There is a good question about how to be a discussant here, but it does not cover my question.

I was chosen to be a discussant for an upcoming seminar (actually, it was proposed to me by the same author I am discussing). I have several comments to make about the work, which I will put on slides. Should I talk the author through them before my presentation, or perhaps send him/her my slides beforehand? Or is it well understood that discussions are "surprises" and presenters should be able to address the discussion "on the spot"?

I have no intention to put the presenter into trouble, but perhaps, for the sake of the audience, it is better if I send the slides/discussion beforehand, so the quality of the answers might be higher. But I am not sure this is standard. Any ideas?


I would go with the second option; send the slides to the author beforehand. This will help the following:

  • The author would be prepared in terms of the questions and topics he is going to get the questions from. He would think on a lower level and add more clarity to his answers.
  • Give the author a higher confidence to defend, if there seems to be any surprise.
  • If he feels, he can ask you for additional clarification beforehand.

After having the event, I can share a few learning points. On the positive side:

  • the presenter gave very good answers to my comments. I doubt the quality and extent of the replies would have been the same if she would have not received my comments beforehand. I think this is to the benefit of the audience.

  • the presenter (because of earlier schedule delays) finished late. This means, I could save some time for everyone by focusing my discussion on the key points that I thought should be addresses, and that the audience would find relevant too. The presenter already had the other points, so she did not mind that I made my discussion shorter. The organiser of the seminar (and hopefully the audience) was very pleased with this. This benefit is of course an eventuality, but late schedules is very common, in my experience.

On the negative side:

  • albeit this did not happen to me (the presenter was reasonable enough), it could be the case that the presenter changes the presentation after she received my comments, addressing some of them that she felt were very important but left out. This would make some of my comments redundant, lowering the (perceived) quality of my discussion.

So, as a summary, I would say, yes, send it, but not very much in advance.

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