Q&A sessions are an integral part of any livestreamed meeting or event because they offer the opportunity for you to fully engage with your audience through an open flow of dialogue.
With in-person live events, hosting Q&A is relatively straightforward. An audience member raises their hand, the speaker calls upon them, and then the audience member’s question is answered.
However, since the Covid-19 pandemic, many corporate events have been moved online, accelerating a trend that now seems to be with us for good. Although virtual and hybrid events offer a clear list of advantages over just in-person events, they also pose a challenge to event managers: how can they efficiently host a virtual Q&A experience that performs as seamlessly as one held during a live event?
The good news is that holding an engaging, informative virtual or hybrid Q&A session is possible with the proper preparation, technical infrastructure, production team, and moderator in place, giving everyone involved the best Q&A experience possible.
Preparing for your virtual Q&A session
In many cases, speakers allow for approximately 30 percent of their presentation time for questions. This amount will balance the time spent informing people on a topic and allowing them ample time to field questions. A good Q&A session can often be the most memorable part of a presentation and can lead to more fruitful discussions.
However, what happens in the dreaded instance when you open the floor for questions and are met with silence? You can avoid these stressful and awkward situations by discussing some of the most common types of questions that you’ve prepared ahead of time. This tactic allows you to keep things moving and empowers the audience to begin engaging as you answer any questions they probably already have but might not have wanted to ask.
You can also be ready for your Q&A session by having a few slides prepared that delve deeper into specific details that you couldn’t use in your presentation. These are great for a Q&A session, as they fully equip you to answer some common questions visually and in impressive detail. This approach will also bolster your confidence in hosting your Q&A session if you’re relatively new at it. Think of it like when we see someone on a late night talk show whose off the cuff stories from the couch are hitting the mark. These stories are rarely “off the cuff” but rehearsed and prepared in advance.
Technical infrastructure and production team
Broadcasting to a large group often requires more preparation than we’re used to with a regular plain old video call. Having a production team on your side will help calm the nerves and assist you with garnering all of the technology you will need for your livestream and your Q & A session. Trying to do it yourself, or leaving it to your IT department to handle, might not give you sufficient resources to take care of everything.
A dedicated production team already has all the necessary technology in place and will use it to ensure you look and sound your best. They’ll also handle the technical aspects of your Q&A session in cooperation with the moderator to deliver an optimal experience for all participants that will encourage further viewer engagement.
If you’re unsure about how the virtual or hybrid Q&A session will feel, your production team will be happy to schedule a rehearsal so you can experience it beforehand. This mock session will help increase your level of comfort with the process, and allow you to relax and focus on delivering your message when you go live.
The role of the Q&A moderator
One might think that the camera is the main element connecting you with your audience. However, the moderator plays an equally important role in connecting with viewers and ensuring an organized, well-managed Q&A session.
The moderator’s primary duties are:
- Screening all the questions, so only appropriate ones are asked
- Guiding the switching so the person can ask their question in real-time, whether in a virtual or hybrid setting
- Keeping the event moving forward to prevent getting stuck on a particular topic
- Watching the clock so they can end the Q&A session once the allotted time is up
The ideal moderator should be able to improvise under pressure, make critical decisions quickly, and facilitate dialogue without participating in it. Moderators are always well-prepared and organized and will brief everyone involved before the event starts.
Best of all, they’re managing the engagement with your audience for you. All you need to do is listen to and answer questions and the audience should feel that the moderator is doing their best to get their questions answered.
Your moderator is crucial to your session’s success. Be sure to choose one carefully or work with an experienced virtual production house that can provide one.
How do audience members ask their questions?
There are typically three ways that the audience can submit their questions:
- Teleconference: In this scenario, viewers ask questions via teleconference and the operator creates the queue. The moderator has the ability to view and rearrange the queue to their liking. They can also communicate to the operator which callers they don’t want to take questions from.
- Zoom: During a Zoom webinar, the moderator can mute and unmute people depending on when it’s their turn to ask a question. This is a preferred method for press conferences but it also works well for virtual meetings and events.
- Manual entry: Viewers key their questions into a dedicated Q&A tab in the viewing portal. The moderator can then screen the questions as they come in and choose which ones get asked.
Tips on neutralizing trouble
Sometimes trouble during a Q&A session can happen. Unfortunately, it’s one of the possible realities that can occur during any interaction among people. Problems can appear in quite a few forms, such as questions that have nothing to do with the topic or someone being directly confrontational.
Troublesome situations create unnecessary tension and can threaten to derail the entire session. However, it is also something that you can plan for and be prepared to deal with effectively so your session can continue unabated.
Here are three ways you can respond should any of these problems occur:
- Prepare for strange or inappropriate questions in a way that can save face for both you and the person asking the question. First, be sure to acknowledge them and thank them for their query. Then, let them know that you would be happy to address their question offline. You can then move on to the next question.
- When someone is trying to purposely derail your topics by asking hostile questions, the first thing to do is acknowledge their question and thank them for their perspective on the matter. Tell them you will look into it and move on to the next question. By responding in this manner, you will retain your authority while diffusing the situation.
- Sometimes people have irrelevant questions or word them in a way that is not understandable or even just want to make statements. However, you keep things moving by using them to your advantage. Try to redirect those types of questions to the prepared questions that you have that could be of more relevance to the audience in general.
Your moderator will also be able to keep control of the flow of the session by discreetly helping you stay focused, on point, and seemingly always in control.
Final thoughts and conclusion
For many people, delivering a presentation is relatively easy. Having a Q&A session after it can be more challenging as your knowledge is being tested in real-time. You need to think on the fly, keep your energy up, and always appear calm and collected, even under extreme circumstances.
However, with the right amount of preparation, cutting-edge livestream software and technology, a dedicated production team, and a skilled moderator, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that all of the background responsibilities will be handled. With the right team and technology behind you, you’ll be able to focus your energy on answering questions and enjoy a seamless Q&A experience.