Almost without exception I've always felt like this. It is often downright embarrassing to witness how the speaker has to stay interested and answer irrelevant or extremely niche questions in front of an audience. It is so bad that I really wonder why anyone, audience or speakers, would ever want to have an Q:A after a talk. Yes it can of course be frustrating if the speaker omitted something important or just should clarify something but even in those cases it is seldom the case that such issues would even surface during an Q:A.
Yes, an Q:A with insightful questions could spark a really interesting discussion and really take the whole talk to the next level - but that is so seldom the case that it just can't be worth it, yet everyone insists on these Q:As.
To the point where my Q&A's usually take up much more time than the talk that sparked them. There was even a time once when the discussion became so interesting we ate up the whole next session as well.
The point of a Q&A, for me, is to really find out what about my topic interests the audience so I can give more relevant information than I could when just delivering a dry talk without the back and forth.
But maybe I have a weird talk style since I usually ask a lot of questions of the audience as well, which primes them to pose better questions later on (or during the talk itself).
The speaker has no such obligation.
The speaker should consider the audience at large and politely defer niche or obtuse or self-serving questions.
I suggest the moderator "take the bullet" and make a statement similar to this blog and cut out questions that don't follow the rules.
I have the same problem when teaching class, and I usually say, "That's a good question, but talk to me about it after class." Switch "class" to "the talk," and you can probably get the same effect.
Politicians are the best at this. If they're asked a question they don't want to answer, they just answer a different one.
I think it was telling that he admitted it was the first conference he'd ever been to. (And I'm not knocking his observations or recommendations: I think they are accurate and desirable!) Because for those who've seen a lot of them over the years, that whole self-promotion pattern is an old and recurring theme.
Also, promotion is unpleasant but it's generally better than writing resumes, filling out applications, going through an interview process, HR, the submission and patronization, etc. Better if people just know who you are, come get you, throw work and money in your face. Promotion gets you that.
Which is ultimately a hell of a lot more useful then pretending as OP said to be there solely for "education" or "sharing ideas." Not trying to discount what OP said, but point to something valuable being overlooked.
This depends on the nature of the talk. I've attended many talks which have included "and there's also this possibility we haven't explored in detail" where speakers have been very overjoyed to have someone stand up and say "we looked at that possibility, and found that it didn't work."
Toastmasters also rocks. I got my CTM years ago - advice is to find a club that is not affiliated with your workplace or anyone you really know (more freedom to fail without feeling self conscious)
No need to waste anyone's time on the public dime so you can practice talking to people.
I decided it's not for me.
Talks are short, you can't cover everything. If you've addressed the audience appropriately, they should understand what you told them, and you should have given them the tools to look deeper into your topic. The perfect way to look deeper after a talk is to ask an expert (you!) right now. If you've made the talk interesting, they'll of course be genuinely interested and want to know more. So a good talk = good questions.
I judge every talk I give by the questions that are asked afterward:
If there are no questions, I gave a bad talk.
If they're pity questions (something superficial or off topic---"how does this apply to <my favorite foobar nobody else uses>" are typical), I gave a bad talk.
If they're questions about something I actually did cover, then either the asker is a moron or a pendant, or I did a bad job on that section (something that's easy to detect by watching the reactions of the rest of the audience).
If they're questions about something I glossed over on purpose, or they're about open problems or otherwise really make me think, I walk out happy.
As an audience member, your only job is to attend talks you think you might be interested in, and to relax. Your natural reaction will be a reflection on the quality of the speaker, and if you find yourself asking good questions, congratulations, you just saw a great talk.
NB: This applies equally to promotional and academic talks.
Regardless of the quality of talk, you can't escape a couple of people with "that guy" syndrome. Some people just can't sit still without making their opinions heard. Buzzword bingo from the article is a good example. There's often a king-nerd who need everyone in the room to know that he too is also smart, so he starts dropping stupid buzz words only marginally related to the topic.
I've seen people go up to the microphone just to give book suggestions to the speakers. "Oh, you like the subject that you presented about? I too know about this subject. I read books."
It's all veeeeeery painful to endure. So, in short, I wouldn't judge your talks by whether or not you get a couple of dumb questions.
It takes an incredible faith in the good intentions of other people to believe that everything that happens after a talk is solely the responsibility of the speaker.
Just as all speakers are not created equal, the audience isn't a uniform group of do-gooders ready to ask excellent questions given the correct provocation. There are bad apples, and there are stupid questions, and they get asked whether the speaker gave a good talk or not.
Has anyone seen it used for this purpose? Any other tools like this? It's an interesting mobile app challenge.
I don't think I've ever seen a bad question embarrassing the speaker after being filtered by moderator. The closest to that is sometimes the speaker will just skip the question. Since it's much more impersonal, it doesn't feel rude.
Many speakers at tech conferences are not really good at the nuances of audience interaction so a moderator who can step in to keep things moving is big plus.
a) Ask questions that you believe would be relevant to at least a third of the people in the room. and b)
If you wouldn't ask the question without a room full of people present, then don't ask.
are not mutually exclusive, but do tend to whittle your potential questions down to a small set of very good ones.
I'll grant you that this wouldn't be appropriate for every kind of Q and A. Unwelcome questions would be suppressed in the White House briefing room, for example. But it should be fine for technical conferences.
The idea seems so obvious (and beneficial) that I'm wondering why nobody does it -- at least at any conference I've been to.
Everybody gets a question card as they walk in. At any point you can fill it out and pass it down for collection by volunteers. Somebody sorts them and hands them over to the moderator (usually Stewart Brand) who, at the end of the talk, sits down for a Q&A with the speaker.
It works really well. The moderator asks a mix of audience questions and follow-ups, plus asks a few questions of his own.
I strongly recommend the series. In person if you're in SF, and otherwise via podcast.
Sometimes dumb questions are better than none.
I was part of the audience for a Peter Molyneux talk recently, and half the questions just seemed to be statements. Was just thinking, what's a good answer to that?
Maybe if the person asking the question has no other opportunity to speak publicly and be heard, they should try to solve that instead as that is surely a more fundamental issue. Plus many of us in the room HAVE spent the time making sure we have well-read blogs, twitter accounts, etc
A staple of scientific conferences and very useful. Perhaps HN types would want a virtual poster wall, but there are advantages to the real paper variety (a chance to pitch to people reading the poster, and, who you therefore know are interested)
That said, solutions like Google Moderator seem promising.
I've never been to a programming or computer-science conference, but, at mathematics conferences, moderator duties tend to rotate among the attendees. This means that, while they may not be specialist content experts, they can at least separate the wheat from the chaff. Is this feasible at conferences of the sort the author describes? (It may not be; aside from the big international workshops, mathematics conferences tend to be much smaller affairs.)
As you said, I think this works better in mathematical conferences and academic scenarios because people must be willing to accept objective criticism of their ideas.
Conferences are supposed to be as much about gaining wisdom as imparting wisdom. Clearly the question part of a talk is the correct form for this two way transfer of wisdom.
Some guidelines I like:
1) Provide as many additional details the speaker explicitly requests.
2) If you think the speaker unwittingly misunderstood your question, clarify once and briefly. If that fails, it's a sign. Let it go for now.
3) If the speaker's response missed one of the 99 caveats you think are important, smile, sit down and consider drafting a letter.
Socratic conversations can be great ways to explore an issue, but they don't work while one party is on stage. You definitely shouldn't try to convert someone who is on stage. One followup should be all you ever need in this format. If you need more than one, you really just need a different setting.
This has many effects. It eliminates long-winded and meandering questions. It also eliminates questions primarily intended to puff up the questioner. Unfortunately, this latter category is probably the majority of questions at tech conferences I've been too.
The result is that Q&A is often as good or better than the talk, and may continue for 45 minutes. At many events this would be torture; at the Long Now talks it's a pleasure.
Nothing worse than Hi, I'm <name> from <company> and I would like to know <trivial question>.
People could contribute to the discussion on the spot using whatever personal electronic device they like. The speaker could quickly address anything that was confusing, and also compose a more careful response to the deeper, more complicated issues.
Seriously, these are adults attending these conferences. Trust me, if they are doing things like this - they will never "get it" socially. Thus - this is nothing but a pointless rant.