NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2005
Moderating a Question and Answer Session
by Bud Bondietti,
Editor, Modesto PC User Group
editor@mpcug.org (click to email author)

There often are a few thankless jobs within a user group, helping setup and takedown a meeting, being a club officer (sometimes) and being a moderator of specific groups. While attending a user group meeting as a guest, I was especially interested in the topics brought forward by the members during their question and answer session. The group was well attended with a wide range of knowledge from novice (I disdain the word “Newbie”) to expert as well as a couple of members who themselves made their living working with computers. The inevitable question popped up, “my computer isn’t working properly, who do you recommend that I get to repair it?” One of the members jumped up reached into his wallet producing a business card and handed it to the member. Other members became very silent until the moderator politely said to the member “There are a number of people that I could recommend and if you see me after the session, I would be glad to help you out.” Needless to say, I was impressed with the moderators’ tact and after the meeting over coffee, I commented to him as to how well he handled the situation. He laughed a little then told me the story of this one member. It seems that he was always looking for a free plug of his business and that most of the members overlooked the interruption. I commented that it didn’t seem fair that he be allowed to continue but the moderator said that he’d been doing it so long it became a “way of the club”. A little later in our discussion, we got to talking about newsletters. I had not seen any of their newsletters so I didn’t know what they contained. As we compared notes, I mentioned that we devote one page of our newsletter strictly for member advertising at no cost to the member. Sort of a benefit of membership, I stated. He looked as though the light bulb lit and said, “Maybe that’s the answer to our problem.” Two issues later I noticed a page of advertising for member services. Later on I received an email from him and he said that the interruptions had ceased and that when those types of questions came from the floor, he referred the person to that page. Problem solved.

A successful moderator, I have found, should practice two qualities:

1) The ruse of “Dazzle them with brilliance or Baffle them with bull” very seldom works. If anything it complicates the problem because the person doesn’t get the right answers to solve the problem and

2) If you are hit with a question you or anyone in the audience doesn’t have the answer for, politely ask the person to see you after the question and answer session so you can get the question written down for research. Then, follow up. Nothing will turn a member against the club faster than not having their needs met. Be careful not to get bogged down on one question. Time is short and you may miss someone else’s need to have an important question addressed.

The moderator should make it a habit of repeating the question for two reasons:

1) It assures that the question is correctly stated and

2) It helps those who are hard of hearing know what the question is and the resulting answer. Utilize a microphone if need be, otherwise talk clearly and slowly. We often rush to get our answers and people miss the point. If there is more than one “expert” in the group, utilize their talents to help solve questions. Be aware of sideline discussions within the audience, they hamper others from hearing what’s going on thus create a need to repeat the question and its answer. There is a wealth of knowledge in our groups, even from the novices. Above all, learn that patience is a virtue. When you show patience, more people will ask questions and the session will flow evenly, sometimes past the time to close discussions.

This article may be used in its entirety provided credit is given the author

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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