16 July 2017

8 Tips on "How To Ask a Question" at a Library Program

The approach of a library local history program fills me with anxiety. Will the presenter have an emergency that prevents the program from proceeding as planned? Will all the technical equipment work as designed during the presentation? Will enough people show up to make the program worthwhile in the view of the investment of time necessary to plan and coordinate the event? Will enough people show up to meet the Board of Trustees expectations about library programs? But probably what I most worry about - after discovering that the tech check was good - is the Q & A at the end. Occasionally there are some tensions in the room.

There are a lot of people who simply don't know how to properly frame and ask a good question. Some people try to hold the floor for 3 to 5 minutes before they actually get to their question. It is not particularly uncommon to hear a person's personal memoir before the question gets posed. Professor Peter Wood wrote a blog post for the Chronicle of Higher Education on March 30, 2012 that lays out some of the criteria of a good question that I will summarize here:
  1. Does your question contribute to the quality of the discussion?
  2. Does your question enhance the occasion?
  3. Does your question have a single point?
  4. Does your question begin with one of these words: Who? What? Where? When? or Why?
  5. Is your question direct?
  6. Does your question indicate that you have been attentive to the discussion thus far?
  7. Is the intent of your question to shame or "call out" the presenter? If your answer to this question is yes, then just don't do it. Wait to ask the presenter in private.
  8. Will the answer to your question likely be of interest to others in attendance? (This one often should be kept in mind at family history/genealogy related programs. Trust me. The person most interested in the minute details of your ancestors is you!) 
Please take the time to read Peter Wood's blog post "How To Ask A Question" before the next time you pose a question in a public forum. And remember, your question should contribute to the quality of the discussion at hand. Civility is a good character trait to foster, particularly in a democratic society - though civility does seem to be regretfully absent in these very contentious political times.

Speaking of civility ... Stay tuned this Fall for updates about the Conversation Cafe programs held at some of the branch Libraries. Conversation Cafe's are free, hosted, drop-in conversations in public places among people with diverse views and a shared passion for engaging with others. A minimal set of agreements and a simple process create the shift from small talk to BIG talk. Topics covered thus far: What are your hopes for 2017? ; How do we create community? ; Polarization among people -- what can be done to bridge the divide? ; What is the impact of pain? ; How do we raise moral children? ; What is the role of literature - particularly fiction - in our lives?

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