Why We’re Getting Rid of Q&As at TestBash
Sarah Deery
Sarah Deery
25th August 2022

Arguably Q&A sessions at the end of talks are a good thing. When they work well, they allow people to clarify unclear parts of their talk and give the opportunity for the audience to learn more about areas of interest. In magic moments, Q&A might even spark new ideas by having people engage in the topic with new perspectives. But I’ve sat through many Q&A sessions that have made me roll my eyes and had the phrase “let’s take this discussion to the break” uttered in a somewhat frustrated tone. 

There’s also the issue of certain personality types being more likely to have the confidence to ask questions in front of hundreds of peers. And, the format encourages knee-jerk, poorly thought-out questions and perhaps not the best answers from the speakers either. Furthermore, some people got what they needed from the talk and don’t want to sit through the Q&A. There must be a more friendly method of asking speakers questions that keep the magic and engagement of Q&A sessions for those that want to know more.

Introducing the Ask Me Anything (AMA) Bar

If you’ve ever attended one of our UnExpos, TestBashXs or, most recently, TestBash World, you’d know that MoT is not new to creating new innovative and engaging conference formats. Well, we think we’ve done it again for TestBash UK, and one new thing we’re pioneering is a new method of asking questions to the speaker; we’re calling it the AMA Bar. We called it this because you can ask the speaker anything on their topic, and the inspiration for the format is taken from the teaching and learning activity of a “genius bar” (side note: at TestBash UK, it will also take place in a bar, but that’s a happy coincidence).

How the Format Will Work

At TestBash UK, three or four AMA bars will run simultaneously. Each bar will be run by a different speaker on their respective topics and will be clearly signposted with that topic. At each bar, there will be a table with a chair for the speaker on one side and approximately 8 chairs on the other side for attendees (first-come, first-served basis). More people can stand behind the chairs if they want to observe the AMA take place. There will be sticky notes and pens on each table.

Example AMA Bar Table Set Up

Each speaker will run their AMA Bar for three 20-minute rounds. Different attendees will sit opposite the speaker during each round to maximise the number of folks who get to ask their questions to the speaker. 

Each round will be prefaced with a 5-minute question generation section where the speaker shares their expertise and the kinds of things they can help with. Folks at the table can then write questions on sticky notes and place them in front of the speaker who can choose what to answer and in what order within the remaining 15 mins. Others at the table can be invited to chip in their views and experiences if the speaker chooses to run the bar that way. After the 20 minutes are up, folks have to move to another AMA bar or session at TestBash UK so new folks can take a seat.

All sticky notes with questions will be collected at the end and added to The Club forum so that the community can share their thoughts and experiences on the topic.

Benefits of This New Format

We believe this new format will improve the conference experience for the speakers and attendees alike. We also think it will add more value to the community beyond the conference too. Here’s how:

Meet the Speaker!

At TestBash UK, folks who want to learn more about a topic can schedule to attend that speaker’s AMA Bar. As an attendee, this guarantees you’ll get to meet the speaker face-to-face in a much less intimidating way than trying to strike up a conversation during conference breaks. We’ve all been there! 

It’ll also be much easier to ask your question than at a typical Q&A session in an auditorium. In the AMA Bar, you’ll have more time to think about what question or questions you’d like to ask, and you’ll be able to phrase them well on a sticky note under much less pressure.

So if there is a speaker or topic at TestBash UK that you’d like to meet or know more about, check out the topics and speakers here.

Gain Control, Maintain the High

Notably, at MoT we care about and prioritise our speakers’ well-being above all else. In our opinion, our new format will be less stressful than a Q&A session at the end of a talk and will allow speakers to maintain their well earned talk high after presenting. There also will be more potential for speakers to meet collaborators interested in their area of expertise as the format can encourage conversations where both the speakers and attendees can learn more deeply from each other’s perspectives.

During typical Q&A sessions, speakers have no control over what they will be asked or for how long an audience member has the microphone. The lack of control over questions and time is a stressful situation under the eyes of potentially hundreds of attendees. In the AMA bar, speakers set the scene and describe what sort of things they have expertise in and can help with. They then can then order and choose questions that they’re comfortable with and have more time to process their thoughts. Plus they can choose to open up questions to the attendees of their session and have back-and-forth conversations. This allows speakers to meet community members who might be able to expand their understanding of their topic or even spark new ideas!

Importantly, the AMA Bar sessions will have TestBash volunteers on hand to support and help any speaker who needs assistance running their bar.

Benefits to the Community

After each AMA Bar, TestBash volunteers will collect the sticky notes with questions and write them up on The Club for the wider testing community to engage with. This increases the chances of Q&A magic! Where lots of perspectives and ideas can come together, potentially sparking new ideas and advancing the software testing craft.

Come To TestBash UK!

If this new format sounds interesting and exciting, it’s just one of the many new innovations we’ve come up with for TestBash UK. Check out this post for more information on what else is going on at TestBash UK and how we are revolutionising learning at face-to-face conferences. We deeply believe this will be the best TestBash experience we ever created!

If you’re already sold, get your TestBash UK ticket now!

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