I spend more of my life at Q&As, lectures with questions, round-table discussions, and briefings than I care to contemplate. If you also have the misfortune to attend these events, or just masochistically watch the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s popular Q&A programme, you may be familiar with the following time-wasters. They usually occupy the 15-45 minute space allocated for questions from the audience, and answers from the relevant experts, politicians, and public figures. If unfamiliar, please pay close attention, and do not be the following:
‘Back in 1967…’ and so the life story begins. This style is understandably popular with the elderly, and swallows precious time as they recount tales tangentially connected to the topic, before (maybe) eventually asking a question. One can’t help but pity these poor souls. They are much more at home at an event that is followed by drinks and nibbles, where they can wow other interested parties with tales of derring-do. In a boozless Q&A however, it is just a pitiable diversion.
Self-absorbed, self-mandated, and usually kicks off a sentence with ‘in my opinion …’. More often than not this person is a late middle-aged man with a bare connection to the subject matter and a deepening case of relevance-deprivation syndrome. He expects to be treated with reverence and to have the experts concede in the face of his naturally superior intellect. Short of a swift dose of sedatives, the best that can be hoped for is a well-formulated rebuttal from the panel.
The Public Speaker
This audience member has a lot of opinions on stuff, and by god they’re going to let you know about it. Some pity should be divvied out (some), as they’re often deprived of a normal environment to discuss socio-political issues in. Having spent too long in the solitary confinement of lonely Tumblr rants, they’re taking it out on us. Remember, you’re not a master orator addressing a revolutionary mass that bends to your voice. You’re an embittered teenager shouting at two MPs, a parish councillor, a disgruntled reporter, and your peers who are all tired of your shit.
The Compound Questioner
Wants to know everything, and has no concept of rationing and equal division of resources. They’ll cram in as many questions as possible in one, taking up half the time available unless the host rightfully slaps them down. Worse still, questions could be addressed to all the panellists and boom: whole session is up. Well done you greedy bastard.
A Hog Host is a Compound Questioner variant who abuses their position as chair. Normally the chair has prerogative to ask the first question. Fair enough. However, far too many abuse the position. Forgetting they’re not important enough to be granted a one-on-one audience with the relevant expert, they need to learn to share precious questions with us plebs.
Our dreams of oratory and academic validation shattered, we must compose ourselves and search for a better way. From across the Channel, comes the type of audience member we all should aspire to be:
The German Defence Attaché.
God bless the German Defence Attaché, London. He is truly a credit to his country. His format for asking questions is as follows: ‘name, occupation, question’. He’s up and down in eight seconds with no preamble, no rant, no life story, no opinions. Just a question in a question and answer.
Don’t be a Muppet, be the German Defence Attaché.