Some candidates fixate on a not unreasonable concern about the viva: that they will be asked a question for which they will find no good response. It could be a question they dread. Or a question they’ve never considered. It may be a question that feels easy but which they can’t figure out. Or even just a comment that hits them harder than they like.
Candidates worry that this moment, if it happens, will be too much. They fear that, if it happens, it will impact the rest of the viva. Given the importance of the viva, this kind of concern is reasonable.
The roots of the problem can be really complex but the solution is simple: if you are faced with a question as described you have to breathe and focus on the next question coming up.
Because there isn’t anything else to do. If in one moment on one day you find that you don’t have what you need, then there is still the next moment and the next question to engage with.
Simply thinking about questions before the viva is not enough to eliminate fears. Making notes for possible responses falls short. To help, you have to put yourself in situations where you need to respond. Practice makes a difference. Mock vivas, conversations with friends or seminars can all make a difference.
Each question you’re asked is an opportunity to demonstrate something: what you know, what you did or what you can do. And if you fall short in an opportunity then there is the next question coming up, another chance to show something good.
If you face a difficult moment: breathe and focus on the next question.