I love Q&A. As someone who has been both student and teacher at a lot of workshops, I find the most fulfilling conversations are the ones after the speaker finishes or the teacher stops teaching.
Once the material has invaded your brain and you’ve had the opportunity to ingest it for a few moments, that’s when and where real synaptic connections are made. The problem, albeit a small one, is that question: “Are there any questions?” No one wants to be the first to raise their hand or to speak. Few people like the spotlight of that moment and even fewer want to be the dreaded first.
Once someone does decide to go first, there’s usually a trickle and then a cascade where one question leads to a comment or idea from someone else, which leads to “This happened to me…” or “Here’s how I handled this…” or “I tried this…” stories. This is the stuff of really great conversations. Of course, these kinds of conversations pertain to soft skills events. I’m assuming you wouldn’t get the same kind of questions at an advanced calculus workshop.
Unfortunately, I’ve also seen and heard the crickets chirping. Picture it: the instructor/speaker has finished their material and opened the floor with the generic, “Does anyone have any questions?” AND NO ONE RAISES THEIR HAND. A couple of seconds go by, and then a few more and the instructor gets shifty and asks again, this time with a little attitude, maybe some defensiveness. And still, no one raises their hand and it becomes anticlimactic because of course people had questions or comments but no one wants to be first, and now it’s awkward and you’re hungry and you just want to get to the buffet and who the hell is texting me?!
A couple of simple changes in the way we offer Q&A can create huge opportunities for connectedness and meaningful dialogue.
First, be specific in asking for questions. Don’t ask the open, generic bid for questions, ask for a comment or a question on a particular part of the material. For example, when I’m teaching public speaking, I might ask “Who has a question about how the movie Dirty Dancing will help you to be a better speaker?” This strategy helps your audience focus on bites of the material rather than the whole smorgasbord, which might seem overwhelming
Once you have a couple of questions asked and answered, you can make it easy for the audience to connect with each other on the topic. For example, “Debra commented that public speaking makes her feel really nervous. Does anyone else feel that same anxiety and how do you overcome it?” One of the most exciting components of the Q&A is hive-mind problem solving. In these instances, I believe part of being a good leader is guiding the conversation while not necessarily being the center of it.
Some people dread Q&A. It believe it to be rich with opportunity for learning and community. Maybe we should create an event with a topic/theme and all we do is ask and answer questions. I wonder how many problems we could solve with those kinds of conversations. And a bottle of wine.
LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics, headquartered in Charleston, SC. Her company provides spectacular training events that utilize theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans, To find out how Dirty Dancing can teach you about public speaking, reach out to us at 843-771-0753.