Q&A etiquette.

Ok, whenever I do a Q&A, I always start by saying “Ok guys, remember it’s a question and answer section, and questions have a question mark.  Also, please try not to monologue since other people want to ask questions as well.  If you abuse the rules I’m going to cut you off.”

Most speakers don’t do this.  So the word needs to get out about how to not make the speaker and the rest of the audience silently loathe you.

1.  Questions have a question mark.

If you’re going to ask a question, ask a question.  This is not your time to lecture the audience.  Also don’t lecture the audience and then ask some weak, scarcely related question at the end in order to justify getting a hold of the microphone so you can grace the audience with your comment.  We know what you’re doing and it’s not clever.

2.  Wait to be recognized. 

If you just start speaking in a loud voice without being called on, it’s tantamount to cutting in line.  Nobody will believe that you’re just oblivious the fact that everybody else in the audience is raising their hand and waiting to be called on.  They’ll think you’re just being an asshole.

3. Keep it to one question.

If you don’t like the answer you get, tough.  Don’t start a ten-minute long debate when others are waiting to ask questions.  What you can do is hold your hand up again and then ask a follow up when others have had their chance.

There are always people in the audience who monopolize the Q&A over and over again in this way, and the audience always begins to groan when they get close to the mic.  Don’t be those people.

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.

  • http://skepchick.org/author/heina/ Heina

    I am a fan of a question mod and/or notecards instead of people speaking for the reasons you enumerate above. Nothing gets to me more than really good questions that never get a chance to be asked because some jerkface loves the sound of his or her voice.

    As a speaker, I’ve come up with a few ways to cut off the monologues. It can be fun to school the monopolizers.

    • Glodson

      Reading JT’s post and this response makes me think it is somewhat annoying on a greater level as I would guess that there’s always some jerkface who thinks his ramblings are completely original despite you two(and others as well) have heard the same spiel time and time again.

  • John-Henry Beck

    I’m sure there’s a mix of reasons why that happens. Of course, I’m mostly speculating.
    Some people have something to say that’s important to them, so they’ll take what chance they get to speak out where people will hear them.
    Some people think there’s a lot of background needed for their question to make sense.
    Lack of experience speaking means some just aren’t going to realize how long they’re going on. Or they may just have a hard time articulating what they intend to on the spot and end up speaking longer than they’d have thought.
    I can definitely sympathize, though, with those who want to debate when the speaker hasn’t answered the question. It’s not rare to see a speaker either not understanding the question, or outright evading the question. That’s going to be frustrating.
    Keeping in mind that we’re talking about a movement built on being independent thinkers with the idea that all the individuals have value it’s not surprising we’d get quite a few people thinking they have a right to speak up. Beyond what you’d get with any similar large group having some people with the personality types to do that sort of thing anyway.
    Of course, as an audience member, I do often share the annoyance with the Q&A. Sometimes it’s pretty interesting. But often there are people hogging the mic without much I find interesting to say. I can certainly see it being irksome for speakers seeing it over and over. I suppose I’m just fairly resigned to seeing such things continue.

  • http://whatstheharm.net Tim Farley (@krelnik)

    This is a widespread problem at many types of conventions – well #1 and #3 anyway, I haven’t seen #2 happen much. At Dragon*Con in Atlanta, they have videos that run on the screens in the big rooms during the breaks to keep the crowd entertained, and several of them make fun of this phenomenon to try to nip it in the bud.

    George Hrab of the excellent Geologic Podcast has a most excellent take on this, from when he has been emcee at The Amazing Meeting. I won’t ruin it by explaining it, just watch the version from TAM9 here: http://youtu.be/yumNIhIQmLU

    You can also hear the slightly different version (new melody) from TAM2012 in his podcast episode #273 here: http://geologicpodcast.com/the-geologic-podcast-episode-273

  • Stogoe

    I mostly despise Q&A, not for the speaker/panel responses, but for the completely oblivious rambling and filibustering that infects the questioners. If it has to be done, do it notecard style – gets rid of the ‘OMG I’m actually talking to you I’m your biggest fan and now we’re going to be besties!’ atrocities.


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