A different approach to conference Q&A – Interviews

A few weeks ago was Highland Fling, a conference in Scotland organised and run by a very enthusiastic person, Alan White. I spoke twice at that event in the past and one thing I loved most about it was how it handled the Q&A of the audience.

The issues with Q&A

After-talk Q&A is always a pain to get right. There are a few issues that keep cropping up:

  • People are too afraid to ask a “probably stupid” question in front of the rest of the audience (funnily enough a lot of times this is the question a lot of others have but are as afraid to ask)
  • People asking questions use the opportunity to profile themselves or their company/product instead of asking a valid question (thus wasting everybody’s time)
  • Speakers and/or the audience can’t hear or understand the question (and speakers need to repeat it so it gets recorded/is heard by everybody thus using up even more time)
  • Speakers can’t see the audience properly (lights in their eyes) which means some half-hearted requests don’t get recognised
  • The people asking questions are asked to wait for the microphone to be comprehensible to everybody which takes up time (and not everybody knows how to handle a mic)
  • Interesting questions at the beginning of the talk get forgotten halfway through
  • Speakers get stuck answering one question or deviate rather than answering swiftly and getting more questions in

The Highland Fling way

The Fling does it differently: instead of having an open Q&A session after the talk the conference has a moderator who not only introduces the speakers but also does a 20 minute interview with them after the talk. Conference participants can tweet questions to the interviewer during the talk. This works around most of the issues mentioned earlier.

This year I was lucky enough to be the moderator/interviewer.

interviewing at highland flingOriginal photos by Drew McLellan

As you may know, I have a background in radio where I spent a lot of time interviewing people on the phone and live. It was a lot of fun going back to that and especially interesting to have a mixed group of speakers all with different specialist topics to chat about.

Judging from the Twitter feedback at the conference I must have done a good job, and it was great to see speakers be more relaxed when they sit on a sofa and know some questions will come rather than hoping there are some.

I think more conferences should adopt this idea.


View full post on Christian Heilmann’s blog – Wait till I come!

2 thoughts on “A different approach to conference Q&A – Interviews

  1. Bogdan Iordache

    Very good approach, indeed.

    At How to Web we’re doing things a little bit different, but they still work: when a talk is over, we usually talk for 2-3 minutes with the guest so the attendees have the time to reflect and understand the subject of the talk. After that, you can start asking for questions.

    If no questions arrise what so ever you start asking the audience a few questions: “who had problems with scalling issues”, “did you ever had a legal problem” etc. until you engage your entire audience.

    It always works.

  2. Alan White

    Hi Chris

    Thanks for taking the time to offer some kind words about the conference and the way that I did the Q&A.  I really want to take people on a journey through each event via the topics and the interviews give an opportunity to explore what is essentially a talk on rails.  It’s nice to give the speakers a chance to go a little deeper into what they’ve been talking about, perhaps saying something they never quite managed to fit into their talk. It’s also a chance to get their views on anything else related.

    Ideally I would love to do a talk show style event one day where you end up with a panel of speakers on the sofa being interviewed and growing the discussion as the day goes on. Just like Parky (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Parkinson) would do it 🙂

    Maybe next year!

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