Virtually all academic conferences provide a Q&A session where anyone in the audience can ask the presenter a question after a paper reading. While seemingly straightforward, there is some etiquette to consider before raising your hand.
First, consider the person’s topic and content. Your question should be on point. For example, if someone gave a paper about twentieth-century infantry tactics, do not ask a question about longbows. Even if you are aware that the presenter is capable of answering your question, do not pull them out of the zone of their presented topic.
Second, do not present a monologue when you ask the question. Asking a question is not the time to demonstrate how much you know about a topic. Some questions require context, but be judicious and only provide as much context as necessary. This moment is for the presenter to shine, not for you to steal the spotlight.
Third, do not try to stump the presenter. Some people have this desire to watch people squirm in front of others, so they ask obscure questions. Some presenters can handle this more graciously than others can, but more often than not, a presenter will feel as though he or she failed when unable to answer a question. I even heard one conference attendee brag after he embarrassed a presenter. This is obnoxious and people will put you in their black books of disgust when you do it. In addition, do not be that person looking up the topic on your phone or tablet, so you can ask that obscure question. The other attendees will never forget or forgive you for that sort of behavior.
Finally, when no one else asks a question, be prepared to ask one of your own. There is no worse feeling than presenting a paper and receiving no questions. However, you could ask a simple question such as, “Can you tell us more about the process on how you came to such-and-such conclusion?” That will get the presenter talking and it always inspires other questions.
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