Meetings Memo: Goodbye Q&A

Say hello to conversations and input, or C&I, an improved form of Q&A.

In 2015, the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) was looking for ways to shake up its 8,000-attendee annual congress. The event had always featured traditional session formats: Speakers would talk for 25 minutes, and then open the floor for a brief Q&A.

“It was kind of old-fashioned,” says Edward Knol, Ph.D., EAACI’s vice president of congresses.

Wanting to improve attendee-speaker interaction, Knol reached out to Maarten Vanneste, president of the Meeting Design Institute, who introduced EAACI to an improved form of Q&A: conversations and input, or C&I.

The idea is simple: Attendees are broken up into tables of five or six individuals. The presenter on stage speaks in 10- to 15-minute intervals, and then inserts a “C&I moment” to pose a question to the audience. It might be as simple as, “What is the most interesting piece of information you’ve learned in this presentation so far?” The attendees then discuss at their table, making up the conversation portion of C&I.

It’s a way “to wake people up—make their brains do different things instead of only listening and looking forward,” says Vanneste.

After a couple minutes have passed, the speaker selects representatives from a few tables to share their answers, and then provides input before moving on to the next portion of the presentation.

At its 2015 event, organizers chose six designated workshops to use the C&I method, starting in a room with 10 tables that each seated six attendees. “We try to select, with the scientific program committee, sessions where we notice a kind of discussion always going on in the field,” Knol says.

The sessions that used C&I were such an immediate hit that there were lines of attendees out the door hoping to join the discussions. At first, EAACI limited C&I sessions to 60 participants, but it has since expanded to 300-participant sessions. Knol says these sessions still have the same setup: seven minutes of speaker time, seven minutes of conversation, and seven minutes of input. There were 10 C&I sessions at this year’s congress.

Vanneste credits the popularity of C&I to its social element. “The goal is not just to learn, because you learn a lot from the speaker, but also learn from the conversations,” he says. “The main value lies in the fact that you now have networking, and you get to know new people in a very powerful way, because the session is a filter.”—S.W.

(Topazgem/Getty Images)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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