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Especially if you are being critical, give your comments to the presenter in advance.

Corey Maley

In the immortal words of Mike Rowe, focus on *what* you’re doing, not *how* you’re doing.


Three things:

I don't use powerpoint but I do use handouts and, in my experience, the vast majority of questions in the Q&A will concern something that's on the handout. (I imagine that's because audience members get the handout at the start and so have time during your talk to linger on particular claims in it and come up with a question or two.) This means that you can view creating the handout as also a way to guide the audience towards certain sorts of questions and away from others.

Don't take more than a few minutes to respond to the commentator, as that will eat into time for the Q&A. You can give some preliminary responses to the commentator's questions or objections but then say that you're happy to go into more detail during the Q&A if audience members ask you to do so. Sometimes they will, sometimes they won't.

I think it can be helpful to think of yourself, during the Q&A, as giving a kind of performance: even if you're actually very nervous, feeling defensive at a hostile question, or whatever, you're performing being affable, intellectually curious, excited to engage with the audience, confident, etc. (Indeed, if you perform being this kind of philosopher when responding to the commentator, you're able to set a certain kind of tone for the Q&A and, I think, lessen the chances of overly aggressive questions.)


Speaking as an attendee of talks, I just want to second: *please* do not merely read a paper outloud. Any talk I've ever attended that was delivered this way, I had lost the speaker's train within about 90 seconds.

Greg Stoutenburg

In partial defense of reading: Although most attendees prefer a PowerPoint/handout as opposed to reading from a paper, be sure that you can actually give a presentation without the aid of a written paper before committing to doing so. Personally, most of the lousy talks I've seen were ones where the speaker never got into the details of their arguments, presumably because they weren't prepared enough to carefully state their arguments without having those arguments written down. Those talks had the feel of 'here are some big ideas about this' and not like an actual philosophy talk. And of course, putting long texts verbatim into a visual presentation is also unacceptable. So: talk through visual aids and/or a handout if you wish, but not at the expense of content.

Mike Titelbaum

One quick Q&A tip: If your session has a chair, have a conversation with them before the session begins and ask them to be in charge of fielding questions and managing the queue for the Q&A. It's too much cognitive load to be keeping track of hands and thinking philosophically at the same time!

Dan Groll

There's a world of difference between reading out loud a paper that was written to be read by the listener (e.g. like a journal article) and reading out loud a paper that was *written specifically to be read out loud*. I think there's a lot to be said for the latter. The danger of speaking from notes is that you will add stuff on the fly and then run out of time. Crafting a really nice written presentation -- and then sticking to it -- avoids that danger.


If you can, practice your presentation in less formal environments first-- a group of friends/ colleagues, a workshopping group, etc. You might get some useful feedback or a sense of the questions you'll field, and you'll get more comfortable delivering the talk itself. This helped me a ton when I was starting out.
Sometimes, you can drop in something during the talk that invites a certain line of questioning/commentary-- you can even say "we can talk more about this in the Q&A"-- and that can steer the conversation in a direction that may be more helpful and for which you'll be more prepared.
For what it's worth, I'm mid career and have never loved giving talks in general, although I've had mostly good experiences. Since I'm tenured at a school where most of my job is teaching and service, I don't feel pressure about presenting-- I've enjoyed the freedom to apply to conferences mainly on the basis of whether it will be a good experience for me, not on whether it's prestigious enough or whatever. Indeed, I've felt free to take a break from presenting altogether and focus on writing instead. I know not everyone has that freedom (I am very fortunate to be where I am) but I thought it might be helpful to know that in many jobs, you can thrive without being a fancy-conference rockstar.

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