paraphrasing in Research Papers”

Additional Resources

9 Tips for Handling Q&A Sessions (Inc)

Tips for Handling Q&A Sessions (USM Writing Center)

How to Create a Research Presentation (UCSM McNair Scholars)

 

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