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Your Q&A Sucks. 8 Ways to Make It Better

By Jan-Jaap In der Maur
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A Question & Answer session is a well known ingredient in meeting design. It can be a powerful tool, but one that is often underrated. It is however also a format that is scarcely used to its full potential. Here are 8 ways to raise the standard of your Q&A’s.

Your Q&A Sucks. 8 Ways to Make It Better

Q&A First

In general, Q&A’s are scheduled after the speaker. But why not open with it? By having the audience pose their questions upfront, the speaker can tailor his talk to fit the participants’s needs. And the people in the room will pay more attention, because they defined why they are listening.

This kind of Q&A can be done using eventtech, allowing the crowd to rate all questions. And it can even be done prior to the conference.

It does lay some pressure on the speaker, who has to be willing and able to adjust and improvise. Great speakers can do that. And you probably want only great speakers on stage anyway.

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Q&A Halfway

A good speech takes the listeners to ‘the point’ in a few well-designed steps. In order to help get the participants to the next level of understanding and to adjust the pace to their learning capabilities, a Q&A halfway through the performance, or even at multiple moments, can do wonders.

Q&A Only

Why should a speaker always speak? S/he is the expert on the topic, but the participants are the experts in their specific needs. So why not trade the traditional 30-45 minutes talk, followed by 5-10 minutes Q&A for 0-10 minutes talk and an extensive Q&A?

The main reason speakers do not like this idea, is that they feel uncertain if their message will get across. This problem can be tackled by the moderator: simply allow the speaker to deliver a list of maximum three questions he definitely wants to answer. If the moderator is any good, he will know how to squeeze these in naturally. Moreover it often turns out that the audience will come up with exactly these questions anyway.

Q&A By the Participants

If we agree that participants can be trusted with coming up with great questions, why not trust them with answering them? If they know best what their needs are, they probably will have part of the answer.

So if there is a question from the audience, you might ask the other participants if they can help out. Nothing so powerful as a group of people jointly finding answers and solutions. The role of the speaker in this scenario turns into that of a coach and guardian.

Q&A Takes Time

Many Q&A’s are just a sore excuse for interaction. Giving 200 people only 5 minutes for questions is simply not fair. Not to them, not to the speaker and not to the moderator. If you do Q&A, do it properly!

In the end, it will pay back: the result of the Q&A will be bigger and better. And the rest of the meeting will be more effective, since you’ve planted the seed of real engagement

Q&A Objectives

A good Q&A is more than simply a timeslot to ask random questions. A Q&A should – like any part of the schedule – have a clear objective, contributing to the overall goal of the day.

This means it should clearly be stated in what direction the line of questioning should go. The moderator can help this, by opening up with one question that underlines this perspective. Or at least he should not only say “are there any questions”, but should help the audience by specifying for instance “are there any questions about the basis of the speakers’ theory?

Q&A By Design

Like any other part of a meeting design, Q&A comes in many shapes and forms. The meeting owner should make a very well thought out decision on which concept to use. To give just some options: it could have the shape of a town hall meeting or college tour. Eventtech could play a role in gathering questions and rating them. The participants can be given an assigment in order to have them reflect the content of the speech before translating it into questions. Questions may be prepared groupwise, maybe even in combination with a theme (table 1 will come up with the most awkward question, table two will focus on the customer perspective, etc.).

Whatever format, the main thing is to allow participants to process the information or learnings, before having to come up with ‘brilliant questions’. The speaker was allowed weeks or even months to prepare, so why should the attendee have to deliver questions in 10 seconds? That is not fair!

Q&A For Everyone

A Q&A should not simply give the floor to the loudmouth who has no problem standing up and bringing his view forward. It should value everyone’s contribution.

That doesn’t neccessarily mean that everyone has to speak up. What it does mean is that the moderator verifies if the question at hand is important to everyone in the room, or only to the one who brought it up. He can do so by simply asking or – if he’s good at his job – by feeling the vibe.
He should beware of one person consuming all time availabe, when others raised their hands too. He should be sensitive to non verbal signs from the room, either to adjust the line of questioning or to address the one not shouting out his opinion, but nodding vigourously anyway.

In Conclusion

A good Q&A is more than just a poor excuse of an interactive moment or the “done thing”. It is the moment of glory for the participants; the moment they can get what they came for. And that is nothing to be afraid of. Never underestimate the intelligence of the audience!

about the author

Jan-Jaap In der Maur
Jan-Jaap In der Maur provides meetings with professional moderators-facilitators and coaches the non-professionals, to help make meetings more effective, fun and worthwhile.
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  • John Nawn

    well played, jan-jaap. well played.