Sunday, February 16, 2014

Questions, Comments and Anecdotes

WARNING: This is a crankypants post.
When I was teaching we drummed into our students the meanings of and differences between Questions, Comments, and Anecdotes or Stories. When we were giving a lesson and students interrupted with a question or comment we would respond to them immediately or say we would deal with it at an appropriate time during the lesson; if they launched into a long-winded anecdote that had little to do with the topic under discussion we cut them off with a "sounds like an interesting story, perhaps you can tell us about it later."

What got up my nose on the recent Unlock the Past Cruise (but is not confined to that event) was the lack of manners of adults (who should know better) in the Q&A sessions towards the end of speakers' presentations. Some people asked relevant questions, some offered interesting comments and opinions and some launched into long-winded anecdotes that did little to enhance the subjects under discussion. 

I heard one woman tell the same story in two Q&A sessions and the poor presenters who did not want to be rude let her go on and waste that precious time we had for collaborative discussion at the end of talks.  GRRR! 

The problem is that speakers are generally polite and do not know how to cut audience members off without appearing rude. What to do?

My solution is simple. Please mind your manners and when a speaker asks for questions and comments during or at the end of a session please stay on topic. Most presenters, and especially those on the Unlock the Past Cruise are happy to speak privateyl with audience members after the conclusion of their formal talks. Please, save your stories for post-presentation chats.

Here are some handy definitions:

Question: a sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information

Comment: a verbal or written remark expressing an opinion or reaction

Anecdote: a short amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person

The problem with some of the anecdotes we heard in Q&A sessions on the ship is that they were neither short, amusing or interesting.


Jackie van Bergen said...

I feel your pain!

Celia Lewis said...

This comes up quite often, and as an older person, I find it amazing that the presenter hasn't figured out a quick way to handle it politely. It's one of the skills needed by any presenter. It is NOT rude to stop an inappropriate audience participant. It IS rude to force the class/group to have to put up with this!!
In smaller groups, I've simply put up my hand as a stop sign, smiled and said, see me afterwards please [or some such polite statement], and then continued to ask for questions. I guess I've gotten 'ruder' as I've gotten older!


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