Most people dread the guest speaker Question & Answer ( Q&A) Session- that's because most Q&A session are really poorly run. They are often treated like an after thought, as opposed to a pre- planned part of the learning.
It's too bad, as people have come to hear this person speak, and one of the reasons is so they can actually interact and ask questions. Everyone has questions that deserve to be answered. Questions also help audiences integrate the speakers ideas.
As a motivational speaker, I have suffered through enough disasterous Q&A sessions and some really valuable ones too.
Below are some rules that set apart good from not so good conference guest speaker Q&A sessions:
First of all, set ground rules up front. This is so people know what to expect, and it adds structure to the session.
Outline the rules at the beginning. Telling someone that their question is too long in the middle of a question, will only shut them down and suggest to others this Q&A is not meant for interaction.
Suggest to people upfront: their questions should be good. They should not ramble on and encourage participants to think through the question first to be clear on what they are asking. Don't ask questions that have already been asked.
Also, a question, should be a question... Not a statement or a monologue. It should not be more than 20 -30 seconds.
No two- part questions.
Have a couple good starting questions. Ask pre-chosen audience members (who are actually listening to the guest speaker) to come up with some pointed questions.
Ask the guest speaker what are some common questions the typical audience may have and start with those. Also, ask the speaker if there are any questions to stay away from. This may be for personal reasons or they delve into subjects that can not be settled in a short Q&A.
Watch out for people who ask questions just so that they look good. Everybody wants to have the stage and sound smart but trying to show up the speaker or monopolize the session is just not necessary.
Great Q&A sessions usually look like this: A couple volunteers roam the room with microphones to capture people's questions. Alternately, people can stand in line behind a microphone ( or several of them) planted throughout the room, and they (one by one) ask their questions. The challenge with this approach is sometimes the person ahead of them in line asks their question and then they feel silly having to sit down. Also, they may end up standing for quite awhile.
The good Q&A moderator will control the crowd, remind the audience to keep questions short( and other rules), get questions answered, and keep up the pace and energy of the interaction. It may be helpful if the moderator can quickly summarize some of the ideas and keep momentum going.
Just like a good idea commands a lot of interaction and engagement on social media sites, a good speaker will get people thinking and interacting around the content.
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