Asking Questions

Everyone’s been there. You have a burning question to ask at a conference but you can’t think of the right words or the best way to frame it. Maybe anxiety takes over and you start worrying what other people might think of you. This summer, Chengcheng Kang has overcome this anxiety and shares her experiences…

Our PhD journeys include so many interesting events, such as seminars, conferences, workshops and so on. At the beginning, when I thought of a question at these events, I was too afraid to speak and I would just kept it to myself. During any break or tea time I might have built up the courage to go and ask the presenter, but I always felt that I had missed the moment. Turns out these feelings are common, and here is some advice on how to speak out bravely!

This summer I went back to China for a conference and a summer workshop. I was shaking when I asked my question, my heart beat jumped to really high level and part of my brain was blank. Even though I wrote down some of the points I wished to mention, it still came out all jumbled. I started to think about what caused this anxiety and how to solve it. The causes are easier. For me, I cared too much of other peoples’ reactions. What if they don’t think my question is any good? What if they think I am wasting their time? What if they already know the answer?

Based on my own experience presenting my research, I either appreciate any feedback that can contribute to my research or just answer the “easy” question to prove that I am well prepared. When I realised this is how I felt about my own presenting, I guessed that most other researchers probably feel the same when asked a question. So I started not to worry as much about asking questions. Based on my experience, there’s always a small portion of the audience who aren’t even paying attention to the presentation. Then there’ll be some who aren’t familiar with the topic at all, and some who have a level of expertise and will be preparing questions. Even if you think the question may not be “good”enough, ask it! As long as it is valuable to you, then just go for it. Don’t care too much of what others may think about you, it doesn’t matter because your query has been answered that’s what you needed. Plus, it may have been helpful to the speaker. Never underestimate your ability! Time and experience will allow you to be more familiar with the field and able to feel comfortable asking questions soon.

One more thing when you conquer the fear of speaking up: practice more! I only asked one question during the two-day conference but for the following eight day workshop, I think I asked almost one question per lecture in front of around 400 students. All physical reactions would be gone if you master the skill of “don’t be afraid”! I found that after the class some other students came to me to share their thoughts on my question and I made some friends!

To sum up, don’t be afraid of asking questions in front of others. It’s okay to be different, each of our thoughts are unique. Be open-minded, people tend to be very sensitive when they got nervous, but that really doesn’t matter, what should matter is the answer to your question.


Have you ever avoided asking a question a conference? How did you overcome this anxiety? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.


Chengcheng Kang is a PhD candidate from Beijing, China in Group of Information System Management at the Warwick Business School. You may contact her on Twitter at @cckkcc29


Cover image: finger-forefinger-gesture-up-3026348 / www_slon_pics / CC0 1.0

One thought on “Asking Questions

  1. I haven’t asked any questions in conferences and it is because I am not sure about my language. I think it will be very awkward if I say something wrong. Thank you for sharing your experience and I have wrote down “what should matter is the answer to your question” on my notebook.

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