Keeping seminar questions classy

My department is currently interviewing faculty candidates, so life these days consists of a deluge of job talks. I want to make a few observations about post-talk Q&A;, particularly some suggestions for keeping things classy. So, to all who would ask questions after a seminar or conference talk:

  • Compliment the presenter. Even if the talk had serious problems or was boring, starting off with a compliment makes you look dignified and classy. You could try: “First of all, thanks for an interesting presentation. I have a question about…” Or perhaps: “You are bringing exposure to an important area of research. Did you encounter issues with…” and off you go.
  • Check your ego. This one is hard to classify, but everybody recognizes it when they see it. It is the opposite of classy to ask a question to (a) intentionally make the presenter look bad or (b) make yourself look intellectually superior. If you are a small person who needs this type of display to feel good about yourself, be assured that everyone else thinks you’re a tool.
  • Know when to take it offline. If you ask a question, a follow-up to their response is appropriate. But once the Q&A; devolves into multiple back-and-forth exchanges, interrupt your one-way conversation and yield to the group. Simply suggest, “Maybe we could discuss this in more detail after the session.” This act of courtesy shows deference to other attendees. Don’t monopolize.

Basically, you are trying to avoid this scenario.

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