From the Northeastern Section of the ACS, focusing on career management and development

December 2021
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Question: How should an emerging scientist ask a question at a high profile presentation?
Filed under: Mentoring, Mature professionals
Posted by: site admin @ 11:51 am

In this week’s great questions our class submitted,
one class member’s “MUD CARD” asked:
“I would like to know more about asking effective
questions during public lectures and high profile
presentations.”  How should a student present a
question during such lectures?
What thoughts do you have to help?

I asked this question of a mentor of mine, Joel
Shulman, who responded:

“My two cents on your question?  It’s tough for a
student to ask a question after a high profile
presentation.  The student doesn’t want to ask a
“dumb” questions that everyone in the room knows
the answer to.  Unless the student is fairly sure
(s)he isn’t asking a trivial question, (s)he probably
should not ask one at all.  If (s)he is confident that
the question is reasonable, the (s)he should refer
back to the part of the talk where the question arose
and just ask “what if” or “how did you”, etc.

An alternative would be for the student to try to
catch the speaker after the talk or during a break,
introduce her(him)self, compliment the speaker
for the talk, then ask the question.”

Joel and I are in agreement.  A majority of
experienced presenters will recognize the situation,
thank the questioner and use the question to expand
or segue into an interesting sidelight or area.

The little that I add is:
 - Sit in a visible location in the auditorium. 
 - Understand not only will people be listening to
your question, but also how you present yourself
and show respect to the speaker.

Consider not posing anything embarrassing.  If
you disagree, pose it as a question for comment,
rather than challenging the person or the idea, like-

 - “Could you please comment on…..”
 - ”Could you provide an example of …..”

Offer a Compliment, then pose a question…


One Response to “Question: How should an emerging scientist ask a question at a high profile presentation?”

  1. site admin Says:

    Dr. Pier Forni kindly offered a suggestion of what he
    recommends to do:
    “Dear Mr. Eustace, the question should come during
    the time set aside for questions, it should be presented
    in a concise and clear manner, and it should be of
    interest to a large part of the audience.
    Regards, P.M. Forni”

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