If done right, Q&A sessions are a priceless opportunity to learn what your employees think. But they can be a real challenge too. Often, the Q&A sessions are filled with silence or softball questions while critical issues hang untouched in the air. Before you know it, that precious time has run out and you’ve not addressed the burning matters.
Luckily, there are a few tricks that can help you better handle the entire Q&A flow, make sure important matters get discussed and leave everyone satisfied.
In this article, we lay out a couple of tips that have worked well at our own meetings and share insights from internal communications professionals that we work with.
Collect questions before the meeting
A great Q&A begins before you gather in the room.
Start collecting questions in advance to give both your managers and employees time to prepare for the Q&A. To receive more targeted questions, you can create separate tracks for different topics, e.g. product development, HR or business strategy.
For our Friday all-hands, we start collecting questions on Monday. We share the link to Slido via Slack and then send a few reminders throughout the week to make sure everyone has a chance to raise their question.
Thanks to this approach, our CEO Peter is able to prepare informed answers to complex questions in advance and it makes the Q&A a lot more effective.
Appoint a moderator to lead the conversation
It’s more engaging to lead a conversation than to have a speaker read the questions from the screen. So, think of your Q&A as an interview and appoint a person to pose the questions and facilitate the discussion.
This has worked amazingly well at our own town halls.
Before the Q&A, our moderator Juraj coordinates with the CEO to review the submitted questions and prepare the answers. During the interview, Juraj groups the similar ones together to give the conversation a more natural flow. He always takes a tablet or smartphone on stage to keep an overview of all the questions that fly in.
The outcomes are priceless: the moderator has control over the entire session, ensures the strategic questions get discussed and draws the right answers from our CEO Peter.
Crowdsource the questions live
At the start of the Q&A session, encourage people once again to send in their outstanding questions and upvote the ones that have already been submitted. To help the team better follow the discussion, display the questions on screen.
Once the session gets underway, our clients found it useful to highlight the discussed question in fullscreen to make sure everyone’s attention is focused on the subject.
If you plan to review and filter the incoming questions, communicate it to the employees. You’ll avoid getting negative feedback and mitigate their disappointment.
You can say something along these lines: “We’ll be using moderation to review all incoming questions. We want to make sure we keep the discussion relevant, avoid taking any duplicates and address the most pressing questions.”
Take the questions from the floor
Apart from questions on Slido, we always recommend taking questions live from the floor to keep the interaction personal.
At our all-hands, we use Catchbox – a handy throwable microphone – to allow people to quickly raise any spontaneous or follow-up questions. It’s a great addition to a tech-powered Q&A and caters to the more communicative members of our team.
Acknowledge the tough questions
“Difficult questions are an opportunity to provide valuable context around decisions we’ve made as a company,” said Hannah Lawrence, Zendesk’s Internal Communications Manager, in our recent interview.
Tough questions are great indicators of matters that weren’t explained clearly enough. As Hannah noted: “By providing answers, we’re able to clear up misunderstandings and get insights into sentiments and emotions that may be running beneath the surface of the employee population.”
But having an open culture doesn’t mean you have to share every single piece of information. Sometimes, it can be harmful.
There are certain things you shouldn’t or may not want to share publicly – such as confidential information or the team’s salaries. “Be upfront here and let your employees know what areas are off limits and why they are off limits. It will help to reduce the team frustrations,” advises our Team Lead Juraj.
Involve the remote participants
With more and more participants joining remotely, it can be tricky to replicate the interaction online and keep them engaged throughout the meeting.
To make your remote colleagues feel as included as if they were sitting in the room, you can follow the advice of Adrian Lowther, an Employee Communications Manager at M&S: “We always try to get the presenter to refer to the remote colleagues. We’ll say: Alright guys, we are going to use Slido now, and that includes you over at Leicester… so that they are as engaged as the people in the room.”
The same goes for our meetings at Slido.
Whenever online participants join a meeting, we always start by welcoming them and encouraging them to participate. We then address them repeatedly during the session and when the Q&A time comes, we ask them to join the discussion and send in their questions via Slido.
Address any outstanding questions in writing
You may receive far more questions than you can handle during a limited Q&A slot. But instead of ending the discussion there, take it a step further and answer the remaining questions after the meeting in writing.
Many of our clients lead by example. For instance, the CEO of a large financial institution sends an email with a response to every employee who posted his or her question via Slido with a name.
Marks & Spencer follows another strategy: “We had way more questions than we could handle in 20 minutes, but the beauty of Slido is that we knew that we could take away those 30 or 40 questions that we didn’t get to answer and come back to them later at our team meetings.”
The third piece of advice is to share the answers on your internal communications tools. Within 2-3 days after our town hall at Slido, we reach out to the relevant leaders and share their responses with our team on Slack.
A well-facilitated Q&A at your all-company meetings is a critical tool for ensuring your employees get heard. Use the tips above to run an effective Q&A from start to finish, address the most important issues and build alignment across the entire company.