What’s Your Q?

handEarlier this week I attended a National Association of Corporate Directors breakfast.  I arrived just before the program started, missing the networking session, and had to sit in the last seat in the back of the room for the panel discussion.


At the Q&A portion of the panel discussion, I raised my hand and asked a question to the panel regarding an assertion they made about “Millennial Values” (a term I often challenge as a matter of course).

Right after the program adjourned, several attendees approached me to discuss my question further or provide their thoughts.  A-HA!  Another Awkward Networker tip was born!

Asking a question during a professional program is brilliant for a couple reasons.

eyesPeople see you.  Visibility is incredibly important at networking events, because even when you meet people for the first time later in the event, they feel as if they recognize you.  More importantly, if someone approaches you after they’ve seen or heard you, they must already find you somewhat interesting.

clockYou have plenty of time to craft what you’re going to say.  If you’re like me, there’s often a 50/50 chance that the first thing that comes out of your mouth when you meet someone will be immediately regrettable…

“Hey! How’s.. um… how are things?”
…Things? Can you be more specific?
“Oh hi, how have you been?”
…I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we met before. Where did we leave off?

Asking a question at a large Q&A session allows you to spend the time to craft the perfect question that will communicate your education, personality, and interest.  Rather than having several awkward, sudden first impressions, you can ensure a powerful, positive first impression for EVERYONE IN THE ROOM.  Pretty impressive!  That said… it’s everyone in the room.  Oh no, now I’m freaking out.  Everyone?  What if instead of humiliating myself with one person, I humiliate myself with everyone in the room?  Don’t freak out.  Stay with me here.  We can do this…

3 essentials to keep in mind.

kissKISS (Keep. It. Simple. Sexy.) 

I always thought that Stupid part was too mean.  You’re sexy, not stupid, but please don’t complicate things.  Your question is only as powerful as it is concise.  Maybe these tough-love points will help…

  • No one needs to know your full background (e.g. where you came from or who you work for).
  • The panelists know you appreciate them taking the time to be here today.
  • We know you “have just a quick question” – that’s why you raised your hand.
  • And if god-forbid your question is a “two-parter”, you don’t need to declare it.

There, I just shaved 20 seconds off your question!

passion Passion 

Keep it concise and simple, but craft your question around something you actually care about.  The entire room should feel your interest and desire for the truth.  Also, if anyone wants to ask you about it further, they should feel the same passion one-on-one as they did in the crowd.  If you craft a random, unguided question for the sole purpose of being seen, the crowd will notice the distinction and disengage.

horn Practice 

Repeat the question multiple times in your head, focusing on the first sentence, then the next, and the next.  Edit each sentence with conciseness in mind.  Then, envision yourself asking the question.  I mean really think through every step.

“Ok, I’m going to pull my chair out, stand, and button my jacket to give the event coordinator time to hand me the microphone (note: please don’t be that person that says “I don’t need a microphone” – most venues include white noise that dissipates vocal volume quickly and you don’t know how well your voice pitch travels).  I’ll hold the microphone in my left hand, because I’m a gesticulating pro with my right hand, and I’ll begin by looking at the panel and end by looking at the moderator.  Boom.  Ready.  Showtime.

Keep these tips in mind, and don’t be afraid to stand-up and be seen.  You just may enjoy the benefits of having fellow networkers approach you for conversation, rather than the other way around!


Don’t make this awkward… sign-up for the best networking tips today!


2 thoughts on “What’s Your Q?

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  1. Great article, Sean. Big fan of your stuff. Any words of advice on the whole “Millennial” thing? I don’t mind the term, but I hate this assumption that Millennials as a whole are lazy, immature,unmotivated, etc. I was at an event the other day where a panelist kept making negative comments about Millennials. They were mean spirited, not meant as a joke. How do we handle these situations at events, and how can we handle this issue in general?

    1. Hey, Cameron. Thank you for your support and question. It’s a great question, and one that I struggle with often. Let me start by saying that I’m a 30-year old Philadelphian. Every time someone talks about Philadelphia sports fans, I know it’s only a matter of time before someone references “throwing snowballs at Santa”. Similarly, every time someone talks about Millennials, I know it’s only a matter of time before someone references “participation trophies”. I wasn’t alive when Eagles fans threw snowballs at Santa, and my friends weren’t receiving participation trophies when we graduated college in staggering debt hearing the term “economy-related hiring freeze” for the first time.

      The issue is further compounded by the underlying description of the Millennial generation. We are also painted as “whiners” and “complainers”. It’s checkmate. Even if we complain about these labels being inaccurate, we’re only further validating their accusations. So now what? My answer: we chill out.

      Do you think for a second that your parents weren’t self-absorbed employees at your age? They were. Do you think for a second that your parents’ parents weren’t venting about your parents’ generation being lazy and privileged? They were. Most of the hate slung at our generation is no different in premise than the hate slung at every 20-35 year old by their preceding generations. The examples and nuances may change, but the underlying sentiment is as predictable as the tide.

      That said, our generation doesn’t know what it’s like to be drafted into a war and forced to fight for a government they don’t respect in a war they don’t support. Our generation doesn’t know what it’s like to work 40+ years for a series of backbreaking bosses just to keep food on the table.

      Like any discussion between two large groups of people, understanding the position of both sides is key to overcoming any difference. Now that we appreciate the lens through which we see each other’s generation, we can now conclude that life is difficult. Regardless of wrinkled surface area on your face or the grey hair count on your head, every rise of the sun brings with it certain challenges to overcome and accomplishments to pursue.

      So here comes my action plan. Don’t worry about defending Millennials. We’re good. Defend yourself. One characteristic of our generation that is undeniable is our natural instinct to defend attacks against groups we represent. It’s noble, but in this case, unnecessary. As I mentioned above, it’s checkmate. Defending our generation only further entrenches the rest of society in their beliefs. Instead of defending the generation against unfair accusations, focus on proving those accusations wrong.

      I’ve worked for the same employer my entire career our of college. I keep my phone in my pocket in social settings. I look people in the eyes, and ask them about themselves. I eat gluten 🙂 And as a husband and father of two, my “top priorities for selecting an employer” aren’t ping pong tables and puppies in the office. Rather, my top priorities include providing a financial future for my children and having enough time outside of work to be a happy and active father/husband. I’m still a Millennial, and in more ways that none, my values are identical to my fathers’ values at my age. If you identify yourself in similar terms, live those values, talk about those values, and change people’s perception of you. Every generation, your junior and senior alike, will thank you.

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