I am a PhD student and I'll be giving my first talks at an international conference soon.

In the past I have had tough questions from the audience that I did not know the answer to, or did, but it didn't come to mind until after the talk.

I have also had occassions where I hadn't heard the questioner twice, after repeating, and I couldn't ask for a third time (I am a bit deaf). As a result, I responded with an answer to a question that might have been asked, which was sort of a gamble.

I am curious, how do people best deal with these situations during talks? are there any 'formulas' of how to deal with this? what methods do people use to relax during question time?

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    In the second situation, just confidently explain that you have trouble hearing and ask someone in the front row (ideally a friend) to repeat the question. No need to apologize or feel bad about that. Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 17:33

3 Answers 3


Maybe it depends on the discipline, but I have usually found the conference audiences supportive, especially toward young researchers. In the case of tough question I would explain that the question is indeed tough and answer those aspects I understand and point out that the problems posed by the asker should pose an interesting venue of future research. Just learn from this experience, as conference attendees are generally smart people and probability of faking out a plausibly sounding answer is low when one just doesn't know.

As for the second problem I don't think gambling is a good solution. It'd better to explain hearing problems and ask to repeat the question. After all you want to address the issues pointed out by audience and maybe learn something from it. In grave situation maybe you can ask a colleague to write the question summary down for you? Informing session chair of your hearing problems beforehand won't hurt as well. After all that's nothing one should be ashamed of (as already pointed out by others).


First, ask your advisor to organise a full rehearsal of the presentation, inviting people from your group and, possibly, also people not familiar with your work, telling them to ask you as many questions as possible -- easy and tough ones. Discuss together your answers.

Then, at the conference, explain to the chairman that you are a bit deaf (there's nothing to be ashamed of) and ask them to kindly relay any question. This can also give you some more time to come up with a proper answer.


Ok, the hearing thing being addressed in comment, I'll focused on the main topic here.

In an audience (unless you're in a really specific conference on the specific subject), you will usually have many kind of persons. Many of them aren't expert in the specific details of your work. So, you should be able to give details on a lot of things, without getting in the very specific and technical stuff.

When someone ask a specific question that would require a lot of technical aspects to be mentioned, you always have the possibility to give a short answer which explains the gist of the answer and/or explain this is too technical for this particular talk, and offer to meet with the person afterwards for a more detailed talk.

In the same idea, when you are put in front of the question you don't have an idea about, you can either ask for a few seconds, think about it and give your input on it, and/or just admit this is a perspective you haven't thought about yet, possibly try to give it a shot. It is OK to not know everything, it is also OK to not know all the methods that exists, if you did your state of the art correctly and they are referring to something that is not within the scope of your work. Just be honest about it, and propose to discuss it after the talk, just don't close the door or try to bluff it.

Obviously you should have done your homework and know about the reference papers in your field, why they apply or don't apply to your work. Also, what are the obvious questions that will be asked about your presentation (this can be prepared in rehearsal session, and even driven by how you present things).

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