Who’s Asking Questions and Why?

Bill Reed, chief event strategy officer for the American Society of Hematology, offered insights from his research and experience on the issue of men dominating Q&A conference sessions, after listening to a Convene Podcast episode on that topic.

Author: Bill Reed       

Man speaking from audience

In a recent Convene Podcast episode, editors discussed a news article about men dominating Q&A sessions at academic conferences.

The Convene Podcast is back, with new episodes and formats, including Convene Talk, lively conversations among the editors based on the industry-related news stories that appear in PCMA News Junkie. Bill Reed, FASAE, CMP, chief event strategy officer for the American Society of Hematology (ASH), offered insights from his research and experience after listening to our Nov. 16 episode, where we discussed a Forbes article on recent research about why men dominate question-and-answer sessions at academic conferences. This Letter to the Editor will be published in the December issue of Convene.

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Bill Reed, FASAE, CMP

I loved hearing your podcast about women and question asking. You may recall that I was a coauthor on a published research paper on the topic that was covered by Convene. I wanted to share an insight about what we are seeing at ASH with our annual meeting in the hybrid environment that illustrates some shifts in behavior from the pre-pandemic period. For context, ASH streams all sessions in real time to the virtual meeting platform. In-person participants can go to the aisle microphone in the room to ask a question and all participants, in-person and virtual, can pose questions in the virtual meeting platform.

Some in-person participants are posing a question in the virtual meeting platform and then getting up to go to the microphone to double their chances that their question will be asked. A new value proposition to come to the meeting in person!

Women are asking more questions using the virtual meeting platform compared to those that go to the microphone. Interestingly, the ability to pose questions via the virtual meeting platform has caused the rate of question asking by women to increase when compared to the pre-pandemic rate when the aisle microphone was the only option.

Asking a question at the microphone is seen as a valuable tool towards gaining visibility at conferences, which translates to improving prominence among key opinion leaders and future employers. Asking a smart question can be helpful to demonstrate quality (or the opposite).

Using the virtual meeting to ask the question allows the question to be moved to the top of the questions that the moderator sees when they determine which question comes next. The audience can “like” the question which elevates it closer to the top. Interestingly, women audience members tend to “like” questions posed by fellow women at a higher rate than questions posed by men. We are examining if this is based upon support for peer women or if the driver is the quality of the question.

Moderators are selecting questions from those posed via the virtual meeting when compared to the questions posed at the microphone. Anecdotally, moderators have shared that the predictability of knowing the question in advance factored into their decision. They cited that men are better known to be pontificators at the microphone, and the moderator can better avoid calling upon them as long as there are alternatives in the virtual meeting platform to choose instead.

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