Here’s everything that’s WRONG with audience Q&A today

Before building Social Q&A as a standalone product, we wanted to find out what folks think about traditional audience Q&A. We asked 200 ordinary people what they like least about Q&A at events and meetings, and grouped responses into three common themes.

Low-quality questions from the audience

Low-quality is the label we use to describe a broad swath of questions from an audience. Here are a few adjectives that we heard:

  • Irrelevant.
  • Boring.
  • Silly.
  • Dumb.
  • Repetitive.

Low-quality questions are also hard to filter out of a Q&A session; because moderators are not psychic, we simply cannot anticipate what someone is going to ask.

This particular problem is typically addressed by asking audience members to write down and submit questions. In many settings, this approach can be quite powerful, as the moderator can curate the questions which will go to the presenter. But it’s also a lot of extra work, and when you curate questions, Q&A loses its engaging spontaneity.

Background noise and lack of audience focus

Audiences have a limited attention span; in most cases, it’s around 20 minutes. Yes, you read that right.

Oh, you want proof? Check out TED Talks, the best presentation series ever. Pay close attention to the length of each recorded presentation … they max out at 20-21 minutes.

So what happens during an hour-long presentation? Even if Daniel Webster himself was at the podium, his audience would lose focus and engagement would steeply decline.

Because of this, Q&A often begins with attendees waking up. And in some sessions. they may even begin talking amongst themselves, creating a background hum that can overpower the speaker.

There are many strategies to keeping an audience engaged. One easy method we recommend is to break a longer presentation into distinct sections, with Q&A at the end of each section.

Low-quality responses from the presenter

Q&A isn’t just about questions; it’s also about answers.

Even if an audience comes up with great questions, there’s no guarantee that a presenter will be able to answer in kind.

Here’s one reason why: Presenters occasionally embellish, hoping to give an impression of topic authority. When an insightful question arrives, they know they cannot answer with necessary detail, and they side-step.

Another reason: Presenters don’t always understand the question. If an audience participant is unable to effectively communicate her question, the presenter will stumble trying to respond. These situations often result in long-winded, circular answers.

Tagged as: