How to: Kill your event with a Q&A session.

Recently we partnered with a client to re-design their one-day event. They had many goals; team building, building product knowledge, demonstrating different vertical markets, etc.

They also wanted to add a q&a (question and answer) session at the end of the day.

We advised against this. Strongly. But in the end, they were persistent and there was a half-hour q&a session at the end of the day. We watched the (up-until-then) fantastic, engaging, uplifting meeting spiral down into a pit of suck*.

*technical term

Now we're not opposed to q&a sessions. There are many reasons to do them--and many of those reasons are great:
  • They promote transparency
  • They allow executives or upper-level management to hear from "the people"
  • You can craft your content around more-relevant topics as you hear common questions
  • It's important for people to feel heard
However, so often q&a sessions are BAD.
  • They drag on too long
  • They're unmoderated and awkward
  • They take the event or content in a direction that is undesired
  • Worse, they take the event or content in a direction that is irrelevant or overly-specific
  • They turn into gripe sessions
  • They are uninteresting for anyone who is not asking a particular question
So mix a half-hour of q&a into a previously-lively, on-track event and BANG. You've killed the momentum.  So how can you still have a q&a session and leave your event alive and kicking?

Don't: Put your q&a session in a huge block of time at the end of the day.
People who have already been through a large amount of content are brain-tired and less receptive to answers, less likely to pay attention, and less likely to leave the event on a positive note.

Having a q&a session at the end of the day also eliminates your ability to respond to concerns or content shifts brought up in the q&a

  • Instead: Sprinkle your q&a in short chunks throughout the day.

Don't: Leave questions up to random chance.
People ask what interests them. Often times, questions are irrelevant to a large majority of the audience, or deal with an extremely specific situation. Questions can also become a forum for "bitch sessions" where people air more grievances than on Festivus.

Non-anonymous questions can also lead to "safe" questions only or a lack of participation.

  • Instead: Have question boxes in the meeting room where people can submit questions at any time. Ask these in your q&a time instead. This is a method to filter questions for the q&a session--but it isn't censoring the questions. All questions may be answered, just not immediately at the event. 

Don't: Have an unmoderated q&a session.
Both executives AND question-askers can lead a session WAY off track or make it drag on too long. You don't want attendees to be sitting with a sense of "when is this going to be OVER with, already" anticipation.

  • Instead: Have a panel and limit answers to a particular time. This keeps the q&a session moving along and provides a bit of lively levity.

We're not against q&a sessions--it's just that they so often become the Achilles heel of the event...and they don't HAVE to with a little restructuring and thought.
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