Asking technical questions at conferences

Oh man! This is some subject! Where does one even begin? This blog post was triggered by the following picture that came across my twitter timeline this morning. And it got me properly ragging!

If you run through this flowchart, then the chances of asking a question are very close to none. Most people that attend conferences, they do it because they want to learn! If you've ever been a delegate to a technical/development conference and you chose to attend a specific talk, then you most likely belong to one these categories:

  • You know a bit about the subject and want to learn more
  • You know nothing about the subject but you're intrigued by the title and/or abstract
  • You know the subject well but there's no better alternative and you join in hope to hear something new or different.

Regardless of which category you belong, there's a good possibility you may have a question at the end of a talk. Unless, of course, the speaker did a truly stellar job and managed to cover everything around the subject matter(not really do-able in 45-60mins). You may want to find out if the technology/framework/methodology could provide a solution or value to your problem. The best way to find out is... by asking. You can also bet that the same question or variations of it are in the minds of other delegates in the room. So, you are not the only one and you're not alone in your quest for knowledge and answers.

Using the picture above as a guide almost guarantees that you won't be asking that question in fear of sounding a "show off", "absent-minded", or god-forbid "silly". For those of you defending the thinking process in the picture, I'm sure that as parents you "encourage" your kids not to ask "silly" questions! Cause, who would ask this silly question, right? RIGHT?

Well, I'll let you in a little secret. One that's served me well in my life and I don't regret it once: "Better sound silly for a second than stay silly for the rest of your life". I've used this motto throughout every aspect of my life. That's how we learn. By questioning everything. If you feel compelled to ask because you want to know, then that's reason enough. Ask away! And the speaker will also thank you for it. There's nothing worse than finishing a talk, opening the floor to questions and receiving none. And once the first question is out of the way, more questions follow. There are, however, some pre-requisites:

  • the speaker was engaging and interesting
  • the subject resonated with the audience
  • there was good rapport
  • the speaker left time for questions in the end (you know who you are, I'm looking at you!)

You, as delegate, should also be courteous and ensure that your questions are:

  • concise (don't tell us you life story before asking the question)
  • keep it short (not Twitter short but try to use 3-4 sentences max)
  • it's relevant to the subject matter (a ruby question on an ASP.NET talk)

Go out there and be silly. Ask away and don't be afraid to learn. It will be worth it, I promise :)

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