19 October 2017

Conferencing: Contributing to the Conversation

Our past few posts have focused on tips for conference-goers, which are timely with the upcoming #AmAnth17 in November. To date we've shared some tips on Writing better Conference Abstracts and crafting better PostersTips for Moderators, and How to be a great Chair. Today we are focusing on the Q&A and networking during conferences in general -- useful tips for grad students and veteran conference-goers alike.

The conference Q&A -- if the chair has done their job well -- can often be the most rewarding part of a panel discussion. It is a place for audience members and panelists to respond to the ideas and data presented, elaborate on points of interest, and possibly spark new and necessary conversations. Unfortunately, the Q&A can also be taken over by those academics in the audience who like to spend quite a lot of time discussing their own research interests and then pretend it was a question.

So, how do you avoid this kind of all-too-common faux-pas and help contribute to a constructive and enlightening discussion?

The Guardian has some answers in their "Don't be a conference troll: a guide to asking good questions." The gist of this advice is that we should find positive or constructive ways to frame questions, even when they are critical. Think about asking questions in a way that opens up conversation rather than shutting it down. It shouldn't be that difficult to do, considering that we're anthropologists. What I would add to this advice -- perhaps especially a pitfall because we are anthropologists -- is to be careful of providing too much context for your question. How can you succinctly ask your question without taking too much time by oversharing your own research experiences that inspired your question?

For speakers, the Guardian also has this advice:
When you’re the one in the spotlight, how should you respond when faced with a question that feels inappropriate or hostile? Remember that a bluntly worded question is not necessarily a malicious one. Audience members have little time to prepare their questions. It may be helpful to respond in a tone and style that is slightly friendlier than the questioner’s. In some cases, this is all that is required to smooth the waters and enable dialogue.
For those of us -- particularly graduate students new to the conference scene -- who struggle with asking questions or approaching speakers during or after the Q&A, check out our past post on A guide to academic conversations (6 June 2016). You might also be interested in prepping for your conference experience by reading UA's Essential networking tips for graduate students, and Academic EQ's PhD Networking Tips for Introverts.

Happy conferencing!

Quick links and further reading: