Q&A Will Not Satisfy Conference Audience Cravings For Participation


Mary: Impressive presentation, John, but I’m a little concerned that there’s no audience participation.

John: No problem, we’ll open the floor to Q&A at the end.

Mary: Okay, but there’s still 45 minutes of one-way lecturing going on.

John: Good point. Let’s add another Q&A segment midway through the presentation.

We interrupt this blog post with an important news bulletin:
This just in… after months of hearings, the National Bureau of Stop Boring People has established new standards for audience engagement at conferences. Q&A no longer qualifies as a leading indicator of audience engagement. Offending parties will be given 90 days to bring their learning sessions into compliance or they’ll face stiff penalties (like a mass exodus of attendees). We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog, already in progress….

Still stuck on that weary Q&A model?

It’s making you look so yesterday… and it’s one more reason why conference audiences are tuning out, particularly the Next Generation attendees. If we expect to maintain and grow our audiences, it’s time to get them more involved throughout the session — and in more dynamic and forward-leaning ways.

By the way, Q&A isn’t all bad. It’s just that too many speakers are flawsome in their approach. They stand on the stage and ask, “Any questions?” How do we fix this?

Get the speaker to come down from the stage, walk among the crowd and rather than ask, say “Let’s dig into some questions.” In sales circles, it’s known as the assumptive close. Assume there will be questions. And if the audience doesn’t start asking, the speaker should be ready with questions to ask the audience. You have a room filled with experts just waiting to chime in with their opinions, but we need to encourage them a bit more and make it easier, too.

How else can we dial up the interaction at conference learning sessions:

 1. Audience Polls

With smartphones everywhere, there are plenty of affordable (and even free) audience polling apps. Launch your poll, share another quick nugget of insight while everyone’s voting, and then, get those results up on the screen for all to see.

2. Purposeful Table Discussion

No “go talk amongst yourselves” generic stuff. Serve up an intriguing question (or challenge), clearly and succinctly. Then let participants discuss it with their neighbor or at their tables. While these chats are going on, go listen in on a few to catch something worth sharing when you reconvene.

3. Cast Your Audience as a Main Character in a Story

What if you shared a story where the audience took on the role of one of the main characters? Then, stopping just short of the exciting climax, you would launch a “what would you do?” discussion.

Today’s audience wants to roll up their sleeves and dig into learning content with you. Passive learning is out. Participatory learning is in. We need to find more ways to get them involved, interacting with each other, and at the center of it all.

What new twists have you seen on the Q&A model? What other tips can you share to help satisfy conference audience cravings for interaction?

Adapted from Donna’s Meeting Innovation post on Cvent’s Event Planning blog. ©2013.

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  1. jim kelley says:

    Great points on all fronts…having sat thru my fair share of presentations as an attendee and associated with my professional role I have three thoughts to share on audience response/polling technology….train, train, train. Too often I have been in sessions as an attendee or one where clients of mine have deployed some type of technology to help with audience participation and engagement only to have the presenter not know how to use, be ill prepared on how to get the most out it, or have no interest in actually using it. I would strongly encourage that if you are going to use a technology such as this (or any new technology for that matter) that you invest some time, effort and energy in explaining the value and benefit to those who will be speaking…not to mention a basic tutorial on how the technology works. Keep the saw sharp!!!

  2. Donna Kastner says:

    Great point, Jim. The only thing worse than Q&A at the end is a half-hearted attempt at polling. Train, train, train + test. Anything less and you’re better off skipping the poll.

  3. Here are a few more ideas to add to the list to make Q&A more engaging:
    1) Rather than wait until the end, take questions as you go…okay, that’s a pretty obvious one!
    2) Invite the audience to use SMS Text Messaging, Twitter or other immediate chat feature to get questions…and respond!
    3) Have index cards preprinted with a poignant question waiting for each participant on the chair…or hand them out as they walk in. Collect the question cards and sift through them. Nice part about 2 and 3 is that now you have data about what’s most important and you can feed it back to the group post-event in various ways.
    4) Hot seats are always fun….where an audience member asks for feedback
    5) Serve up a debate where the audience physically moves to the position it favors and then you have a point/counterpoint conversation
    6) Take a cue from popular television shows and come up with creative ways to entertain questions such as the Oprah format, the McLaughlin Group format, etc.

  4. Thanks for sharing these tips, Kristin. I’m particularly intrigued by #5. Debate starts on stage and continues with participants having point/counterpoint discussions. Brilliant!

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