Written by Tom Piper, Past President of appleJAC User Group and Head of the Apple User Group Vendor team
One of the most valuable services provided by Apple User Groups to their members are the “question and answer” sessions. For the past 35 years of our existence, appleJAC has evolved through a variety of Q&A processes. This How-To session will describe each of the successful methods that we have used.
One of the most prevalent and persistent Q&A opportunities is during and after a topic is presented to the user group membership. We previously asked people to refrain from asking questions until the end of the presentation, but found that this unnecessarily restrained audience participation, which is an important aspect of user groups. Instead, we encourage questions at any time, but strictly adhere to a preset time limit (using a visible timer), which everyone is made aware of in advance. Questions must also remain “on topic” so the discussions do stray away from the theme of the presentation.
Q&As in Advance
In order to get more members involved (including the “shy” ones), we invite members to submit their questions in advance of the meeting. Five days before each meeting, we send out a meeting notice announcing date/time/place, topic(s), presenter(s), website information, and Q&A invitation. It is typically phrased as “Meeting Question, what do you need to know? (to submit, just highlight the statement above, click Reply, enter your question, and click Send to email back your responses before 4:00pm, day before the meeting)”. The responses are shown early in our next meeting on our digital projector, showing answers, and encouraging techies in our group to add their comments.
Early in our meetings, following introductions and announcements, we hold a Q&A session for all attendees (members and visitors included). This is initiated with the Advance Q&As, which often stimulated other related questions. This exchange often encourages others who are more hesitant to get involved, particularly when we remind them that their questions will also benefit others in attendance. Such participation has helped new and veteran members to know each other better, and to hold discussions during our mid-meeting break. This has been a popular and predictable part of each meeting for over 30 years!
All Meeting Q&A Topic
Four years ago we accidentally devoted an entire meeting to one long Q&A session because a planned presentation fell through. It was so successful, that we have since scheduled Q&As as our only topic during a mid-year meeting. In fact, we are now doing this instead of our annual “maintenance meeting” when we used to discuss the value of data backups, operating systems cleansing, screen and case cleaning, app updates and such — these items are now used to “pepper” our Q&A session, which motivates the exchange of other information. Members have been very appreciative of this opportunity to formally and informally learning new information and have fun doing it.
Guru Table Q&A
For one year we attempted to have a table available during our mid-meeting break where our techie members would be available to answer individual questions. It seemed like a good conceptual idea at the time, but in practice never accomplished enough benefit to continue it. Some members were happy to get the attention, but the knowledge only helped a few, whereas the early Q&A sessions benefits many. Techies still occasionally get cornered during break, but we now encourage more group discussions (and shortens our breaks when we also do our door prize drawings).
Question and answer opportunities are one of the most valuable services provided by our Apple user group. We have repeatedly found that the greatest benefit comes from questions in open session so everyone can hear the answers, often kindling discussions that can branch in many different directions, while increasing member participation. Often this sharing of experiences brings our group closer together, sparking new friendships and relationships. We believe that is what user groups are all about!
Tom founded the original appleJAC Macintosh Users Group in late 1984, and has been the president (and other offices) repeatedly while also a frequent presenter. appleJAC expanded its scope to include all Apple and related products and serves all of mid-Missouri with most of its monthly meetings in Jefferson City, the state capitol (more information available at applejac.org).