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I was just asked by a colleague how I facilitate Q & A sessions—I guess the word is out that I am very deliberate about how an academic Q & A should go after a talk or panel. I think of this as an Indigenous feminist approach to facilitating academic Q & A. 1/
Ever since I was in graduate school, I thought I hated giving public talks. But I soon realized it’s not the presentation, but the Q & A that can feel so awful. Academic audiences can be arrogant, hostile, and self-absorbed. 2/
People don’t always bring their best selves to the Q & A—people can act out their own discomfort about the approach or the topic of the talk. We need to do better. I believe in heavily mediated Q & A sessions. 3/
Before I give a talk, I ask my host to please find someone to facilitate the Q & A. It is better for someone who knows the people in the audience to choose who gets to ask questions in public, because they know who is a bully, who to avoid, who will derail a conversation. 4/
The tips in this thread are both what I do after my own talks, and what I do when I am chairing a session. I especially do this for graduate students and early career scholars. 5/
I make it clear that it is the audience’s responsibility to help craft a positive public speaking experience for graduate students and early career scholars. I tell the audience to help keep the good experience going and tell them not to ask violent questions. 6/
Right after I am finished talking or all the panelists have shared their papers, I invite the audience to take 5-10 minutes to talk to each other. After 45-70 minutes of listening, people are bursting to talk, 7/
and taking the time to turn to talk to a neighbor keeps the first question from being from a person who just felt the urgency to talk. Also, I often need a breather and a moment to drink water or even step out to use the washroom. 8/
So, I give the audience 5-10 minutes to talk to a neighbor. I suggest that they use the time to peer review their questions. 9/
I say that this is a time for them to share a question they are considering posing in the q and a, and that they should

a) make sure it is really a question;

b) make sure they aren’t actually trying to say that THEY should have given the paper; 10/
c) figure out if the question needs to be posed and answered in front of everyone;

d) I remind the audience that the speaker has just done a lot of work, so they should figure out if their question is asking the speaker to do work that really the question-asker should do. 11/
Then, after 5-10 mins, I will sometimes ask for the first question to come from particular people in the room— Indigenous graduate students, etc.

Or, if opening it up for anyone to begin, I will ask, “did you peer review your question?” before the person takes the mic. 12/
People kind of laugh it off, but once they realize that I am serious--that the expectation is that they are thoughtful about the quality of their question and whether it really needs to be asked--it often helps to make the conversation much more satisfying. 13/
We often treat Q & A as something that is to be endured, and are willing to gamble on it not going well by having very passive facilitation. We can shift how we interact with one another and make it better. Thanks to Daniel Heath Justice @justicedanielh for asking about this! 14/
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