I’m sure that many of you have attended or given conference and faculty talks where the post-talk Question and Answer sessions have fallen apart after audience members offer poorly worded or individualistic questions, or give their own talk instead of asking a question and take up the entire Q&A session. In a recent series of twitter posts Professor Eve Tuck (@tuckeve) posted some excellent ideas on creating a meaningful question and answer (Q&A) session after a conference presentation.
Professor Tuck is an Associate Professor of Critical Race and Indigenous Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto. Her terrific suggestions are laid out in the tweet thread at:
Her first suggestion is to not start the Q&A immediately after a talk, instead she gives the audience five to ten minutes to discuss it among themselves. As she says, after sitting and listening for 45 – 90 minutes, many people need to talk and are eager to respond, especially when the talk is in their area of expertise. And sometimes they want to express their own opinions about the subject matter or style of the presentation and not ask questions that will further the discussion. This break also gives the speaker time to collect their thoughts.
During this time she asks the audience to peer review their questions before they ask them. This is my favorite suggestion. It allows the questioner to really consider what their goals are and if what they want to say is really is a question at all. By talking with their colleagues and co-attendees, they will be able to process and discuss their thoughts first and then decide whether their thoughts are a question, and if so, check if it hasn’t already been answered by the speaker or if it would be better asked privately afterwards in a one on one scenario. Some audience members may even realize that they don’t really have a question, but are seeking to let the audience and presenter know that they are better informed on the topic than the presenter.
Professor Tuck uses these techniques in her own talks and when she organizes talks for others. She follows up when the audience member asks their question to see if it has been peer reviewed. She also seeks out someone who knows the audience to facilitate the Q&A session for more control over who asks questions and how long they talk to prevent Q&As where one person dominates without even asking a question.
Within the terrific and appreciative responses to the twitter thread was a great post by someone else who has also experienced the awkward, ill-timed or non-question question after a presentation.
Dani Rabaiotti, a Ph.D student studying the effect of climate change on African wild dogs, created the following terrific flowchart that she posts at the end of her presentations to help guide the audience.
She has also written several books, including co-writing Does It Fart?, a book about animal flatulence, so she has obviously maintained a keen sense of humor while doing her Ph.D. research. I can think of several of my own and colleague’s presentations where Professor Tuck’s suggestions and Ms. Rabaiotti’s flowchart would have been helpful and I plan to incorporate them in my talks in the future. I think they would be especially helpful for contentious topics.