In the process of transitioning from in-person meetings to virtual town halls, some practices undergo a digital transformation–– while others end up on the cutting room floor. One particularly common practice at conferences and keynote addresses is ending a session with a Q&A portion, where audience members can address the presenter and inquire about a specific subject directly.

As usual, this segment of a presentation makes total sense in person, where attendees are expected to act with decorum and keep their questions relevant. But many companies wonder when they take their events online… is a Q&A portion of a meeting worth keeping in a digital environment?

For almost every livestream that we’ve ever hosted, we’ve had clients who were hesitant to include Q&A segments… and here are some of the reasons they’ve given to us.

A. WHAT IF EMPLOYEE QUESTIONS ARE NEGATIVE?

Q&As, also occasionally referred to as AMAs (short for “ask me anything), are often viewed by corporations with the same reticence and uncertainty as other livestream features like chatrooms and emoji reaction buttons.

In short, the internet could provide viewers with a smokescreen of anonymity that could, in theory, embolden a company’s employees to bring up topics or use harsher language that they might otherwise never employ under different circumstances.

In person, it makes sense why Q&A dialogue would remain civil: everyone’s professional reputation is on the line. Audience members could be kicked out of an event, or even lose their job, if they’re disrespectful or so off-topic as to waste everybody’s time with nonsense and rabbit-trail topics that aren’t relevant to the subject at hand.

Companies worry that in a digital environment, they run a greater risk of inviting negative feedback and opening the door for employees to rant about topics that they hadn’t intended to focus on for that particular meeting.

The truth is, Q&A segments are not only a great way to collect genuine feedback (which many companies usually lament that they don’t have), but they are also proven to boost viewer engagement. If your employees realize that you are truly listening to what they have to say, they’ll be more focused on the meeting than if you just speak “at” them and then log off without giving them any method by which to respond.

And as we’ve mentioned before in regards to fearing unruly behavior, do remember: these are your people. These are your teams. You hired them. So, trust their professionalism. They know (or at least they should know) that this is not a reddit subthread or a random twitter chat. They know this is a corporate environment. You should at least give them a chance to prove their reliability, and give them the chance to behave like the professionals that you would hope that they are. Chances are, they’ll put in the effort to phrase their feedback or criticisms in a constructive way, rather than just putting your organization on blast.

And even if they don’t, and you have to remove the privilege of Q&A sessions from your staff in the future… isn’t that an important learning experience that your company needs to have anyway? Winston Churchill himself is quoted as saying, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” If your organization has any unhealthy or toxic situations, then ignoring them by foregoing an open dialogue is exactly the opposite of what you need to be doing to bring about holistic growth and amiable solutions.

B. WHAT IF THE SPEAKER DOESN’T HAVE AN ANSWER?

This is another valid concern. One of the risks of opening the floor to questions is that somebody might ask the speakers a question that they may not feel qualified or prepared to address. It might be off-topic, or it might be severely uncomfortable.

However, this has always been a risk involved with town hall meetings even back in the days before online livestreams. Any in-person event or conference that includes a Q&A segment must do so with the understanding that they can’t anticipate every question.

Fortunately, your audience is aware that your team of presenters are, in fact, human beings. Just as you can generally trust their professionalism in their questions, you can also trust their professionalism in listening to your honest answers.

It is okay for your speakers to respond to a question with, “I don’t know, I’ll have to find out.”

It is perfectly acceptable, and even refreshing, to hear a host admit that they need to ask questions from other experts, or investigate a situation they may not have previously been aware of. In fact, in some cases our clients have earned even more trust and respect from their employees when their CEOs or executive leaders have responded politely like that when they’ve been put on the spot. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s not the end of the world if unknowns come up.

C. IS THERE A WAY TO CONTROL QUESTION SUBMISSIONS?

There is indeed a way to control submissions, depending on the platform you’re using! In many livestream programs, an administrator or moderator can oversee much of the online activity that occurs within chatrooms, polling, and – of course – Q&A tools.

When initiating a Q&A session, your moderator can screen all incoming questions from attendees and only publish or ‘approve’ the inquiries that they deem worthy or appropriate for the meeting. This means that questions which were already answered, or aren’t relevant, or were worded poorly, don’t have to make the cut and show up to flood the speaker or presenter’s display while they’re trying to answer the audience.

In general, we always recommend starting a Q&A session with three to five ‘pre-submitted’ questions that your team has prepared in advance. This way, you can address questions that you might already know will come up (or that already have come up in the weeks preceding your town hall). Additionally, this gives your panel something to address or talk about while you’re waiting for your viewers to submit their own inquiries. Sometimes they might not be able to think of anything at first, so hearing other questions answered may help to jog their memory.

And, on the rare occasion when there aren’t any valid questions submitted by the audience, addressing a few pre-submitted topics will keep the Q&A session from being quiet and awkward. If no viewers ask anything at all, then lesson learned–– maybe you won’t need a session next time! But, chances are, they will ask questions… and you’ll probably be glad you gave them the chance to do it.

D. WOULD WE LOSE ANYTHING IF WE DON’T INCLUDE Q&A?

As mentioned earlier, we’ve had plenty of clients express concerns over including a Q&A in their virtual town halls. Yet pretty much without fail, if they decide to keep it in their run of show, they’ve come back to us and agreed that they’re very glad that they did.

The truth is, companies want to do right by their employees and they want to improve in their processes and they want to build healthy relationships. But that always involves the responsibility – and yes, the risk – of opening communication. Yet when organizations dare to do it, they always find the viewer engagement and employee submissions to be well worth it.

“We all need people who will give us feedback,” well-known magnate Bill Gates has insisted. “That’s how we improve.” Feedback is a necessary and vital part of growth, and Q&A sessions are an invaluable method to both collect and address your team’s concerns within one fell swoop. You’ll undoubtedly walk away with suggestions on how to update your business practices, ideas to better tweak your future events, and inside information on what weighs heavy on the minds of your employees. Oh–– and of course you’ll be improving your relationship and trust with those very same employees at the same time. Is there anything more valuable than that?

E. GOT MORE QUESTIONS?

Here Are Some of the Top Questions We Get Asked About Virtual Events:

If you’d rather not wait for us to release our next blog article answering each of these questions in turn, feel free to reach out to us at optimumproductions.com/contact-us and we can help you plan the virtual event that’s right for your company!

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