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Last week, we blogged about going to and giving readings, and even asking questions during the Q&A.  Now, volunteer Nathan addresses some grievances about Q&A etiquette…


By: Nathan Blanchard

The time has come for someone to address your behavior at the Q&A sessions that follow writer’s readings. When given the microphone or floor to ask the writer a question, many people seem oblivious to what that moment requires of them. This is not supposed to be taken as a serious (or self-inflating) strict set of rules, but more like a fun (or snarky) conversation-starter for bringing attention to patterns of behavior that have annoyed me and my fellow event attendees, as well as the event coordinators, hosts and writers.


Don’t approach the microphone or raise your hand or indicate you have a question if you do not actually have a well thought-out question that is relevant to the event. Many people think it’s acceptable to waste the group’s time with dead air or stuttering or meandering (addressed more in detail below). This is unacceptable. Your question should be selected for relevance and the wording should be predetermined for efficiency and clarity.


You don’t need to spend the first sixty seconds or more of your question thanking the writer in gushy over-the-top anecdotes of how they’ve inspired you or enhanced your life. I am not saying your sentiments aren’t lovely and that the writer probably loves hearing it, what I’m saying is that it’s not a relevant part of the Q&A, and it’s wasting valuable time for the rest of us. We want to hear the writer speak substantially more than you, so please wait until the book signing that will probably happen after the Q & A. That’s the appropriate forum for a one-on-one gush fest.


The Q in Q&A stands for Question. Do not tell your own small story, or rambling anecdote that in some personal and vague way relates back to the writer. The audience will be mad at you, but not as much as the event coordinators, whose job it is to make sure your question is not a meandering babble. If your question requires several sentences of explanation or exposition, it is a bad question. Don’t say a few sentences and then ask the writer to “respond” to them. This means you have a bad question, or at best a poorly constructed one. The etiquette here is simple: consider the audience. We do not care about you or your anecdotes, so please keep your time at the microphone at a minimum, and prompt the writer to speak more about a topic relevant to us all: the writer!


The question should be relevant to the event, so keep it reflexive of the content or discussion, or prompt the writer to discuss a new topic that is still related to their career as a writer. Always keep the audience in mind. Ask yourself “does the audience care about this? Will they want to hear the writer’s response?”


Ask your one question, enunciating every syllable clearly and slowly, and return to your seat. Do not continue to engage with the writer like you are now on a panel and somehow share the audience’s attention. Do not ask more than one question. Do not hold up the flow of the event.

When you’re at a loss, just ask the writer what they have been reading lately. It’s always relevant and the audience is almost always wondering. It’s quick to deliver and easy for the writer to answer.

There are probably other suggestions for the Q&A, or perhaps you feel I’ve been a jerk in this blog. Feel free to comment on this blog or find me at a Potomac Review event and discuss.

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