The C&I alternative to Q&A | Conference Matters
C&I the Q&A alternative

The C&I alternative to Q&A

We all know Q&A: that moment at the end of a session where the audience gets a few minutes to ask a few questions. Frequently, the usual suspects will grab their chance (and the microphone) to make a statement, rather than ask a question. And then, the session is over… This still happens a lot in corporate meetings and association conferences, seminars, et cetera. Should we really call Q&A interaction?

One participant asking a question to the speaker is the smallest form of interaction imaginable. It is only one person asking a question and one person answering that question. The ‘inter’ from interaction here stands for action or ‘conversation’ between ONE participant and ONE speaker. What about all the other participants? Well, they are still only listening. In a group of 100 participants, 99 have just been listening, and only one has spoken. This means less than 1% of the audience was active and did something other than listening. You might say 1% was engaged or involved. This is a very low degree of activation. Shouldn’t the ‘inter’ in the word ‘interaction’ mean ‘among participants’ or even ‘among all participants’? Is this possible?

In comes C&I

C&I stands for Conversations and Input. It can radically improve the degree of audience activation from 1% to 75% or even 100%. Later, you will discover the magical impact this has but first, an example.
There are many ways to do this, but let’s start with the basic version: the room is set up so that small groups of 6 are formed around a table or can be formed by moving or turning chairs.
After 15 minutes of presentation, the speaker stops to activate the audience by introducing a conversation topic. The standard topic can be a question that always works: “What have you just learned?” or “What did you find interesting” or “What have you just learned that you will apply?” Of course, a more directive, focused or specific question can be introduced. The question can be a text slide in the presentation of the speaker, and this slide can remain on the screen for the duration of the C&I …
And now, the little revolution: the letter C in C&I. The speaker (or chair or facilitator) tells participants that they have 4 minutes (or more) to have a conversation on this question or statement between each other in groups of 6 or less. This is no longer a discussion between ONE participant and THE speaker, but between EVERYONE in small group conversations.
After the 4 minutes of small group conversations, the speaker (or chair, or facilitator) asks participants to conclude and invites a few handpicked groups to provide Input (feedback). The standard question you can always ask is “Who learned something great from another participant during these conversations?” This takes another minute or 2, so each C&I takes about 5 to 10 minutes.

Three moments

A C&I moment can be inserted after every 10 – 15 minutes of presentation. So, in a session of one hour, you can get roughly three moments of C&I, in addition to conclusions and a final Q&A at the very end of the session.
C&I is a simple technique but it can bring about a radical change in a presentation, as it makes participants think, contextualise, re-discuss, speak, listen, comment, etc. A great variation from the ‘listening-to-the-speaker-only’ format. C&I will keep all participants awake and energised.

In short:

  1. present a topic
  2. tell participants to have small group Conversations
  3. ask for Input

The Magic

A few things happen when you implement C&I that add up to nothing less than the Meeting Magic. I would dare to say that C&I is the golden nugget or even the diamond crown in meeting design.
What C&I does for participants’ motivation
When we move from an audience of 300 ‘listeners’ to 50 conversations in groups of 6, almost everyone will say something, and they will feel comfortable in doing so due to the small group setting. Ideas flow, debates happen, humor gets inserted, the noise levels rise. Activation just jumped to 75% or more! With C&I everyone engages deeper with the content. Participants become more energised and enjoy the session more, leading to great value for all.

What C&I does for learning

Some participants will share their point of view, some will react, and others will ask a question. Ideas are challenged by one person and defended by another. Examples are discussed and stories are told. As a result, in each of these small groups, collaborative learning happens and everyone is encouraged to reflect more about the topic at hand. The brain gets more time to transfer the new information from the short-term to the long-term memory. Participants learn more by chunking information and having more time to process it, as opposed to when focusing on the presentation only.

What C&I does for networking

Networking is the number one reason why people go to meetings or conferences. It is growing in importance in most events and is usually ranked higher than learning for participants. When people have a small group conversation on a topic near and dear to their hearts, they get to know each other really fast. C&I is probably the best method to learn more about other people. It is far more effective than a coffee break, reception or party, where we would usually cluster around people we already know. Being able to assess how someone speaks, listens, answers and, generally, interacts in a professional conversation is a high-speed quality test for future connections, and it tells you more about that person than a social chat during lunch, for example.

What C&I does for the speaker

The speaker has less time to fill, less slides to prepare. For example, if the session is 60 minutes, the presentation will get roughly 30 minutes (roughly 30 slides). The speaker gets the organisers instruction to prepare one conversation slide after every 10 slides or 10 minutes, to give participants 4 minutes for conversations in small groups, and to take 2 minutes for Input. C&I needs to be explained to the speakers.
As public speaking is the number one human fear, this also give speakers time to relax after a short presentation, rather than torturing them with a full 50 minute presentation. Once speakers have tried the simple C&I script, they will love the ‘pause’ after every 10 – 15 slides. C&I gives them time to drink some water, relax or walk among the groups discussing and get ready for the next part.

What C&I does for the organiser

C&I creates a lot of value for participants and speakers. It is an innovation that will be appreciated by all and raved about by many. Your event will get better scores, and your participants will return. The younger generations like C&I a lot as they are used to share, discuss and comment. You will certainly get better scores, and you may get a few more participants for the next conference…

End result

In the end, everybody is pleased and the learning and networking improved. A more dynamic session creates more energised and happier participants. We can still do a Q&A at the end, but let’s break it open and make C&I a new standard. The rice of Interaction is The only cost is time: The price for interaction is paid in minutes. And you may need some introduction and hand-holding for the speakers.
So, to you, the meeting planner or meeting architect I would say: Let’s apply C&I to all our future sessions! Let’s give the speakers a simple script in which speaking on the stage is alternated with Conversations and Input from small groups on ‘the floor’. Try it, and you will see C&I is a magical tool at zero cost. It may improve your own presentation style, but more importantly, your conference or meeting will get the best scores ever.

For sharing your thoughts and experience on the matter please join the Meeting Architecture Group on LinkedIn.