They say that “silence is golden,” but try telling that to the pitied Q&A facilitator, left begging a silent room for more questions.
“Any other questions …?” “No? …” “Nothing at all then …?” “Um, ok, well … early break then.”
Fortunately, there are a couple of easy and repeatable ways to ensure that your Q&A sessions are dynamic, energetic, and relevant. Read on to see how Audience can help you to make Q&A better.
Make Q&A a priority, not an afterthought
The first, most obvious, and most frequently overlooked thing you can do to elevate your Q&A session is to talk about it explicitly. Rather than as an add-on – “we’ll have time at the end for questions” – make it a defined agenda element, one with clear directions and expectations. Talk about it, be clear about it, and build anticipation for it.
But what does the audience need to know about the Q&A to engage with it fully? Let’s start with:
- When the Q&A will be happening?
- How will it work – On the event app? Live in the room with show of hands? With pre-submitted questions?
- If using the event app, when can I start asking questions, and how do I do it? Can we “like” and “up-vote” the best questions?
- Who will be answering the questions?
- What will happen with the unanswered questions?
By communicating all of these things early and often, not only are you offering clear guidance, you’re also emphasizing the importance of the audience perspective in the overall meeting experience. You’re making it clear that this is a central and highly valued element of the meeting, not just a rote exercise.
Provide time for question generation
The second technique is much more in the hands of the Q&A facilitator. I first came across it via Alexis Puhan of skillbuild Inc. He suggests simply taking two minutes at the outset of the Q&A session to encourage the generation of questions. Invite audience members to turn to take 90 seconds to talk about the questions on their minds. Encourage them to develop one or two questions and to either submit them via the app or decide who will ask them in the room.
Et voila! You’ve just generated a long, rich list of real questions. By allowing people to talk to each other, you give them an opportunity to both refine and validate their questions. In addition – given that Q&A most often comes at the end of a session – it’s a great way to spike the energy in the room, to re-engage the audience, and to establish an environment of dialogue and exchange.
You may never face a silent room again! Of course, you may now be faced with the new problem of what to do with unanswered questions. Now that your audience has taken the time to reflect upon and generate questions, they will expect answers. Be clear about what will or will not happen with the unanswered questions – a follow-up podcast, a post-event document, an additional session, etc.
Most important of all, thank the audience sincerely for the care and time that they put into making the session so productive. They will appreciate the sincerity of the exercise, and you will enjoy that sweet sweet sound of audience members engaging with each other and with your presenters.
Good luck with your next Q&A session!
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