- Think about the questions you will be asked and research the in-between knowledge as well. Think about the big picture and interconnections between topics.
- Practice, practice, practice. Particularly practice answering the questions in various ways.
- Since inexperience might make anticipating the questions difficult, try to get your lab mates and supervisor to help. Weekly paper presentations are a good venue; you can practice answering questions on the spot and get critiqued on it.
- Toastmasters isn't just about oral skills (as in presenting well). I just learned it can help you with answering questions on the spot, too!
- Joining an improv group would give you lots of practice of thinking on your feet.
- Before speaking, visualize a list of things you want to say, then imagine yourself checking each item off as you speak.
- When appropriate, think through your answer out loud. Often those asking are interested in your way of thinking as much as your final answer. Don't be afraid to pause while you think, and try to say things that makes them nod.
- During a formal presentation, leave some content out so you know your audience will ask about it rather than unexpected aspects. Create some slides at the end to use when the questions come up.
- Brush up and be able to use terminology to sound like an expert.
- Answer with multiple options for an answer and explain why each could be correct, and conclude with "but it's a difficult problem."
- Link topic to a classic problem in a different field to demonstrate insight.
- Never say "I don't know" right away; instead, rephrase the question until you are sure what they are asking.
My next opportunity to use this advice will be my thesis proposal defence, and I am definitely glad to have such a great list!
(Huge thanks to everyone who shared in the conversation: @petitegeek, @bukephalas, @catehstn, @elcera, @anitaborg_org, @rmgard, @tsienkiewicz, @ioanauoft, @PSchammy)