Speaker/audience fencing match: victory for MsPhD.
First, an aside to a commenter:
I read lots of blogs where people write about their friends and co-workers using made-up names. Profgrrrl does this all the time. I guess the fact that someone wrote in to complain about me doing this says something about the readership of this blog vs. others that are more personal-journal in style.
Anyway, the topic for today is a combination of personal and professional, like most of what I write about here.
Wait, another random aside:
Anyone else being tortured by all the holiday goodies? Right now I hear cookies calling my name...
Okay I'm really starting now. I swear.
A few years ago I gave a talk and there were a couple of people in the audience who were really trying to skewer me. And I was totally unprepared for anyone to do that, because at the time I hadn't given a talk in a while.
Because I was totally unprepared for this kind of hostile reception, I got defensive and upset and generally didn't take it as an opportunity to show off how much I know, because I was too flustered.
But I was prepared this time.
And it went SO much better.
In fact, since then I've had the opportunity to observe these people, and I have learned a few things:
1- They treat EVERYONE this way, not just me.
2- They are frequently wrong. And since they're so opinionated and so stubborn, they often dig themselves in pretty deep. So then we're not talking about slightly wrong, because by the time they're done elaborating, they are very wrong.
3- They actually know less than I do, but they try to sound like they already know more than anyone ever could.
So when the 'questions' (this is a euphemism) came from that corner of the room, I was prepared.
I was SO prepared.
I took the questions very seriously. I took a deep breath. I fixed this person with a quizzical look, and.... asked a few questions about the 'question'.
I'll call it Return Questioning (cross-examining might be too confusing). So here's the line of return questioning that works the best with these people, perhaps because they tend to be somewhat book-smart but not very practical:
"If your alternative explanation is correct, how would we test that? How much would it cost? How long would it take?"
In one case, as often happens with this type of person, it would require a risky and technically very complicated approach, not to mention an inhuman amount of work and money, all to test a far-fetched, dead-end hypothesis.
And everybody knew it.
AHA! Skewered you right back, didn't I?
So I hope I will remember this lesson, or at least remember to review this post. You never know who will be in the audience, but you have to assume somebody will always ask you something that you haven't thought of.
And of course you haven't thought of it, because it makes no sense!
The key is to
a) REMAIN CALM
b) Give yourself time to think
c) Ask them clarifying questions to stall and/or reveal the inconsistencies in what they're asking.
And with that, I am going to give myself (and my cookie) a tiny pat on the back. Mmm, cookie.