How to not make people groan during a Q&A

I just got back from Michigan.  Will do a write up of the debate…tomorrow?

Anyway, I’m going to take the rest of the day to catch up on sleep, but first I wanted to give some friendly advice.  I speak a lot, so I do a lot of Q&As.  There are certain behaviors that make everybody else in the room wish their collective glare could disintegrate someone.  I’m here to help you not be that person.  I’m not getting on to anybody, just doing my part to raise awareness.

1.  Questions have a question mark.

It is a question and answer, not your time to lecture the audience.  Last night one of the atheist questioners took the mic, turned to the audience, and started telling them that they were all born atheist.

Was he right?  Yes.  Was that at all appropriate?  No.  Don’t do that.

This is generally done by people who read a cool argument just last week and want to share it, even if it has no relevance at all to the speech/debate that just took place.

2.  No life story.

Even though you had an interesting time at the zoo as a child where you fell into the monkey pit and the monkeys all came down and gave you hugs and you kept in touch with those monkeys throughout your whole adult life and gave them all names and mourned when they died and then met the new monkeys at the zoo that replaced them…

…and that’s why you want to ask the biologist speaker why monkeys have compassion, you should just skip to that question.

3.  Other people want to ask questions, so keep it concise.

There are generally time limits on these events.  Those time limits are in place because the organizers generally only have the room reserved for only so long.  That means that not everybody will get to ask questions and to be polite to all the people in line behind you, you should try to avoid taking three minutes to ask your question.

4.  You are not the second scheduled debate of the night.

If you ask a question and don’t like that answer, write a blog, tell your friends, email the speaker.  Don’t sit there and have your own personal ten minute debate with the speaker when others are waiting to ask questions.

Follow these guidelines and you will make more friends, I promise.

We also need a covert (or overt) signal for when people are doing Q&A wrong so we can at least have solidarity in our aggravation.  Any ideas?

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.