Question and answer (Q&A) sessions are an important component of any conference event, allowing attendees to engage with speakers and dive deeper into key topics. They can be a powerful tool for engaging your audience, fostering meaningful discussions, and providing added value to your conference.
In this comprehensive guide, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about running successful conference Q&A sessions. From structuring your questions and answers to selecting the right moderator, we'll equip you with the knowledge and best practices to ensure your event's Q&A sessions are informative, interactive, and leave a lasting impact on delegates.
What is a Q&A Session?
A Q&A session, short for ‘Question and Answer session’ is a part of an event or presentation where the audience asks questions, and the speakers or panellists provide answers and insights. Its primary purpose is to foster interaction, clarify information, and engage attendees in a dialogue with the presenters. Q&A sessions can be held in various formats, including live, virtual, or hybrid, each offering distinct advantages and considerations for engaging with conference attendees.
Let’s delve deeper into what each type of Q&A session involves and any key considerations for event organisers to watch out for:
Live Q&A Session
A live Q&A session occurs in a physical, face-to-face setting, such as a conference room, seminar, or on-stage at an event. The audience and speakers are in the same location. During a live Q&A, attendees raise their hands or approach a microphone to ask questions directly to the speakers. The interaction is immediate and in real-time. The physical presence of attendees and speakers allows for direct, spontaneous engagement. However, event organisers must ensure microphone availability and appropriate set up, as well as being mindful of time constraints for a smooth experience.
Virtual Q&A Session
A virtual Q&A session takes place entirely online, using video conferencing platforms or webinars. Attendees and speakers participate remotely from different locations. In a virtual Q&A, participants submit questions through chat or Q&A features, and the moderator selects and poses them to the speakers. Answers are delivered through video or audio formats. Virtual Q&A sessions require strong technical setup, including stable internet connections and capable platforms. Moderation is crucial for managing questions and ensuring a smooth flow.
Hybrid Q&A Session
A hybrid Q&A session combines both live and virtual elements. Some attendees and speakers are physically present, while others join remotely. In hybrid sessions, in-person participants can ask questions in the traditional live manner, while virtual attendees submit questions via chat or Q&A features. Moderation handles a mix of in-person and virtual queries. Organisers need to manage logistics for both physical and online participants, ensuring seamless communication between the two groups. Strong technology support is essential for hybrid events.
Each type of Q&A session offers unique advantages and challenges. Live sessions provide direct human interaction but require careful management of physical logistics. Virtual sessions offer flexibility but demand robust technical infrastructure. Hybrid sessions blend the two, catering to diverse audiences while demanding comprehensive planning for both online and offline experiences.
In 2021, ICC Belfast collaborated with international keynote speaker, David Meade, to present a six-part digital event series named ‘The Virtual Delegate.’ This engaging virtual series was broadcast live on LinkedIn and YouTube and delved deep into strategies for organisations to optimise virtual, hybrid, and in-person events for effective engagement with their stakeholders.
Notable figures from the global meetings industry, hailing from destinations across the UK, Australia and UAE, virtually gathered in Belfast to openly discuss their industry achievements. The set up allowed David to pose important questions to delegates about their journey to success and what valuable lessons they have learned along the way.
Q&A sessions play a vital role in meetings and conference events as they provide a dynamic platform for audience engagement, clarification of information, and deeper exploration of key topics, promoting a more interactive and insightful experience for attendees. The benefits of hosting a Q&A at a conference include:
Streamlines inclusive discussion - Hosting a Q&A session at a conference ensures that diverse perspectives are heard, creating a more inclusive and interactive environment where attendees can actively participate, ask questions, and engage in discussions, enriching the overall event experience.
Clarifies information and resolves missed points - Q&A sessions allow speakers to clarify complex topics, address misunderstandings, and fill in any gaps in the content, ensuring that attendees leave with a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter discussed during the conference.
Encourages attendee feedback - By providing a platform for audience questions and feedback, Q&A sessions foster a sense of involvement and ownership among attendees, making them feel heard and valued, and encouraging them to actively participate and provide their input during the conference.
Top Tips for Successful Conference Q&A Sessions
Engaging with the expert event management team at ICC Belfast we have created six top tips for event organisers to host and facilitate successful Q&A sessions at conference events, providing tips to ensure seamless, engaging, and informative interactions with your audience:
1. Conduct a Pre-Conference Briefing
A Q&A pre-conference briefing is a preparatory session that allows speakers, presenters, and panellists to rehearse and fine-tune their responses to anticipated questions from the audience. It is crucial because it helps presenters build confidence, ensure message consistency, and handle enquiries effectively. Anyone who is participating in a public speaking event, conference, or presentation can benefit from practicing a Q&A session.
Top tips for structuring a Q&A Session
Diversity of topics - Structure the session with a variety of questions to cover different aspects of the topic, ensuring a well rounded discussion.
Time management - Allocate specific time slots for each question, ensuring that the session remains on schedule and all questions receive due attention.
Prioritisation - Prioritise questions based on relevance and audience interest to address the most pressing matters first.
Top tips for choosing participants and collaboration
Panellists and experts - Include subject matter experts and panellists who can provide diverse perspectives, enhancing the depth of the discussion.
Collaboration - Encourage panellists to collaborate by building on each other's responses or offering different viewpoints, creating a more enriching dialogue.
Moderator involvement - Ensure the moderator actively engages with the panellists and participants, facilitating a seamless exchange of ideas and ensuring all voices are heard.
Top tips for choosing an effective Q&A moderator
Expertisein the topic - Select a moderator who is knowledgeable about the subject matter to guide the discussion effectively and ask insightful follow-up questions.
Strong communication skills - A proficient moderator should have excellent communication skills, including active listening, to maintain a smooth and engaging Q&A session.
Impartiality - Ensure the moderator remains neutral and does not favour any panellist or viewpoint, creating an unbiased environment for discussion.
2. Build Clear Q&A Time Constraints
Timings in a Q&A session at a conference event are crucial for maintaining a well organised and engaging programme.
Top tips on when the Q&A should start and finish
Prompt start - Initiate the Q&A on time as scheduled to respect attendees' expectations and avoid any delays in the overall event schedule.
Defined end time - Clearly specify when the Q&A session will conclude to manage expectations and ensure that other programme elements proceed as planned.
Top tips for interval considerations
Strategic placement - Schedule Q&A sessions strategically, typically after each presentation or segment where questions naturally arise, keeping the audience engaged.
Balanced timing - Ensure intervals between sessions are adequate, allowing attendees to rest, network, or use the facilities. Where possible, avoid back-to-back sessions that could lead to fatigue.
Top tips to avoid long winded answers and unnecessary repetition
Moderator's role - Assign a skilled moderator who can guide speakers to provide concise, relevant answers and intervene when responses become lengthy or repetitive.
Time limits - Suggest time limits for each response to keep speakers aware of the need for brevity and to maintain a smooth flow of questions and answers.
Curation of questions - Prioritise questions that add value and offer diverse perspectives to avoid repetition and ensure that the discussion remains engaging and informative.
3. Promote the Q&A Session
Promoting a conference Q&A session is essential as it generates awareness and anticipation, maximising interaction and the quality of the session by ensuring active participation.
Top tips for promoting the Q&A before the conference
Multichannel promotion - Utilise various channels such as email, the event website, and social media to announce the Q&A, including details on the format and how attendees can submit questions in advance.
Teasers and highlights - Share teasers or highlights from the speakers or topics that will be addressed in the Q&A to pique attendees' interest and encourage participation.
Top tips for informing attendees of the Q&A session at the beginning of the conference
Opening remarks - Have the event host or a prominent speaker mention the Q&A session at the start, emphasising its importance, and introducing the moderator and guidelines.
Set expectations - Clearly communicate how and when attendees can ask questions during the Q&A, creating a sense of structure and participation.
Top tips for gathering attendee questions during the event
Real-time interaction - Use event apps or interactive features like live chat or Q&A tools to collect and prioritise questions during the Q&A session to maintain audience engagement.
Diverse sources - Allow for both pre-submitted and live questions to ensure a range of perspectives and to address issues or insights that may arise during the conference itself, keeping the Q&A relevant and dynamic.
4. Prepare Questions (and Answers) Ahead of Time
Preparing for different questions and answers, including addressing the possibility of a silent audience, is crucial for maintaining a dynamic and engaging Q&A session.
Top tips for preparing useful questions in case the audience falls silent
Icebreaker questions - Prepare a set of engaging, broad questions to start the Q&A, encouraging the audience to participate and break the silence.
Audience engagement prompts - Have a list of thought-provoking or opinion-based queries ready to stimulate audience interaction if questions are slow to come.
Top tips for preparing answers to common questions
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) - Anticipate common queries related to the topic and provide concise, well structured answers to maintain the flow of the session.
Clear and succinct responses - Ensure that answers to common questions are clear, brief, and informative, keeping the audience's attention by avoiding lengthy explanations.
Top tips on how to answer questions effectively to hold the audience’s attention
Structuring responses - Organise answers with a clear structure – introduction, main points, and conclusion – to enhance understanding and retention.
Engage with the audience - Directly address the questioner, maintain eye contact (in live settings), and incorporate real-world examples or anecdotes to make answers relatable and captivating.
Top tips on how to respond to critical questions and avoid debates
Maintain professionalism - Respond to critical questions in a calm and professional manner, refraining from becoming defensive or engaging in debates.
Bridge to positive points - Redirect the conversation to positive aspects, offering solutions or highlighting shared goals when possible, to maintain a constructive atmosphere during the Q&A.
5. Explain Q&A Ground Rules
Establishing a clear structure and rules for Q&A conference sessions is essential for ensuring order, fairness, and an efficient exchange of information.
Top tips on how to set audience expectations from the outset
Opening statements - At the beginning of the session, have the moderator or speaker outline the rules and expectations for the Q&A, including the format, time limits, and how questions will be selected and posed.
Emphasiserespect - Stress the importance of respectful and constructive dialogue, encouraging attendees to frame their questions and comments in a courteous manner.
Top tips on allowing equal opportunity for all attendees to take part
Random selection - When choosing questions, consider using a random selection process to ensure that all attendees, both in-person and virtual, have an equal opportunity to participate.
Balanced time allocation - Encourage speakers to provide concise answers, allowing for a larger number of questions to be addressed and ensuring a broader range of voices are heard.
Top tips on practical and technical considerations for Hybrid Q&A vs. Live Q&A
Technology testing - For hybrid events, perform thorough testing of technical equipment and platforms to ensure seamless communication between in-person and virtual attendees.
Moderation expertise - Select a skilled moderator who can effectively manage both in-person and virtual Q&A participants, ensuring that questions from all sources are integrated smoothly into the session.
6. Provide Post-Q&A Support
Providing post-Q&A support is essential for addressing additional questions, ensuring attendees have access to valuable resources, and maintaining a positive participant experience.
Top tips on what to do directly after a Q&A session
Be immediately availability - After the Q&A, remain available to answer any questions or concerns that participants may have, either in person or through virtual chat or email.
Distribute contact information - Share contact details for the speakers, moderator, or event organisers for attendees who wish to follow up or seek further clarification.
Top tips on how to share recordings of the Q&A session
Recording access - Share recorded sessions with attendees, either through a dedicated platform or email, allowing those who missed the live event to review the Q&A and access valuable content.
Archiving - Make sure recordings are archived and easily accessible, even after the conference, to provide ongoing value to your audience.
Top tips on providing contact details for follow-up questions and directing audiences to useful resources
Contact information - Share contact information for speakers or organisers, allowing attendees to seek additional information or clarification after the event.
Resource references - Provide attendees with references to related resources, such as websites, articles, or follow-up materials, to further their knowledge and engagement with the topic.
At the Joint Fertility Conference in 2023, event organisers took advantage of a range of spaces across ICC Belfast which offered delegates the opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics focusing on specialist areas in fertility and reproductive biology. At each session, whether it was in the Main Auditorium, Hall 2 or Bar areas, delegates had the opportunity to ask questions to the panellists involved in that particular presentation.
Conference Q&A Sessions at ICC Belfast
ICC Belfast offers comprehensive services to facilitate engaging Q&A sessions for both live and hybrid events. Providing the ideal environment for productive, interactive, and memorable Q&A sessions. With state-of-the-art facilities and access to an expert event management team, we ensure that your Q&A sessions, whether live or hybrid, run seamlessly. Our dedicated event spaces and advanced technology will enhance the quality of your Q&A sessions, resulting in engaged and satisfied conference delegates.