My grad students asked me for some tips to handle conferences’ Q&A session. Here are my answers. I actually use these not only for conferences, but also in everyday interactions.
1. when you think you really know the answer, wait 5 seconds before you say it. sometimes you don’t really know whether you really know or just think you really know.
2. avoid a ‘stupid’ moment: before reacting (negatively/harshly/carelessly/…), think of something stupid and don’t say it.
3. don’t answer too quickly, always buy time. for example by saying “thank you for your question”, “that’s an interesting question”, or just “thank you”.
4. when someone gives you a stupid irrelevant question that has nothing to do with your topic, you can say “oh gosh this is so stupid” in your mind, but verbally say “thank you” anyway. be gentle, stupidity is not a crime.
5. when you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know, but you don’t have to say it too enthusiastically.
6. when someone attacks you with a rude or dismissive question/statement, focus your eyes on his face and imagine an ugly(funny) caricature of him, and take time to smile before responding.