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Eagerly listening

I think it is always helpful to provide a BRIEF summary of the other person's argument, or at least that portion that is the focus of your comments. The reason is that the audience can sometimes miss the forest for the trees during a talk, and you can lay out the forest for them. Such a summary can also clarify whether in fact any concerns you raise are based on a misreading of their argument. This will truly help them improve their paper, if you indicate that their paper can be read in a way it was not intended.
Then I would focus on one or two issues, NOT every concern you have. Depth is better than breadth, and ideally focus on the most important issue. Also, avoid turning it into a session where you talk about your own work, and your views. The focus should be on the paper presented. I have seen sessions hijacked by commentators. (I don't think for a minute that you would do that, but it does happen).

Michel X.

The best commentators, in my experience so far, have been those who faded into the background.

Just to elaborate a little, they're the ones who manage to re-distill the essence of the paper for the audience (especially useful if the presenter just reads the paper), and present a couple of items as food for thought (these give the audience a critical way into the paper, and offer the author a chance to elaborate/some direction about an aspect of the paper that needs work). Then the commentator recedes into the background, unless addressed directly by an audience member.

The worst commentators are those who treat the whole Q&A as though it's about them, and can't help but to jump in and answer questions for the presenter, or follow up on every question the presenter gets with one of their own.

Oh, and it's really, really nice to get the comments at least a little ahead of time. I tend to think that if one's comments are going to be especially critical, they should be sent at least a couple weeks before the conference. IMO, last-minute commentaries entirely forgo the right to be critical.

Trevor Hedberg

I will second everything that Michel X. states above. I have received many excellent commentaries, but two were very unhelpful. In one of them, the commentator spent his entire commentary presented his own positive view on the issue my paper discussed and made no direct engagement with my own paper. In the other not-so-stellar commentary, the commentator made his distaste for my paper clear from the outset and dominated the discussion so significantly that there were almost no comments made by other audience members.

I also consider one of the defining features of good commentaries to be that they provide constructive criticism -- that is, criticism that helps you improve the paper. Usually, this requires making positive suggestions for how future drafts of the paper might be improved rather than just raising a substantial objection and acting as if an adequate response to it is impossible.

Rob Hughes

It's important for commentators to respect the limited time available for Q&A. People in the audience want to ask questions, and the author usually wants to receive them.

Obviously this means that commentators should abide by the time limits they've been given. It also means that they should think about how much time the author will need or want to respond. If the comments include several questions or several objections that call for a substantive response, the author may have a difficult choice between leaving questions or objections unanswered, giving quick or glib answers, or going overtime. For sessions that are an hour or shorter, it often works best when commentators limit themselves to two points that call for substantive replies.

There's no rule saying that all of your feedback on a paper has to be public. I've had commentators give me additional feedback that they didn't read publicly (either in footnotes, in an email, or in person), and I was grateful for it.

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