After 45-70 minutes of listening, people are bursting to talk
July 5, 2019 12:19 PM   Subscribe

 
So good. I’m usually reduced to asking “what is your question?” after 3-5 minutes.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:26 PM on July 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Peer reviewing questions for a few minutes - fascinating idea.
posted by doctornemo at 12:47 PM on July 5, 2019


When I participated in a group that would have guest speakers, we always preceded our Q&A with a disclaimer that the microphone was for questions only. It was a pretty informal environment, so often we'd cheekily define a question, as in "a question is an interrogative sentence usually ending in a question mark".

That approach is definitely not appropriate for creating a welcoming, academic environment, but what it shares in common with the approach in the Twitter thread is that it reminded people they were in a shared space and that the microphone was for a dialogue with the speaker, not monologues from the audience.

I really like the idea of asking people to discuss amongst themselves for a few minutes before starting the Q&A. I'm mostly stuck doing business presentations these days, where time is usually too restricted and audiences too small for that to be appropriate, but it's a really good idea for public talks.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:28 PM on July 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


ThreadReader version for those who hate Twitter.
posted by hanov3r at 1:30 PM on July 5, 2019 [12 favorites]


I think comments can be good, but it's definitely true that most bad responses to talks are of the "just a comment not a question" variety. But a comment that says something like, "I'm excited by this work because it articulates with X, Y and Z that Q and P are working on. You should have a chat to them" or "I think you might be able to get even better results if you tweak this bit of your method and try this" - those are helpful. At least, they are the comments I personally always hope to get.

That said, I LOVE the idea to peer review questions. And I think I would ask more questions at conferences and seminars if this happened more. I've been at a conference all week and kept not asking stuff because I worried I'd misunderstood the relevant part of the talk. And then at morning tea I would discuss it with others and they'd be all, "no you are right, and that's a great question that now I also want to know the answer to." And then I'd regret not asking it. Having those discussions before the Q&A would be a much better idea!
posted by lollusc at 1:51 PM on July 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


I agree on the value of peer reviewing questions to the questioners as well as to the speakers. When I was in law school, I went to a lot of the guest speaker presentations, and often I would have questions, but in a room that was mostly filled with professors and grad students, I was never sure if my question was a good enough question to ask, so often I didn't. If I'd had a chance to sort of trial balloon it to the other people at my table for a minute first, I would have known if it was a useful thing to bring up or not and that would have given me the confidence to try it.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:56 PM on July 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


I was just talking about this with some colleagues recently! It's a great idea, and not just for conference Q&A.

Peer-reviewing questions is apparently a good way to encourage questions in large undergraduate lectures -- if you're confused about something, you might just feel dumb, but if you check with your neighbors and they agree, than one of you is more likely to raise their hand.

Someone also said that he did this in department faculty meetings (e.g., to share your opinions about which person to hire for a new faculty position). They would split the faculty into groups to discuss amongst themselves before resuming the full meeting together. The trick was to put the loudmouth/shouty professors into one group, and the quieter/reserved professors into groups with people they felt comfortable talking to. It made for better questions from everyone (even the loud group was forced to listen to each other).
posted by puffyn at 1:57 PM on July 5, 2019 [16 favorites]


So good. In my grad program, there was one lab with a horrible culture that encouraged each other to ask self-aggrandizing questions and there was a tenured prof whose name we used as a verb for "to ask an ill-informed and hostile question at a grad student talk."

A friend handled Q&A at a large talk by giving a couple people microphones to take to folks who wanted to speak, and telling them to preferentially go to not-white-dudes when a lot of people had their hands up. Worked well, Q&A time was limited enough that the strategy wasn't obvious.
posted by momus_window at 2:14 PM on July 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


I've got a lot of respect for many people who've reposted this and the author seems like a thoughtful person. . . but, this sounds absolutely awful. Having a non-speaker facilitate questions and carefully selecting questioners (for example, giving a preference to indigenous grad students) sounds great.

But, five minutes of forced conversation with whoever happens to be sitting next to you is pretty high on the list of things I'm not looking for when attending an academic talk. It makes sense if you're facilitating a workshop where personal experience and reflection are important. But, after a technical talk, the chances that either I or the random person next to me have something more interesting to say on the topic than the world expert standing silently at the mic while we're forced to interact are so vanishingly small, you're just wasting everyone's time.

I've also genuinely never seen hostile questions or non-questions directed at anyone except extremely senior and extremely obnoxious people after an academic talk. (Aside from exams.) Perhaps I'm operating with different assumptions. But, if questions are really that bad, getting rid of questions seems like a more straightforward solution.
posted by eotvos at 2:27 PM on July 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


moderation with an iron fist can be a very good thing for certain types of conference q&a, or certain mixtures of conference attendees. this, though, outsourcing the iron fist via 'peer review' of questions to the rest of us, who may or may not agree that it is in our gift to diplomatically convince a stranger -- or worse, a senior colleague well known to us -- that his question is too goddamn obnoxious & better left unasked --

you can demand this of an audience but I wouldn't say it's fair or appropriate except for those lucky times when there would have been no problems with a free question period to begin with.

besides, granting that there are Awful elements in every academic audience, because there are, you really want to explicitly empower all of them to "peer review" some junior person out of asking her perfectly good question? b/c I do not.

the whole concept is based on trusting that peer pressure always works in the direction you want it to, that problem people and oblivious people are the ones susceptible to gentle dissuasion and the ones who start to question themselves when their immediate neighbors disagree with them, and that non-problem people aren't. these things are not reliably true.

and the whole thing is designed so that the moderator accepts no responsibility for the off-mic group discussion dynamics. depending on the room size she may not even have any awareness of them, by design. and the whole point and duty of moderation is to monitor these things and exercise some degree of control over them.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:19 PM on July 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


Well of course. The problem with some Q&A "questions" is long winded personal lectures/essays, and the solution is a stern reminder discouraging long winded personal lectures/essays, and strict moderators who are not too polite to interrupt lengthy run-on questions. (Applies to most meetings in general. Of course, in hierarchal systems, bloviating is a status signal, so peons are just mere captive audience, as required by the hierarchy).

A brief break before the Q&A is a good idea. Might not always work if lectures start/run late.
posted by ovvl at 4:05 PM on July 5, 2019


But a comment that says something like, "I'm excited by this work because it articulates with X, Y and Z that Q and P are working on. You should have a chat to them" or "I think you might be able to get even better results if you tweak this bit of your method and try this" - those are helpful.

While these may be helpful to the presenter, my metric for questions-asked-during-Q&A-time is how useful they're likely to be to the audience. Depending on your audience, maybe those comments would both be useful, maybe they wouldn't. Something that's helpful only to the presenter ("here's a super-specific detail that most people here won't ever deal with") would be better given as a one-on-one comment afterwards instead of taking up shared Q&A time.
posted by Lexica at 4:15 PM on July 5, 2019 [10 favorites]


Something that's helpful only to the presenter ("here's a super-specific detail that most people here won't ever deal with") would be better given as a one-on-one comment afterwards instead of taking up shared Q&A time.

I guess I was thinking that people who choose to come to a specific talk often do so because they also work on that topic, and information about lesser-known related work or better methods are likely to be useful to everyone. Also that kind of comment often leads to a back and forth discussion with the presenter and others in the room which can make a lot of progress on refining the ideas. But there may be disciplinary differences here.
posted by lollusc at 5:12 PM on July 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


(Re disciplinary differences, specifically in my field conference talks are usually about work in progress or at an early stage and more often than not include presentation of stuff the speaker is stuck on, questions they still have, or things they specifically request audience feedback on. I know there are disciplines where talks are more of a final paper about completed work.)
posted by lollusc at 5:15 PM on July 5, 2019


The reason this is called an Indigenous feminist approach is that it employs and embodies Indigenous feminist epistemology, where co-constructed knowledge based on experience is paramount. So I don't really think that it's at all about pushing responsibility onto the audience; it's about acknowledging the wealth of experience and different types of knowledge in the room beyond just the anointed conference presenters and making that part of the talk. I do think that the panel moderators have to really know what they are doing to do this well, and that it would be very easy for this to go sideways with the wrong audience.

The point about peer review itself being problematic and reinforcing structural inequity within academia is a really good one. I do think that there are ways to get around this that maybe don't involve having a peer review with the person that happens to be sitting next to you. There is a great danger of being a PhD student sitting next to a full professor with tenure at an institution that you may want to work at some day, and that example doesn't include race or gender. I do think it is worth noting that the professor who wrote this is a tenured faculty member in critical race and Indigenous studies. The conferences she is attending where she uses this method probably contain a fair number of people who not only buy into the concept of Indigenous feminist epistemologies but also practice them in their own work, which changes the dynamic a bit I think.

I've also genuinely never seen hostile questions or non-questions directed at anyone except extremely senior and extremely obnoxious people after an academic talk.
Some of this is definitely disciplinary. In my field, I've seen this happen to many junior scholars who are not cis white men, especially to women of color. It happens to me almost every time I give a talk as a young white woman. I often dread giving talks because I know that I'm going to get criticized by someone who really just finds me of "obnoxious" because I have the temerity to be a young woman in academia. Or maybe I just really am obnoxious, but other people that I see talk who are decidedly not obnoxious get a lot of pushback for even saying things like "feminist epistemology" or "Indigenous feminist methods," let alone embodying them in their practice.
posted by sockermom at 6:11 PM on July 5, 2019 [17 favorites]


This is wonderful. Thank you so much for linking!
posted by some chick at 7:52 PM on July 5, 2019


I've also genuinely never seen hostile questions or non-questions directed at anyone except extremely senior and extremely obnoxious people after an academic talk.

Sadly my experience from neuroscience and the games industry has been completely different.
posted by adrianhon at 4:47 AM on July 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


I've heard of the approach of just telling people what you consider 'good questions' up front (as in, before the talk): it should be a question (and not a comment in disguise), it should be offered in the spirit of curiosity or maybe anger and not in a spirit of pride, two-part questions are in fact two questions (so ask the best one). Giving people an opportunity to talk for a little bit and work out their nervous energy and reflect on what's been said is an interesting idea!

Honestly I believe the problem with Q&A is that it's hard enough, and rare enough, that you need to coach people beforehand, and most facilitators don't.
posted by Merus at 8:25 AM on July 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


A conference in my field (archives/special collections librarianship) just did an adapted version of this set of tweets for a post-plenary Q&A. It worked out pretty well.
posted by mostly vowels at 11:48 AM on July 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


I really loved this thread and I really appreciate sockermom's comment, which provided helpful context.

This approach won't work for every setting or every discipline, but I've been to plenty of talks with low or no moderation and simply having a person moderate would have actively improved the experience. Simple things like, "Since we have a lot of questions, please limit yourself to one question" or, "Let's start with questions from graduate students or postdocs" would have totally changed the tone of the room and made it a much more productive session, not to mention a lot less hostile.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 4:24 AM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


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