A seminar or a talk has just ended, and it’s question-answer (Q&A) time. Because of their interactive nature, Q&A sessions evoke greater interest. I enjoy these sessions too, especially if the exchanges pan out well. But sometimes things can go horribly wrong.
Q&A sessions usually have difficult starts. Perhaps the lecture has been so boring or so technical, that no one has questions to ask. The chairman or the moderator then faces the formidable challenge of getting in at least one question.
It is best if a renowned expert in the audience starts off by asking an interesting question (and then adding his own vignette or experience). Such moments are most enjoyable, especially if the speaker’s response also brings in new insights or thought currents.
But that may not always happen! The moderator then has the harder task of persuading ‘friends’ from the audience to ask something; if that too fails, he is obliged to ask a question himself so that the Q&A formally takes off!
If, and when, the initial reserve is overcome, questions begin flowing quite easily. But beware! Every audience usually contains a handful of individuals who just love to talk, and desperately crave to be heard. They often stand up to make long and rambling observations that go on and on, often forgetting that they are just supposed to ask a question! This can get pretty annoying and the moderator must intervene.
There is also some small danger that, when the speaker responds to a question, the response may be so long that the audience feels that the lecture has started all over again. The moderator must again intervene, because even the most interesting speaker isn’t so interesting one hour later.
Then there are moments when the speaker completely fails to understand the question (especially if he is Chinese or Korean), and proceeds to give an entirely different answer. Everyone in the audience notices this, but few are rude enough to interrupt. If the answer ends quickly it’s not too bad, but if it drags on then your patience is sorely tested.
To me the high point of every Q&A session comes when someone poses a question and the speaker replies: “that’s a good question!” I instantly turn around to see the reaction of the individual asking the question: in most cases, he’s feeling on top of the world.
Why is a ‘good question’ a good question? There are many reasons. Sometimes the speaker says it to buy time as he racks his brain to come up with some answer (rather like how all modern day cricketers reply “absolutely” even before they’ve heard the question!). But most times a question is ‘good’ because the speaker has a good answer!