I while back I posted about how to deal with Q&A sessions from the speaker’s perspective. More often, however, we’re in the audience. As an audience member, how do we ask good questions?
I think the answer is simple, but it’s not always obvious, or at least, not always followed. Simply state your question, then be silent. Don’t preface your question with a story or a lot of data. Don’t make several comments-this is Q&A time, not comment time. And please, be polite. I’m not saying you shouldn’t engage the speaker if you feel that he or she missed something important, and be all means talk with them if you have findings that fit with theirs, or if you have new insight into their work. In my opinion, however, these discussions – for that’s what they are, should be left after the talk when there’s time for a lengthier chat, and when a room full of grad students or nervous podium speakers isn’t listening in.
I think that F.D. Roosevelt’s advice on public speaking applies best to asking questions during Q&A: “Be sincere; be brief; be seated.”