Sure, Q&A seems like one of the simplest features you can use during an event. Let’s face it, it’s a simple text box. People enter their questions, send them in, and the speaker answers them. But in my 18 years of using technology in meetings to increase engagement, I’ve never seen a process and feature that was so effective at truly transforming events. When done right, Q&A can make people more aligned, enhance their learning, help them feel more valued, and make them be more deeply engaged.
Why Q&A? Because sessions usually consist of someone standing in front of the room talking at people. Whether it’s a CEO address to top leadership, the VP of sales at an SKO, or someone running a breakout, we simply put someone in front of the room and tell them to talk, be dynamic, not to kill the audience with “Death by Powerpoint.” Even if someone is a good speaker, the truth is people have questions, opinions, concerns, and they want the opportunity to actually participate by asking them. It makes it much more interesting and therefore creates much more value. If we don’t open it up to questions, we’ll end the session never knowing if people really got it. And it doesn’t have to just be questions. During a talk on direction and vision of the company, for example, ask participants to voice their concerns and issues about what they’re hearing so you know whether or not they’re indeed aligned. That way any issues or questions can be answered in real time.
Of course, you can have a speaker ask “Any questions?” or have a mic runner during the last 5 minutes of a session, but that’s never going to give you a true representation of what’s going on with the whole audience nor is it going to let everyone ask a question. By using meeting technology, you can give the entire group a voice, not just the people brave enough to stand up in front of everyone. And by building in a toggle for anonymity, you’ll get even more questions. If you really like mics go ahead and keep them, but make sure in between questions asked out loud, you go back to one collected through the app to make sure everyone is heard.
By far the biggest objection to opening the room up to Q&A is that the speaker will get embarrassed by a question or caught off guard. That’s why any Q&A tool should have a moderation feature. This feature should allow someone to go through the questions and send the chosen ones up to the speaker via an iPad or a confidence monitor. That way, the speaker can choose the ones she or he wants to answer. This also allows you to theme the questions that are coming in so that you find the ones that are being asked the most and make sure those get answered. Some speakers don’t like that; they want to see exactly what the audience is asking. That’s their call and if it works for them, great.
As the moderator of a panel it’s your job to create a conversation that attendees find valuable. What better way to do that than to take questions directly from the audience? This can be done via the moderation tool on an iPad and the moderator can seamlessly work in the questions as she or he conducts the conversation. The moderator now has direct feedback from the participants that will help steer the session.
Implementation of a Q&A tool will not only enhance learning, alignment, and engagement, it will also make participants feel more valued. At an annual sales meeting for a large company, the CEO usually got up in front of everyone and gave them the typical year in review/year to come speech. But since they kept talking about wanting to engage people more, we suggested that he cut that speech to 10 minutes and then take questions from the audience for 45 minutes. The results were astounding. During the first part of this dialogue, people voiced opinions and concerns. The CEO responded openly and honestly, building alignment and trust. By the end of the session people were sending in comments like, “It’s great to work for a company where you can actually connect with the CEO.” That kind of engagement is priceless. The participants felt valued by the CEO and the CEO became a much for valued leader in the eyes of his sales team.
If you decide to take the plunge and implement a Q&A tool at your next event, just make sure to do one thing: respond. There’s nothing more disheartening for participants than to be told that organizers want you to ask questions, only to see them enter the void without a response. This doesn’t mean you have to respond to every question of course but it does mean that you have to find a way to let participants know you’ve heard them. That can be answering some in real time but it can also mean answering some after the event. This shows participants you’ve taken extra care. A combination of the two is the best.
In the end, what’s important is to dive in and go for it. The truth is that Q&A is probably the simplest tool to use and again, the one that has the most impact on participants. They have questions they want to ask and issues they want to raise and by giving them a voice, you’re creating more value for everyone.
Want to talk about how to enhance Q&A for your events, reach out!