I’ve done my fair share of webinar, workshop, and conference presentations. I’ve talked to groups of ten, a hundred, and three hundred people and there is usually an audience member with a point to prove. They’re skeptic of the topic, eager to prove they’re smarter than everyone else, or just keen to listen to their own voice.

They ask questions designed to identify flaws in methodology or logic, and force me to respond with answers like “You’re right, that is a problem” or “True, we should have done a better job with that,” or “Right, sentiment analysis will never be perfect.” But you know, those kinds of questions don’t scare me. Every research project that was ever conducted was rife with logic and methodology errors and I’m glad that researchers are picking up on them. That’s how the cycle of research works. Find a problem this time, fix the problem the next time.

Then there are questions from people who are keen about the work that has been presented and want to learn more about it. They’ve seen the tables and graphs that I’ve prepared. They’ve listened to the pros and cons of the methodology. They’ve seen the real life examples of misleading and poorly done research. With all of that information, they understand the good and bad of what they’re potentially getting into and they’re intrigued. Intrigued enough to ask that dreaded question.

Now first, you have to recognize that I am a researcher to the core. I deliberately chose to take every single research methods and statistics and psychometrics class in school, even going so far as to get special permission to take classes that were outside of my curriculum. Research methods was and is all I care about.

My problem is this. Every conference submission form and every followup email from conference organizers says you must educate and not promote and I wholeheartedly agree with those rules. I don’t want a sales pitch at a conference. I want to learn something new.

But then that horrible question gets asked. It comes in one of two forms. 1) “What software are you using to do this?” and 2) “How much is your software?” Anyone who’s seen me present can attest to my reaction to those questions. They immediately catch me off guard and I stumble through answers like an idiot. Answering these questions makes me feel like I am promoting and selling. Indeed, I feel that simply speaking in front of a crowd is a sales pitch.

Even worse, as soon as I’m asked to talk brands and money, I fear that people will distrust my research objectivity. I fear that people will disregard my passion for quality and honesty and see not the sense, but the cents. That, my research friends, is truly terrifying. But perhaps I’m over thinking things. Perhaps those questions are just nice compliments, confirmations that I’ve done the job I was supposed to do. Perhaps it really was a sales pitch, a sales pitch done the right way. But I still hate getting that question.