Q&A Doesn't Make Your Conference Session Interactive

Q and AMary: 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 lecture 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 congressional hearings, the National Bureau of Stop Boring People has established new standards for audience engagement at annual 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. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog, already in progress....

Still stuck on those one-way lectures with Q&A slapped on at the end?

Conference audiences are tuning out by the droves, particularly the Next Gen crowd. If we expect to maintain and grow our audiences, it's time to get them more involved throughout the session.

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 audience members. You have a room filled with experts just waiting to chime in with their opinions.

Here are a few more ways to dial up the interaction at conference learning sessions:

  • Audience Polls
    With smartphones everywhere, there are plenty of affordable (and even free) audience polling options where participants can text in their responses. In seconds, you have a colorful pie chart or bar graph with real-time data. Dealing with a low-tech crowd? Try my Red-Yellow-Green low-tech polling solution.
  • Purposeful Table Discussion
    No "go talk amongst yourselves" stuff. Pose one intriguing question, clearly and succinctly. Then let participants discuss possibilities at their table. PS: Speaker should not be drinking water and reviewing the slide deck. Go mingle in the crowd and listen in on these discussions. You're sure to catch something worth sharing when you reconvene.
  • Cast Your Audience as a Main Character in a Story
    What if your speaker told a story where the audience took on the role of one of the main characters? Then, stopping just short of the exciting climax, launch a "what would you do?" table discussion.
  • Make a Game of It
    There's nothing like a little friendly competition to get your audience involved. How about a learning scavenger hunt? A poster contest? Or maybe you'll pose questions throughout your presentation, collect responses via Twitter, and those who advance through the qualifying rounds make it to the finals on stage.

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.

To learn more, read 4 Roadblocks That Stifle Conference Event Creativity and BTEs to the Rescue for Live Conference Presentations.

(photo by kk+ on Flickr)

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