You are attending a seminar and are suddenly addressed directly by the speaker: “What is your opinion?” There is no time for long reflection. How do you react now? Do you have a suitable answer ready?

Honestly, this situation rarely occurs in the presentation. In a seminar such a direct question is not common either. More often than not you come into this situation in small talk or in conversation with other colleagues. However, it is common during or after a presentation in which you speak to an audience yourself. If only you could answer spontaneously and quick-witted! What can you do for it?


Questions regarding your presentation

Of course you customize your speech to your target audience: What are they particularly interested in and how do you offer them the greatest benefit? In a brainstorming session, write down all the questions your audience might ask you – from basic to very specific, deeper questions – and gain clarity about your answers. It is not a question of you reciting these memorized lyrics. Instead, you can write down several possible answers for each question using a mind map. For example, you can answer the general question “How can I recognize climate-induced desertification (desertification) in the landscape?” by the following signs (after Baumhauer 2011, modified):

So you have at least 13 possible answers. Combining all possible answers you can create more than 6 billion answers. Even if the order of the four aspects vegetation – water balance – soil – geomorphology were so defined, there would still be at least 108 possible combinations.

Depending on the focus of your presentation, one of the answers can be something like this: “We have a long-term experiment running in the test area. Over the last 30 years, the spectrum of species has significantly become impoverished. Among other things, this is due to persistent soil erosion and soil acidification. The latter could be stopped or at least slowed down by regular calcification.”

It is not important to introduce all aspects at the same time. Instead, you can repeat and deepen points already mentioned, or add points not yet discussed. The order is not decisive here – this can vary in the discussion depending on the question or focus. In this way you also avoid monotonous, repetitive standard answers.

If you only talk about a specific topic in the discussion, you can focus on the factual level accordingly. If you would like to add more personality, then short experience reports are also useful. These can be specific moments in which you have gained important insights into your project, or critical moments when the direction of your project has changed due to unforeseen, special results.


This is how you answer spontaneous questions

While you can fully prepare your presentation, you should be able to spontaneously answer questions on all possible topics in follow-up discussions and during small talk. There are a number of ways you can do this. Some of the best known are summarized in the following table.

Classical Time Course Associations Pro and Contra W Questions

Major part
















My opinion on this…


The good news…,

the bad news…







You can extend the classical structure with introduction – main part – conclusion by adding a personal message. For example, you can reply to the simple question “What do you like about research?” as follows: “I like the intellectual approach at the beginning, when working on the question together and preparing for the field work. In any case, a highlight is the field work collecting soil and rock samples. Afterwards I enjoy both the laboratory work as well as analyzing and interpreting the results. Last not least it is exciting to present our results on conferences before they are published in professional journals. In short: I am particularly enthusiastic about the varied work and the new insights I gain with my research project.”

If asked for your personal opinion on a subject, you can be brief, depending on the situation, and answer in just one or two sentences: “My opinion on this is…”. Or you can contrast some of the advantages and disadvantages of an aspect before giving your personal opinion.

Questions in the small talk can be answered with further, not formulated W-questions: “How do you know the host?” – “We first met through a mutual friend at a network event of the science academy. We are both interested in research projects in which scientists co-operate with industry. We are currently working on project XY…How about you?”

What questions do you get asked at conferences or network events? Which answers have helped you? Feel free to post your comments in this blog.

This post is also available in: German

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *