presentations – Q&A sessions

Presenters often see the post-presentation discussion (also known as the question-and-answer or Q&A session) as the biggest challenge when presenting their research. This is because their ideas are open to review and criticism by an audience of expert peers. For presenters whose first language is not English, it can also be a challenge to follow the presenter, and to think of, ask, understand, and respond to questions. Nevertheless, when you understand the purpose and conventions of the Q&A, it can also be the most exciting and intellectually stimulating part of your presentation.

In academic and scientific conferences, the purposes of the Q&A session are:

  • help the comprehension of the entire audience
  • deepen the understanding of all members of the audience
  • encourage the exchange of ideas among everyone present
  • suggest alternatives and new directions of research for the presenter

Tips for asking questions:

  1. Make an introduction to your question (perhaps thank the presenter for the talk, or that you enjoyed a particular aspect, etc.)
  2. State the theme/focus of your question, (mention the particular section, finding, or claim of the presentation that you want to ask about, etc.
  3. Suggest the motivation/purpose of your question to:
    • request more clarification and/or explanation
    • criticize or challenge findings/conclusions
    • suggest alternatives, connections, or new directions

Tips for answering Questions

  1. When you don’t understand a question – confirm it!
  2. When you need time to answer a question – ask for it
  3. Give a short, direct answer before going into detailed explanations.
  4. When you feel that the audience may not understand a question – give them some background
  5. When you understand the questioner’s motivation – try to touch upon it in your answer.
  6. If you have any additional information to support your claims – provide it
  7. If the questioner misunderstood or failed to catch some information – give a clearer explanation
  8. When you don’t know the answer, don’t guess; be honest and say you don’t know – But don’t miss a chance to introduce your opinion!
  9. When discussing a hypothetical situation, make sure the audience realise that it is hypothetical!
  10. When you do not want to answer a question at the moment – explain why and offer to provide the answer later


Hirata, Tatsumi, Todd Gorman, and Yash Hiromi. 2011. “Let’s Enjoy the Q&A Session!” Tatsumi Hirata National Institute of Genetics/Department of Genetics, SOKENDAI.