How to deal with Q&A sessions at International Conferences

If you’re a native speaker of English and get nervous presenting at international conferences, spare a thought for those who present in a foreign language. They have extra concerns. Amy Chua is credited as having written that “a foreign accent is a sign of bravery”. This is certainly true when it comes to presentations. Sarah Voller, a managing director at Abbey Communication and expert in Business English and communication skills training, discusses how she assisted medical doctors with concerns about international presentations on a recent project.

Sarah Vollers explains how to improve your international presentation skills

“I have recently returned from co-training a one-day workshop in Barcelona on Communication Skills in English for Scientific Purposes. I was working with a group of medical doctors who, although at the forefront of their field, were still not comfortable when presenting their work in English at an international conference.
Participants on the workshop commented that one of the main concerns they had around presentations at international conferences was the Q&A session.

When presenting they ask themselves:

• Will I understand the audience’s questions?
• Will I be able to respond spontaneously in a way which is clear to the questioner?
• How will I deal with difficult or hostile questions in a way which is culturally appropriate?

But it isn’t only answering questions which can make people nervous. Conference attendees can be deterred from asking questions because of other concerns:

• Can I formulate my question so that it is clear?
• Will my pronunciation be clear enough for the presenter to understand my question?
• If I ask my question, will it show that I haven’t understood the whole presentation?

One of our doctors commented “I have to really want to know something if I’m going to ask a question.” Another explained that he tends to write his question down and have it passed to the presenter to read and respond so he could avoid speaking in English in front of a large audience.

Sarah Voller form Abbey Communication shows how to answer questions at an International Conference

During our workshop in Barcelona we worked on, among other things:

• Forming questions
• Interrupting
• Dealing with questions and interruptions
• Phrases for deferring or deflecting
• Phrases for checking understanding
• Clear pronunciation.

We also practised asking and answering questions in order to become more spontaneous and above all, to be more comfortable and confident when dealing with a Q&A session. By the end of the workshop participants felt much more confident about giving a presentation in English.”

As Sarah demonstrates, it is clear that with appropriate strategies, many concerns that exist in regards to presenting in a foreign language can be overcome. Abbey Communication are proud of the effective training that they have developed over many years which yields excellent results, ultimately improving international communication.

If you would like help to improve presentation skills within your team or business, Abbey Communication, can help in many ways. To find out more about how we can assist you send us an email 

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