When should you ask questions during genealogy conferences?

When to Ask Questions During Workshops

Imagine that you’re at an in-person genealogy conference and you’re in a workshop. You might be wondering, “If I have a question, when should I ask the presenter?” Is it possible to know your answer before the presentation begins?

I have read ‘how to give great presentation’ tips on a variety of websites as I’ve prepared to teach at RootsTech, Jamboree, the Ohio Genealogical Society Annual, and more. The one debate that continues to have no clear answer is, “SHOULD attendees be allowed to ask questions during a workshop or class?”

While my simple answer is yes, that’s not always the right response. As in most things in genealogy, the answer is simple, “It depends.”

  • If you are attending a conference and the lecture room seats 400. You might have to hold questions until the end because you’ll need to walk up to a microphone and that’s not possible during a session.
  • If the workshop is being live-streamed, you might not be allowed to ask questions until the end. (Camera crew request, mostly an editing or audio quality issue).
  • If your session is under 400 and not recorded, it will depend on the presenter.

I’m personally not a fan of the ‘hold questions until the end’ approach as a learner or as a presenter. As much as possible, I appreciate the ability to interact throughout a class so that I understand (if I’m the attendee) or my attendees comprehend my principles (if I’m the speaker).

Other presenters, from nerves or training, only lecture and then have Q&A at the end. The reference attendees who say they paid to hear the presenter not the attendees’ questions.

These points are valid but the resolution lies in the purpose of a conference. Is it to educate? If it is, then lecture-style learning is not the best experience for most conference attendees. Interactive and responsive learning environments increase understanding and retention.

The problem of holding question until the end

I’m a home educator by day. When my children do their work, if they wait until after they complete their assignments to ask questions about a scientific theory, math equation or a sentence in a literature book, they waste valuable learning time. How so?

When my kids don’t understand something, they should immediately ask for further clarification. Perhaps they don’t understand the principle or perhaps the principle was explained wrong. Asking a question as they occur, speeds up their learning process and keeps them engaged.

The same principles hold true in a genealogy learning environment. Whenever possible, a presenter should stop and answer any questions during the presentation. Perhaps they didn’t explain things as well as they thought. It’s also possible they misstated something that needs to be clarified. It’s best to address the situation as close to the learning divergent so that student stays engaged.

Are Question During a Class Distracting?

Depending upon the quality of the question, sometimes they are distracting. However, many classes that allow for questions throughout the session ensure you and the others around you are on the same page. The more complex the subject, the more questions should be allowed midstream.

An added benefit is that some questions trigger unplanned for information from the presenter (or the attendee) that enhances your learning experience.

If a question is off topic or too long, then the presenter needs to handle it to keep the class moving. One attendee should not dominate a workshop but if a presenter can bring all learners along on a common journey, the experience improves dramatically.

What if We Could Make Live Presentations More Like Webinars or Livestreams?

If you haven’t heard, I love video education. I love YouTube (recorded and live streaming videos). Andy and I also prefer webinars with our cameras on and a live chat box open for any and all.

We love to look at the chat box while we’re doing our YouTube livestreams or our webinars. We respond to instant reactions and timely questions. Some questions we will save until the end, but some queries help us improve our presentations on the fly.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to have a live chat during a in-person presentation so that you could type your answers and then the speaker could address then on the fly? Now that would be ideal!!!

Should you save your questions until the end?

Since I haven’t figured out how to make in-person learning more like an online event, we still have this question to address.

To improve learning, allow attendees to ask questions throughout a class are ideal. However, there are externalities that prevent the ideal from happening in every situation.

If you do wish (and are allowed) to ask a question during a genealogy conference session, just follow these two pieces of advice:

  • Be brief
  • Stay on topic

If you follow those two tips, then you’re adding to the learning experience rather than distracting. If you’re a presenter, look for ways to take questions throughout your sessions. In many cases, your attendees will be glad you did.

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

6 thoughts on “When should you ask questions during genealogy conferences?

  1. Good post and I agree with what you said. As a presenter, I prefer to take questions as they arise, so that the answers can be relevant to the material I’m presenting at that moment. Sometimes I tell the questioner that the answer is in the presentation, please wait just a couple of minutes until I reach that part of the talk. If a questioner asks follow-up questions that delay the talk, I ask him or her to please hold the rest of the questions until the end so we don’t overshoot the schedule for that session. It’s a fine line!

    1. I LOVE when a question comes up, and I can say, “Great question, hold on to it because it’s coming up soon. However, if I don’t answer it completely, raise your hand, and I’ll take you first.” Then, when I cover the topic, I will go back to the participant and say, “Did that answer your question?” I love to show that I am engaged fully with my audience and want them to learn.

      Yes, there needs to be a balance between folks who dominate and keeping the class moving forward. I don’t always succeed, but that improves with practice.

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