The question and answer part of delivering a conference paper is often the most nerve-wracking aspect for presenters. It can be a chance for interesting and thoughtful discussion that frequently highlights new or different perspectives within our work. But all-too-often it becomes a showcase for various paradigms of conference questioners.
We firstly have the argumentative questioner. This is the most-feared of all tropes; conference horror stories are plagued by tales of research being attacked by this sort of questioner. At one particularly memorable event, a member of the audience demanded to know why I hadn’t talked about male prisoners, before shrugging and pointedly remarking that I should. She then disregarded my answer and simply restated her point. The argumentative questioner doesn’t really want an answer, they just want to make it clear that you’re wrong.
Next up, there’s the knowledge questioner. This person asks a question as a way of showing what they know and what they have read. This form of academic ego-boosting can provide useful questions or queries, before it turns into a pissing contest, that is.
Finally, we have the vocal questioner. They might have an interesting or relevant query, but it’s so wordy and long-winded, its point can be lost behind oration. The vocal questioner loves the sound of their own voice; often goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge questioner.
At any conference, you can bet that at least one of these figures will surface. And I’d hazard a guess that they often go hand-in-hand with other privileges, including gender, age, race, and seniority.