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Q&As

Last week I went to see Avalanche at the Barbican followed by a Q&A with actor Maxine Peake and director Anne-Louise Sarks. The play was really impressive, a one woman performance exploring the rollercoaster of IVF treatment. The Q&A also started strong, with discussion led by Sarah Hemming from the Financial Times. However, things took a turn when the Q&A was open to the floor.

Question & Answer sessions offer the general public the opportunity to ask experts or people of interest questions that they normally wouldn’t be able to. Not only this but, unlike social media, they allow for a real time personal connection between the Asker and the Answerer, which can give you a real buzz.

Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that some people like to use Q&As as a platform to say something about themselves rather than actually probing and learning from the Answerer.

On this occasion, the first question was more of a rambling observation on the performance, which might’ve been of more interest if the point hadn’t just been covered eloquently by Peake, Dalley and Sarks themselves, effectively leaving the Asker in the position of fumblingly repeating back something that had just been discussed. 

Once the audience member had finished, the three women were left looking at each other wondering what question had actually been asked.

On another occasion, I attended an event where actor and comedian Rob Delaney spoke about his personal history. The first ‘question’ of the Q&A?

‘I’ve never seen your TV show and I’ve never heard of you before, I’m not interested at all in your work, but this has still been really interesting for me’. 

…A statement that satisfied requirements for neither the ‘Q’ nor the ‘A’ part of the Q&A.

As someone from an industry based on asking the right questions, the struggle that some people have with choosing to listen and learn when they can instead seize an opportunity to talk is actually quite reassuring.

Firstly, it confirms that people love to talk about themselves, and they want you to know ‘who they are’, which is good news for researchers in an age when concerns about sharing and privacy are on the rise.

More importantly, it illustrates that there’s a definite skill in understanding a knowledge gap, thinking about what questions need to be asked, and devising them in the right way in order to get useful answers.

Seems like the art of questioning is more skilled than it first appears!

Lucy Foylan

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