Scientific Presentations
The Assertion-Evidence Approach

Improv Exercise: Unexpected Question
Answering an unexpected question on the spot

This exercise calls upon your students to improvise an answer to an unexpected question. Improvising is a skill that can be developed. In scientific presentations, this skill is important in a number of situations: your demonstration fails, someone asks you a question that you have never considered, or a manager asks you to incorporate a last-minute change into your talk. All of these situations could unravel an inexperienced presenter. The purpose of this exercise is to give your students experience in handling on-the-spot an unexpected question. In this exercise, your students are part of a team making an outreach presentation, on behalf of your university, to a high school. At the end of the presentation, the team receives a number of unexpected questions. Each student on the team is asked to handle one of those questions.

Step 1. Teach strategies for handling unexpected questions.
Every scientific presenter receives an unexpected question at some point. The best presenters handle the question honestly, but also in stride. Pages 264-268 in The Craft of Scientific Presentations discuss ways to handle questions, even the tough ones.

Step 2. Download file of unexpected questions.
Print out the questions on the right and distribute one question to each student. Explain the scenario given above to the students (note that the questions arose during outreach presentations of the Engineering Ambassador Network). Have students go up one by one to answer a question posed by a student in the audience. By the end of the exercise, each student should ask one question and answer one question. After every five questions, lead a class reflection on best practices shown by the previous five speakers.

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Content Editor: Michael Alley