Prof. Uri Alon from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel is a pioneer in systems biology and has published several interesting papers not only in cell biology but also in the general aspect of scientific research (For ex: How To Choose a Good Scientific Problem, How to build a motivated research group, how to give a good talk) . I have taken excerpts from the third paper ‘How to give a good talk‘ regarding answering questions.
”We depend on talks to communicate our work, and we spend much of our time as audience members in talks. However, few scientists are taught the well-established principles of giving good talks”. Questions are a precious opportunity to get feedback on our research (ideas, beliefs, opinions). For many, however, it is a stressful time, and we wish it was over as quickly as possible. The following approach will help us relax, understand the questions, and answer in a meaningful way:
- First, make eye contact with the questioners as they are asking. Then repeat the question in their words —so everyone can hear it, and so you can have time to understand it. Check the eyes to see if you got the meaning. If not, ask for more context.
- Now that you got the question, accept that the question is worthwhile. Say yes to the idea. Listen to the question; we often tend to start answering immediately after the first two words of the question, as if we already anticipate the question. It’s good to say, ‘‘I don’t know’’, ‘‘I didn’t think about this before’’, ‘‘Let’s talk about it after the lecture’’, or ‘‘That is very important criticism.’’
- Unfortunately, some questions in science talks are spoken with a needlessly aggressive tone. To deal with aggressive questions, separate between the dramatic action—the music of the question, and the text—the content of the question. An aggressively asked question can trigger defensiveness, which can cause you to misunderstand an important comment/input. If one separates the aggression from the content, one can answer properly—and, at the same time, leave intact the dignity of all involved.
- The first question is very important, because the way that you answer it will set the frame for the next questions. So, take time with the first question. And, after the talk, address the questions in the next version of your talk (back to the preparation phase). In that way, you can avoid hearing the same questions over again, and learn from the next layer of questions.
How to give a good talk: You Tube Video in 5 parts and in the fourth part, he talks about the above mentioned points.