WordCampers Demand Changes to Q&A Format

Q&A segments at a live event are a valuable point of connection where attendees have the opportunity to gain the undivided attention of the speaker or panelist and get answers to important questions. Inevitably, people who abuse the format can lower the quality of the experience for everyone. A Twitter thread addressing this chronic problem is gaining momentum today following the conclusion of WordCamp Europe 2023.

“One problem is that they often add very little value – although they’re supposed to achieve the opposite,” WordPress Core Committer Felix Arntz said. “Unfortunately, those who ‘ask’ are often telling stories, promoting themselves or their business, [or] mansplaining the speaker.

“Sometimes they’re not even asking any question at the end which is ridiculous. If that is you, you may not even notice it, but you are seriously wasting people’s time, potentially harming the speaker, and preventing folks from actually learning something.”

Arntz suggested that those asking questions longer than a minute should forego the Q&A time and ask the speaker informally at a later opportunity if it is relevant.

“Just to clarify, while some of the issues apply especially to sessions with more exposure, like a Matt Q&A, they all also apply to any other session,” he said.

“While these problems mostly occur due to individual folks in the audience, I think the WordCamp organization needs to take action to improve the situation as it’s been happening for years.”

Arntz proposed a number of actionable ideas, including submitting questions to a central platform where they can be upvoted by community members, discarding lengthy questions, and providing mandatory training or documentation for emcees on how to handle problematic Q&A situations. He also noted that having questions in writing can assist non-native English speakers in understanding other non-native speakers.

Arntz also contends that Q&A should be optional, depending on the speaker’s preference. This may also have the added effect of creating a more inclusive environment for speakers.

“Particularly for new speakers, it can cause lots of distress or anxiety, especially because, as mentioned before, it very often isn’t questions but any of the aforementioned problems,” he said.

“All of this can be another blocker for folks from underrepresented groups to even apply to speak, which came up in the session on women & non-binary folx of WordPress.

“Making Q&A optional is a great and simple way to at least improve the latter issue while working on addressing all the other problems. It’s literally just a decision to make, so I urge the community and organizing teams to make it.”

Arntz’s thread has received positive feedback and support, and other WCEU attendees have joined in with suggestions for improving the Q&A format.

“Many other open source conferences use apps that do more with Q&A, rating speakers, and even helping attendees schedule networking,” GoDaddy Developer Advocate Courtney Robertson said. “The favorited events export to iCal/gCal.”

Raymon Mens, a first-time-attendee at WCEU, said he was “negatively surprised by the Q&A part” for every session. “I would have preferred some more time for the speaker to go more in depth and not have a long Q&A that doesn’t add a lot.”

Jon Ang, an organizer for WordCamp Asia, said he is taking Arntz’s feedback into consideration for their next event, and future global leads for WCEU said they are also discussing these ideas for next year.

“At WordCamp San Francisco 2011 there was a Q&A session with Barry and it used a P2,” WordPress core committer Aaron Jorbin said. “For the off topic questions, others often chimed in. I think an MC with knowledge of the subject matter asking questions off this would be perfect.”

Changes will likely originate from WordCamp organizers who can recognize the existing problems with the current Q&A format and depart from tradition with a better way of bringing quality questions to speakers who wish to entertain them. Getting Q&A right may also become a stronger priority as WordPress’ community team evolves the WordCamp format to promote adoption, training, and networking. Based on the feedback on Arntz’s Twitter thread, it’s past time to update the Q&A format and WordCampers are eager to see it happen.


9 responses to “WordCampers Demand Changes to Q&A Format”

  1. It is a difficult balance to maintain. Live questions make the talk more vivid and give equal opportunity to all to participate. Especially if their written English proficiency is not that well (like mine here). And, remember, how many hands were raised when at the keynote when Matt asked who doesn’t speak English as their mother tongue? The vast majority! So, interesting discussion indeed, and we need to continue it, but we should not jump to the obvious conclusions.

    • Exactly. This seems a tentative to control and sanitize that goes beyond the scope of a community and organic event. This is not an English event. Yes, talks are in English, but some people just have difficulties asking a question in English, they take longer, and sometimes it’s hard to understand them, It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the same opportunity to speak.

      The one thing I miss is an active MC that can take control of the Q&A as an effective mediator and authority.

      Vetoing questions or requiring them to be submitted in advance is against the concept of these events, in my opinion.

      The MC should have (I believe already has) the authority to stop a question if it goes beyond scope, it’s either incomprehensible or not even a question. As the speaker has the right to not answer it.

  2. Yes, please! Starting off with introducing yourself with your name and where you’re from is nice. If we keep standing mics and open format, people should just start and end with your question. No need to talk for 2/3 minutes long.

    If we do an online form or some sort, that would be a nice alternative though! Would be even nicer if the ones not answered on stage could be answered by the panel at a later time too.

  3. The issue I would have of organizers filtering the questions is that will the organizers give more to their friends over the the rest of the community?

    A lot of the WordCamps and meetups are usually the same rotating people around that are friends with the organizers.

    Now yes there should be a sort of filter so the same questions don’t get asked again and again.

    There is a disadvtange of e-mailing or whatever the speaker after their session, what if the speaker wants to see another speaker?

    Just enforce a rule that you can’t just ask your question to promote yourself/your business/etc…

  4. At first, we need to differentiate between Q&As after regular talks and the Q&A with Matt and other official leaders.

    For the Q&A with Matt I think the solution with collecting the questions and make a public voting would be best, because answers could be better prepared and the most important questions for the community get raised.

    Q&A for talks could be solved in other, better (for their use case) ways. Comments on the Talk-CPT-page could be one way, make them optional or have a dedicated place to meet the speaker afterward, etc.

    After thinking a little bit more about this topic, I would like to emphasize another point of view for the Matt-Q&A:

    I was wondering why so many people want to make it about themselves? And I think this is a consequence of missing direct channels to the leaders of WordPress.

    If I want to start bigger projects within the WP ecosystem, there are so many things to consider. It is impossible for a single freelancer to do all this lobby work. Even after patches, WordCamp talks and coverage on blogs like WP Tavern you still get rejections for not doing or knowing enough. Only big agencies/companies can influence the direction (at least a little bit) through sponsored contributors.

    Therefore, people look for this “main stage” moment to push their team struggles in front of so many people. Accessibility, Translations, Sustainability, … all those teams have challenges and want more support from the leadership in some way.

    This could mean two things: The problem they are facing is really needing more support, and/or the leaders are not communicating good enough from the top to the people.

    If people can’t influence directly, they are trying to use different ways. Like the Q&A. The rare moment where they can get direct feedback for an idea, question or complaint.

    (Thanks for reading this long comment until the end. 😉

  5. Q&A was a disaster at the WCEU 2023 closing remarks. At least two of the questions were about the same thing, one person was simply promoting themselves, and other questions were from “known faces.” With the latter, that doesn’t leave much room for newer people to speak up or bring new thoughts/perspective to the table.

    With a room full of 3,000 people, the WCEU 2023 Q&A was awkward at best.

    The questions definitely need to be vetted so that we don’t find ourselves in this situation again. It would also be helpful for the speaker to the know the questions ahead of time so they can offer a thoughtful response.

    There’s no shortage of opportunities to discuss issues or solve problems. But certain forums require certain decorum.

  6. Written questions in advance & the community upvoting is a great idea.

    It’s not only WordCamps – this happens more subtly during meetups.

    Sometimes audience members struggle to form a coherent question while figuring out what to ask in their heads.

    Preparing questions in advance may help them form that question, so there’s no rambling on.

    Can we get translation apps or AI translation to help non-English attendees feel comfortable submitting Q’s in advance too?

  7. Some question-askers need a plugin to self-filter appropriately because that code is apparently not present in their core 🤣

    Seriously, though, this kind of thing has been happening for many years at WordCamps. I remember one instance in at WordCamp Atlanta where an attendee gave a long commercial for a local freelance organization after my presentation. I tried unsuccessfully from the podium to interrupt his filibuster but he just kept talking over me. Other attendees were getting frustrated.

    Ideally, there should be a room monitor handling the microphone who would step in when a situation like this occurs.


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