Friday, August 7, 2015

Questions, Comments and Anecdotes

From time to time I like to republish some of my old posts. I have witnessed the behaviour I first wrote about here at local, national and international events over the past year. 

What to do?

WARNING: This is a crankypants post.
When I was teaching we drummed into our students the meanings of and differences between QuestionsComments, andAnecdotes 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.


Maria said...

Well said, Jill. Can't agree more. Manners are never out of fashion, especially at genie events. Speakers put so much effort into their presentations, it's important to show respect to their work. From my experience, a 20 minute presentation can take 2-5 hours to prepare, sometimes more. Often they present voluntarily, with no payment. It's also important to show respect to the audience members who have made the effort to attend. Although most audience members love having chats about long and winding ancestor hunts, I don't think the end of a session is the place to share these stories or anecdotes, often where there are only 5-10 previous minutes when you have access to the expert speaker.

Anonymous said...

Go for it Jill. Having run lots of conferences in my previous jobs I found having a moderator is best for managing this. Moderators need to be tough, set rules and cut people short when necessary. Not always easy. This way the speaker gets most of the question time to give back more to the audience. Not so easy when there is no moderator but I think it is perfectly alright for the speaker to set criteria for Q & A. E.g., "One question per person, no rambling comments or anecdotes as the time is limited and we want to get in a many questions as we can." If the speaker is a blogger they could have pre-organised a post on the topic and say feel free to share your comments there. Fran


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