Welcome to the mycamp.rocks newsletter! I hope you are enjoying these as much as I am writing them! 😄
Here’s the deal. I’ll try to be: (1) brief (2) target to organizers, speakers, and/or attendees. Trying to keep this ad free but I’ve left a spot at the bottom for “misc things”.
You can find this issue on the mycamp.rocks website: https://mycamp.rocks/issue-6
This week’s newsletter is primarily focused on asking questions at conferences. Most talks at conferences have Q&A and famously many have that “one person” that “doesn’t ask a question but makes more of a statement” or rambles on forever. You probably know what I’m talking about.
I’ve written a blog post about this but here is a summary specific to Organizers and those in charge of the room:
- Before questions are asked, kindly remind the audience about keeping questions brief (sometimes even stating amount of seconds is good) and the amount of time in general there is for questions. Speakers should be reminded to repeat the question (helps confirm they understand the question, and great for video recordings or the live stream). Reminders are nice.
- Assuming there is a microphone involved: after someone asks their question either (1) the microphone should be given or handed back to a volunteer or (2) a volunteer should gently (but firmly) escort the asker away from the microphone. This more easily prevents askers from asking multiple questions and taking more time than would normally be allowed.
- A volunteer should be physically present to where the person is asking the question (for example next to the provided microphone). Before the asker speaks (or while the asker is waiting on the previous question to be answered) volunteers can give a quick reminder to the asker (or perhaps give them any last minute tips). Just like volunteers remind speakers about time, these volunteers can also remind askers to limit their time or “wrap it up”. Heck, even time cards might work here too.
- If there’s an insistent asker, the most polite way I can think of would be to ask them to continue with the question afterwards (most time a private room or the Happiness Bar is a good place, or even promising to replay to a Slack ping or email – whatever is best for the speaker).
- Explore the possibility of asking questions to be submitted in writing ahead of time, perhaps with the volunteer(s) reading them. Some questions during talks are submitted via an app and this can be explored (this covers also those watching on a live stream) – just make sure you make it fully accessible for anyone (even those without ability to use an app) to ask question.
- Remember that at the end of the day, most people are civil human beings. Sometimes people let the spotlight or the fact they are asking a “prominent” person a question in front of a large audience. They get nervous. Many nervous people talk a lot (like I am right now). Reminders usually work in most situations. But in order to have as much diversity in the participation as possible, it’s important to have an orderly process. Someone asking a long question isn’t just disrespectful to the speaker but also to the audience and others who might want to ask a question.
The other two sections in this week’s newsletter are a bit long, so i’ll keep this section short. These are 6 tips that recently came up in a discussion with a group of speakers that are minor but help you come across as professional and “classy”. Seriously.
- Be on time, but aim to be early. Most speakers are paranoid enough to do this anyway to make sure their laptop connects with the screen… but it sends a statement if you come in “last minute” with volunteers waiting for you to get on stage.
- Backup your talk in multiple locations. Have it on a USB drive with you and make it accessible on the web (such as Google Drives). Do not rely on the conference to have backups of your talk.
- Make it so if there is no internet, you can still give your presentation well (enough).
- Ask if there are translators or transcribers present at your talk, and make sure your slides and spoken words won’t present too much of an issue (they are usually professionals but it’s good to do a mental check).
- Ask one or two people (preferably you trust) to take a few photos of you while you give a talk. It’s up to you if you share them, but many speakers often forget to do this and regret it later (even if the talk is being recorded, camera photos can still look better in many cases especially if they are taken from the front rows).
- If asked turn in requested slides on time for any review by event organizers.
- Don’t forget to thank the conference or meetup for allowing you to speak. Thank the audience for their time.
Above we covered what organizers can do to (again also see my blog post for a bit more detail) try to keep Q&A civil, but there are some tips for potential question askers like you too:
- Keep it short. I think this is the #1 rule. What i find to be effective many times: Ask a question that might get you close to an answer (or pick something easy to respond to) and THEN you can ask the speaker if you send them a longer version in printed form. Maybe. But keep your question short if nothing else then to be considerate of other people’s time.
- Prepare in advance. Put your refined question on a card – that would allow you to be as articulate as possible.
- Don’t make it about you. Ask the question in a way others listening can benefit. Stop yourself and ask – can i ask this after the talk or at another time?
- I’ve seen people try to fit in as much questions as they can (“my second question is…. my follow up question is….”). Sometimes this is logical, other times it looks selfish to be honest. Speakers and others asking for questions are most times expecting ONE question per speaker. Sometimes that’s all they can focus on honestly.
- Allow others to ask a question. If nobody else has questions and there’s time, then perhaps ask your additional one. But respect the fact that this isn’t about you – so one question might be all you should have at that time.
Misc. Stuff 🤷♂️
These tips were written and/or gathered by David Bisset, someone who’s been helping organizing conferences (such as WordCamp Miami, but others too) and meetups for over a decade. He’s still learning so share any of your tips and it might be included in a future newsletter.