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How to ask a question
April 8, 2012 6:57 PM   Subscribe


 
First, I'd like to thank you for posting this. It really is important for the young people these days to come into contact with concepts such as these. I try to promote such thinking in discussions I lead on a regular basis.
posted by rebent at 7:04 PM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are a few good points buried underneath a heaping pile of pretension in that essay.
posted by empath at 7:05 PM on April 8, 2012 [20 favorites]


The topic all by itself was sure to bring out some multiculturalists bent on sharing their irritation, as well as some Muslims determined to express their disdain for the apostate Ibn Warraq. And they indeed showed up and unselfconsciously testified to the accuracy of Warraq’s praise of the West for its openness to the expression of dissenting views and his criticism of modern Islam for its intellectual narrowness.

"Mr. Wood, is your axe sharp yet, or does it need more grinding?"

This ostensibly uncontroversial, chatty blog piece is actually a creepy half-disguised salvo in a culture war. Pretty typical of a Chronicle blog post, in fact.
posted by RogerB at 7:06 PM on April 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


There's some good advice in there for certain kinds of talks (there are plenty of talks where you are supposed to put pressure on the lecturer's claims during question period) but I didn't think it was well-written. The paragraph RogerB quoted, in particular, was completely opaque to me. What was he trying to say happened during the questions after that lecture?
posted by escabeche at 7:12 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


There needs to be a counterpart: "how to write concisely about asking questions".
posted by dfriedman at 7:14 PM on April 8, 2012 [20 favorites]


It is true that no one knows how to ask a question anymore. At work I rarely hear actual honest questions asked, just assertions that either get shouted down or not shouted down. It's a very depressing way to have to communicate. I would rather just find out things that I don't know instead of throwing shit at the wall and seeing if it sticks. When it's everyone doing that, it's a lot of shit that winds up all of the place.


But a good many of the questioners simply didn’t know how to ask a question. They were caught in the fog between wanting to communicate something that seemed to them urgent to declare and the need to ask.

Then ask yourself if this point is something you want to assert or something you want to find out.


This is also good advice for Ask Metafilter.
posted by bleep at 7:16 PM on April 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


That means you should not try to introduce a divergent topic.

For instance, if you are writing an essay regarding the proper way to ask a question you should probably not spend a paragraph unnecessarily communicating your views about western culture vs. Islamic culture.
posted by sendai sleep master at 7:16 PM on April 8, 2012 [29 favorites]


He went looking for an evening of civil, rigorous intellectualism at a panel discussion about a book called Why the West is Best? I'm pretty sure that event was pre-fucked, as it is often put here on MeFi.
posted by Nomyte at 7:17 PM on April 8, 2012 [16 favorites]


This isn't bad advice, but most of the article is window dressing. Really, all that is required for a good question is to actually want to know the answer.
posted by jcreigh at 7:20 PM on April 8, 2012 [16 favorites]


I usually ask questions when I'm confused. I rarely ask them to "enrich the discussion".
posted by King Bee at 7:21 PM on April 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I agree that the writer doesn't follow all his own advice about cutting out verbiage and getting to the point. I posted the link anyway because I thought the advice about how to ask a question was good or at least thought-provoking. Those who want to skip the drawn-out introduction can start reading after the paragraph that simply says "Here's how."
posted by John Cohen at 7:21 PM on April 8, 2012


I liked the part where he said
Knowing the difference between powerful concision and powerless vapidity is a matter of discernment, and the same words could be either.
posted by Edogy at 7:24 PM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


But no, they seem more and more possessed with a demon of self-expression that has recklessly discarded restraint.

There's not enough shame in the world. College campuses used to be The Paper Chase. Now, everyone is a special snowflake.

Audience member: "Don’t you agree that you are an ignorant buffoon?"

I can almost guarantee you that the questioner faced no scorn whatsoever. I bet there was even an attempt at an answer. "Well, I disagree with your characterization and will add..."

No.

Audience member: "Don’t you agree that you are an ignorant buffoon?"
Moderator: "Sit down, fool. Everyone take a look at this person. That's what a fool looks like. Take a good look. Remember it, as you will likely run into a fool again. Hopefully, you will be prepared. Now, next question."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:25 PM on April 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


At least it wasn't How To Ask Questions The Smart Way (previously).
posted by scruss at 7:28 PM on April 8, 2012


This is appalling. Exercise in circular logic. The article is prescriptive, which is what makes it so unappealing.
posted by polymodus at 7:30 PM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have a question: How do I respond when I both agree with somebody and don't agree with him?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:30 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


So... the tl;dr version:

A good question is one that tries to further a discussion, not derail it by focusing on minute details or personal agendas.

Did I get that right?? I'm not mad at that. But, as everyone else has noted, this author is unnecessarily verbose. Gross.
posted by raihan_ at 7:30 PM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


fta: Good questions aren't questions that are necessarily hard to answer. They are questions that give the person they are addressed to the opportunity to say something worthwhile.

My head is spinning.
posted by polymodus at 7:31 PM on April 8, 2012


I hope it is not too egregious of a self-link here to talk about this:

I run a barroom lecture series in Toronto (and occasionally elsewhere) called Trampoline Hall. It's a monthly show where, at each show, we have three short lectures, each followed by a Q&A that usually goes on longer than the lecture itself. I think the Q&A's are usually really great and fun - our audience is smart, and they ask good questions.

I think a reason for this (apart from the fact that, generally, only smart and wonderful people come to our show), is that at the start of every night, I give people a painfully long explanation of how to ask a good question during the Q&A. This talk seems sort of like a joke, and in a way it is. But it also actually sets up some ground rules. At the very least - it gets people to think about the fact that their question actually ought to be good, which I think is a useful first step.

The talk I give is pretty long. A nicely edited version appears here...
posted by ManInSuit at 7:34 PM on April 8, 2012 [33 favorites]


I go to a lot of film festivals in Toronto and even though there is usually a Q&A afterwards, I've given up on staying and listening. There are usually a few good questions, but the bad questioners, be they clueless, self-aggrandizing, or just plain bonkers, are so cringe-worthy that I end up doubled over trying to block out the sympathetic shame.
posted by thecjm at 7:40 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


As someone who moderates panels at conventions, this is what I usually tell people in the audience.

1. Don't ask questions until Q&A time.

2. Raise your hand.

3. If you say "not a question, more of a comment," I will cut you off and we will go to a person asking an actual question.

4. If your question takes too long, I will say "Get to the question, please." If you don't, I will cut you off and we will go to the next person.

5. One question per hand raising.

I find if you let people know what the rules of the game are ahead of time, then a) they will generally follow them, b) when they don't you can shut them down and still have the rest of the audience on your side.
posted by jscalzi at 7:40 PM on April 8, 2012 [34 favorites]




My major complaint with the author's stance is the fact that he seems to place an inordinate amount of importance on the pleasantness of a question and answer session.

The best reason to ask a question is to contribute to the quality of the discussion that has already begun.

and


If the audience applauds your question, you are grandstanding and have failed an important test of civility.

So, it strikes me that the underlying narrative to this article is that Mr. Wood went to a lecture at which a speaker he agreed with was treated, in his opinion, to a large amount of negative responses. It seems that he decided to respond with, as noted by polymodus, prescriptive essay that is both patronizing in its tone and seems to give advice that suggest that questioners must always put the feelings of the questioner first.

Sometimes (whether it be in the fashion or content of his or her answer) how a speaker answers a question that is slightly out of context, assertive, or impolite tells you as much about the speaker and their views as the talk itself.

I, like most people, find that bad questions sometimes cause me to roll my eyes. That being siad I would most definitely wish to wade through a mess of bad questions in order for there to be good ones that push the speaker and the audience out of their comfort zones. I think Mr. Wood's essay does not just break his own rhetorical rules but also neuters what I find to be most valuable about questions asked at the end of talks.
posted by sendai sleep master at 7:41 PM on April 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have a question: How do I respond when I both agree with somebody and don't agree with him?

"I agree with you that ___. I think ___, however, is misguided/doesn't make sense/etc. How do you explain ___ in light of ___?"
posted by limeonaire at 7:52 PM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Questioners that always pop up no matter what the setting:

1. Person who wants to talk about their own work or namedrop other celebrities.

2. Person that wants to talk about some kind of historical spat between the speaker and other randoms that has nothing to do with the panel/discussion at hand.

3. Person that wants to tell some kind of depressingly long anecdote to illustrate how much they agree with what the speaker is arguing. Anecdote typically starts no later than the seventies and encompasses at least one other country than where the talk is taking place.

4. Person who manages to somehow bring up Israel/Palestine issues - no matter what the actual subject is.

More generally, though, I dunno maybe it's my job, but I see great questions all the time. I think people are getting better and better at asking questions. The trick is to make sure the presentation/talk/discussion doesn't just leave room for questions but dangles inchoate questions in front of the audience like ripe, glistening fruit. Presentations that compel questions. Not to be confused with incendiary or controversial content per se, but content that encourages creativity in audience and speaker alike. Moderation/Chairing is key to this, in my opinion.
posted by smoke at 7:52 PM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised at the flack this article is getting. I thought some of the advice was pretty good, and the writing was not so opaque that I took notice. He's not really repeating himself unnecessarily, as some of you are saying... each paragraph makes a different suggestion.

I tend to hate Q&As. Asking questions that respect the rest of the audience is really hard and most people are terrible at it.
posted by painquale at 7:53 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


John Sawatsky on asking questions:
The Art of the Interview, ESPN-Style
• John Sawatsky and the power of simple questions
The Question Man

Poynter on questions:
Tools of the Trade: The Question

Sawatsky calls this the best interview ever.
posted by paulschreiber at 7:58 PM on April 8, 2012 [14 favorites]


King Bee does better in one sentence than Wood does in his whole article. A question is a good question if it's a question to which you actually want to know the answer. Its purpose is not to "enhance the occasion," and it is certainly not a chance to give the speaker "an opportunity to say something worthwhile" -- the speaker has already been given this opportunity by virtue of the invitation to speak, and one dearly hopes it has already been taken at this point in the lecture.

As for me, I typically find the question period the most enjoyable part of my own lectures, whether the questioners are a little prolix or not. There is nothing more deadly than giving a lecture and having no one ask a question. Was the audience even actually present or were you just imagining them? And if they wrestle with me a little, what of it? That's how I learn things about stuff I think of myself as already knowing.
posted by escabeche at 7:59 PM on April 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have a question: How do I respond when I both agree with somebody and don't agree with him? by Bunny Ultramod

"I think this idiot is on to something."
posted by Foam Pants at 8:00 PM on April 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


3. If you say "not a question, more of a comment," I will cut you off and we will go to a person asking an actual question.

Oh, thank you. Moderators should have to sign a pledge in blood to do this when they take the job.
posted by BinGregory at 8:02 PM on April 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


This reminds me of the time I went to see Phyllis Schlafly speak on my college campus, and even before her talk started, people were talking about how much they hated her and how she shouldn't even be allowed to speak, etc. The Q&A was just more of the same, a lot of grandstanding and statement-making very little attempt to seek understanding or, you know, ask actual questions. I'll never forget how she responded to one such woman: "I think that's your problem, not mine."

Now that I know more about Schlafly, I can see why so many people walked in upset and proceeded as they did. But from a rhetorical standpoint, I still think the grandstanders and statement-makers did their own cause a grave disservice by giving her such an easy opportunity to swat down their poorly formed questions. So yes, the form of the question really does matter!
posted by limeonaire at 8:08 PM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


The best questions, I find, in an academic setting are either:

i) to clarify something from the seminar
or
ii) to get the speaker's knowledgable opinion on something related to, but not in, their talk
posted by lalochezia at 8:09 PM on April 8, 2012


It seems that he decided to respond with, as noted by polymodus, prescriptive essay that is both patronizing in its tone and seems to give advice that suggest that questioners must always put the feelings of the questioner first.

There's nothing wrong with being prescriptive.

The advice isn't to put the feelings of the speaker or questioner first, it's to put the feelings of the audience first. It's not OK to ask a question about something only you and the speaker know about or understand, for instance. That wastes most everyone's time.

A question is a good question if it's a question to which you actually want to know the answer. Its purpose is not to "enhance the occasion," and it is certainly not a chance to give the speaker "an opportunity to say something worthwhile" -- the speaker has already been given this opportunity by virtue of the invitation to speak, and one dearly hopes it has already been taken at this point in the lecture.

I fully disagree. If it's a question no one else will care about, don't ask your question in that sort of public venue. Approach the speaker after the talk, or send her an email, etc. Don't waste everyone else's time by preventing a question that might interest more people from being asked. (There can be overriding reasons to ask questions that don't respect the rest of the audience, of course, but I think they are rare.)
posted by painquale at 8:10 PM on April 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


*, and very little
posted by limeonaire at 8:10 PM on April 8, 2012


The paragraph RogerB quoted, in particular, was completely opaque to me. What was he trying to say happened during the questions after that lecture?

He was saying that after the lecture there was a time for questions from the audience, but that instead of questions all they got was a series of people giving their own opinions (which nobody had gone to the lecture to listen to). In this case, Wood seems to be saying that the Muslims who criticised Warraq as an apostate provided evidence for his case against modern Islam as intellectually narrow. I'm not sure what his point about "multiculturalists" is, though.

His argument is mostly relevant to public lectures where people have come to listen to a particular speaker or speakers, or to a debate on a particular topic, and annoying cranks from the audience keep getting up to grind their own personal axes until the moderator turns their microphone off. Having been to many such events myself I can see his point. See also any website with a comments section (including this one from time to time).
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:11 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a college TA. On days when I manage to ask one good question, it's a pretty sweet job. On days when I don't, it's a goddamn miserable slog.

And for me, the relevant definition of "good question" is exactly the one that this guy's using. I need questions that are fruitful, thought-provoking, conversation-starting, and that set the students up to look good — to draw their own connections and make their own interesting points and set off on weird tangents that turn out to be unexpectedly relevant. "Enhancing the occasion" is exactly what I'm paid to do. If I can't do it, then I'd be better off sending them all back to their dorms to smoke weed and hash out the Big Questions on their own terms.

Lots of people are saying that you should ask questions that gratify your own personal curiosity, or that let you put pressure on people you disagree with and advance your own agenda. Those are all good kinds of questions to ask in some situations. But for me they're worse than useless.

I guess for other people this sort of "good question" isn't really all that important, and I can see how the article seems snooty and out-of-touch. But I am definitely going to be rereading it at least a few times this week, because this shit is, no joke, completely essential to my quality of life right now.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:15 PM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


If it's a question no one else will care about, don't ask your question in that sort of public venue

But if it's a question you don't care about, you shouldn't ask it at all.

If there's a question left open by the speaker and I'm interested in knowing the answer, it's a pretty safe bet that lots of other people in the audience want to know the answer as well. I suppose this requires a certain self-confidence in one's own assessment of what's interesting. But so does any attempt to ask "a question that might interest more people."
posted by escabeche at 8:25 PM on April 8, 2012


"Ex-Governor Romney, if you had the chance to ask an ordinary person - a person who isn't a millionaire, a person whose father didn't run for President - what question would you ask me?"
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:39 PM on April 8, 2012


This clearly is a job for the magratheans, as the builders of deep thought have completely dropped the ball.
posted by roboton666 at 9:41 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hate virtually everything and even I thought this guy made some good points about how you should approach questions at public events and lectures. I don't want to hear other audience members grind their axes, shake their canes, or ramble on endlessly namedropping. Do that on you own time.
posted by Justinian at 9:42 PM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


So he got savaged in a Q&A last week and is still bitter? Where was the presentation?
posted by howfar at 9:57 PM on April 8, 2012


Maybe having read this will help me in my pursuit of asking a question here.
posted by huckleberryhart at 9:58 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the issue is less that people don't know how to ask a question and more that they want to participate in the conversation but are constrained to phrase their commentary in the form of a question as if they're on Jeopardy or something.
posted by zanni at 10:12 PM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


And lest we forget, don't launch into a tirade in the guise of asking a question only to culminate with '"don't taze me bro... Aaaaaaaaaagh!". It's a kind of bait and switch.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:46 PM on April 8, 2012


as well as some Muslims determined to express their disdain for the apostate Ibn Warraq

Question, Mr Moderator! If even John Derbyshire thinks Ibn Warraq is an unreliable islamophobe, does that mean he is utterly discredited, or only very thoroughly discredited?
posted by BinGregory at 11:17 PM on April 8, 2012


If you are the Count of Monte Cristo come to settle the score with the man who unjustly sent you to prison for 20 years, then have at it. The audience will enjoy the show. Otherwise stick with the topic.

Unless your vendetta pertains to the current culture wars, I pray you to sit down.
posted by arcticseal at 12:03 AM on April 9, 2012


I agree with most of the opinions here. A question must come from a previous mental work that led to a point of uncertanty. A question is a very important thing to do and must not be taken lightly.
posted by pixelgrade at 1:43 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's nothing wrong with being prescriptive.

What?
posted by polymodus at 1:45 AM on April 9, 2012


I go to a lot of film festivals in Toronto and even though there is usually a Q&A afterwards, I've given up on staying and listening.

In some situations, you could solve a lot of problems with a real live moderator who actually moderates. Ask people to write their questions on cards and pass them to the moderator (or moderator team), who will read the good questions first and leave the shitty questions on the bottom of the pile. "Joan Smith from Thorncliffe Park would like to know..." and then let Joan join in if the person answering the question wants some clarification from her. If they get to the shitty questions, you know it's time to go.
posted by pracowity at 1:50 AM on April 9, 2012


zanni: "I think the issue is less that people don't know how to ask a question and more that they want to participate in the conversation but are constrained to phrase their commentary in the form of a question as if they're on Jeopardy or something."

Except that a Q&A is not a conversation. It a Q&A.
posted by Splunge at 2:40 AM on April 9, 2012


's
posted by Splunge at 2:40 AM on April 9, 2012


polymodus, seriously, people have ideas about the right way to do things. Sometimes those ideas are good and helpful. In those cases it's appropriate to recommend them to other people. This is the act of prescription. People who do it are being prescriptive.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:03 AM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh god yes, he's so correct, and it's not just in-person panels. I had to unsubscribe from the Science Friday podcast because folks would call in with "questions" that were really not-so-veiled polemics or excruciatingly long, digressive, rambling autobiographical exercises in name-dropping and/or self-aggrandizement. My kingdom for a trigger-happy intern with a kill switch!
posted by clerestory at 5:33 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes the most obvious "stupid" questions are the ones most in need of being asked, though. Yeah, yeah, sometimes questions could have been prevented by the audience being prepared with the information they needed. But sometimes a lecturer glosses over something that nobody understands, and everyone in the audience is too afraid of looking like a simpleton to ask the really basic question like, "Wait, did you do _______ before _______, or after?" or "What does ______ mean?"
posted by overeducated_alligator at 5:36 AM on April 9, 2012


I listen to (in person and via podcast), and occasionally host, a fair number of public speaking events, and the vast majority of "questions" really need to be not asked. They are overwhelmingly off-topic, long and incoherent, and/or statements rather than questions. What is worse than the tedious time-wasting is that I strongly suspect that these sorts of behaviors deter people with actual questions from asking then. Getting up and asking a question is intimidating enough; doing after some narcissist yammered on for 5 minutes about something that was barely-related to the topic has finally wound down is extremely daunting.

I have also learned that anyone who stands up and says "I would like to read a statement" (unless you are at a public meeting which called for statements) should be rendered speechless via chemical or electrical paralysis of the vocal cords for no less than 4 weeks. It's only fair to the rest of the audience.

Also, Metafilter: Little Rascals dressing up as a grown-up to get into a movie.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:48 AM on April 9, 2012


Really, all that is required for a good question is to actually want to know the answer

A question is a good question if it's a question to which you actually want to know the answer.

The Q&A was just more of the same, a lot of grandstanding and statement-making very little attempt to seek understanding or, you know, ask actual questions.

Well, unless your point in asking the question is not to get an answer or seek understanding but to grandstand, pontificate, score points, or derail. If that’s your goal then a good question (for the purpose of that goal) could well be one that seeks no answer at all.

sendai sleep master: My major complaint with the author's stance is the fact that he seems to place an inordinate amount of importance on the pleasantness of a question and answer session.

In a time in which disruption for the sake of disruption and (as you put it) questions that “push the speaker and audience out of their comfort zones” are almost a given, putting an inordinate amount of importance on “pleasantness,” or as it might have been more properly called some years ago, civility, doesn’t necessarily seem to me to be an outrageous objective in and of itself.

lalochezia: The best questions, I find, in an academic setting are either:

The author here (and I think some comments in this thread as well) assumes that people wall themselves off from other settings when they ask questions in an ”academic setting” -- that they know and care to put on the proper face of respectful audience decorum when they enter a college campus or a high-toned lecture hall. But they don’t, or they don't always. People (in the US, anyhow) are used to seeing questions asked, for instance, in presidential debates, in which the goal is almost never to seek understanding or to find an actual answer, or even if it were, the answerer’s goal is never to provide an actual answer. Or they are used to other settings, talk shows, game shows, reality shows, what have you, or even actual real-life city council or school board meetings, in which the goals are the same: to cover one’s ass or to score points and/or to get in a rhetorical kidney punch. To expect that the atmosphere should be different in an academic setting by virtue of its being an academic setting is denying the reality that many people just don’t accord the academy the same awe anymore that it has been used to getting over the past millennium.
posted by blucevalo at 5:56 AM on April 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Mr. Nixon, what else would you have done as president if Watergate hadn’t gotten in the way?
Mr. Bush, if you didn't destroy the economy, what would you have done to improve it?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:11 AM on April 9, 2012


What I really need is a list of ways for speakers to delect or neutralise such stupid questions. I've seen it done with great tact and efficiency by others but can't seem to get the knack of it myself.
posted by leibniz at 6:37 AM on April 9, 2012


The title of the article might have been a clue that the author was about to take a prescriptivist stance.

That said, I enjoyed this part:
If you are the Count of Monte Cristo come to settle the score with the man who unjustly sent you to prison for 20 years, then have at it.  The audience will enjoy the show. Otherwise stick with the topic.
posted by bilabial at 6:46 AM on April 9, 2012


This reminded me of a Kate Beaton comic (couldn't find it on her website strangely)
posted by leibniz at 7:22 AM on April 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


My favorite pretentious-question-shoot-down:

College kid to Andy Richter: I see a lot of what you did with Conan O'Brien as very surreal, maybe almost Dada in its disregard for common sense and propriety, and its celebration of the strange and infantile. Were you influenced by those schools of thought?

Andy Richter: Uh, do we like dumb stuff? Yep.
posted by juniper at 8:45 AM on April 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


AskMetafilter: some of the worst spectacles of faux-questioning prolixity and inconsequence.
posted by herbplarfegan at 1:02 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was vaguely following along with him at first, but everything snapped into focus when he mentioned being a member of the National Association of Scholars. Yeesh. We had one of those whiny posers as president of Shimer College for a while, and man but that did not work out well. (They haven't forgotten us either; periodically one of them lobs another lame attempted hit piece in Shimer's direction.)

"I'm-not-an-ideologue-you're-an-ideologue" seems to be the core NAS shtick, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the "bad" questions were the ones that put his preferred ideological positions in a bad light.
posted by shenderson at 4:01 PM on April 9, 2012


So, it strikes me that the underlying narrative to this article is that Mr. Wood went to a lecture at which a speaker he agreed with was treated, in his opinion, to a large amount of negative responses.

But the audience didn't pay their admission fee (or give up their free time) to see a debate. They came there to hear Mr. Wood.

If you believe in free speech, then you should respect the rights of the speaker and the people who came to hear him speak. If he asks for questions, you should ask questions that allow him to more fully present his point of view, not try to hijack the occasion to create a forum for your own views.

If someone's views are so odious you think they shouldn't be allowed to speak freely at all without an immediate rebuttal, you should probably be doing something more radical and disruptive than being rude during the Q&A.
posted by straight at 4:25 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd like a companion piece of rules for answering questions.

I've seen far too many speakers who give no evidence of listening to and thinking about any of the questions. Their idea of Q&A is "Here's the talking point your question most reminds me of."
posted by straight at 4:27 PM on April 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I once went to see Ira Glass doing a speaking thing/presentation with a Q&A at the end. One man raised his hand and without the slightest hesitation said "Hey, I was just thinking about if you were related to Philip Glass."
posted by troublewithwolves at 4:38 PM on April 9, 2012


I've seen far too many speakers who give no evidence of listening to and thinking about any of the questions. Their idea of Q&A is "Here's the talking point your question most reminds me of."

Well, in a setting where questions weren't really all about setting rhetorical traps, we might get more answers that weren't really prepackaged foolproof talking points.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:44 PM on April 9, 2012


I notice that many teachers do that non-stop. I noticed it all through high school, college and grad school. It makes me crazy. They don't actually listen to your question and take a second to come up with an answer, they're just scanning for keywords and respond with whatever they just said that matches the most keywords.
posted by bleep at 5:32 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The j-school tricks that I learned were mostly:

1) Be genuinely interested in the reply (generally by framing to get a good quote — something not necessary for most folks, but not necessarily a bad idea).

2) Ask open-ended questions, ones that require complete sentences to answer.

3) Ask only one question at a time. As mentioned, two-part questions or questions front-loaded with statements or assumptions tend to fail.

4) Ask follow-up question when you can.
posted by klangklangston at 10:53 AM on April 11, 2012


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