"Hot Questions" is a special section of meetings that trains people to think on their feet, to improvise answers to questions that might face in real life in a social or professional setting, such as:
- While meeting a stranger on the metro, train or airplane.
- In a social exchange with your boss at the coffee machine.
- At a party.
- At a professional conference.
- During a job interview.
- During a sales pitch.
- At a press conference.
- At a gathering of friends.
- At a social meet up.
- At a weekend retreat.
The above is not an exhaustive list, merely some ideas to get you started.
As a Hot Questions Master, your job is to prepare a set of challenging questions for a series of people. The number of questions depends on the total time allotted for the Hot Questions section of the meeting. Each speaker has to speak between 1 and 2 minutes, and you should add some time for yourself - for explaining your role, its purpose, and for all the clapping before and each person comes to the stage and for the question itself. All in all, plan about 2 minutes for yourself plus about 3 minutes per participant. So for a 10 minute session, plan about 3 participants.
The main goal of the Hot Questions section should be to get a natural, sincere and convincing answer from the speaker. Sometimes the speaker will weasel out of the question and speak about something else. If done properly and naturally, that's fine. Ideally, the answers should be mini-speeches, but the speakers shouldn't sacrifice naturalness for structure. A fully-blown speech is never expected as an answer to a simple question, and if that is what is received, it will sound like a canned memorized speech, unless the speaker is truly passionate about the subject.
Usually people are tempted to start answering right away. That's not the best approach. Speakers can take some time (5-15 seconds) to think about their answer. It's a good idea to remind them of that possibility during the introduction to your role.
Good questions are those that are:
- Realistic – Questions should be of the type likely to occur in a realistic setting. Unless the speaker is aiming at becoming an improv theatre actor, the value of practicing answers to questions such as "I saw you the other day dressed as a gorilla running across the park. What were you doing?" are unlikely to be ofmuch use.
- Not too easy – Questions should be somewhat challenging. A question such as "what is your favorite color?" is not exactly the most challenging one.
- Not too obscure – Questions on obscure topics should also be avoided. After all, the speaker has only 2 minutes to speak. Also, they shouldn't assume too much prior knowledge, like asking "What do you think about all the debate regarding the light sabre design in the last installment of Star Wars?".Unless you are a fan of Star Wars, the first normal thought after that question would rightfully be "WTF?". However, questions that assume some prior knowledge that the speaker turns out not to have are perfectly ok. For example, "What do you think about the series finale of Breaking Bad?". If the speaker hasn't seen it, he still has to answer so and then elaborate (possibly explaining that he hasn't got time, or that he doesn't like that type of series, or…)
- Open-ended – Yes/no o two-choice questions don't give speakers enough material to elaborate.
- Inconvenient, uncomfortable or difficult questions are completely fine, because these do get asked constantly by people that have less-than-ideal manners, and yet the way we answer them greatly impacts on how the listeners perceive us. If a person is asked "How much sex do you have with your wife?" and the reply is a furious diatribe full of insults, then the perception of the offended person also suffers. A good speaker should never lose control, composure or manners. Replies to these questions should be polite, yet firm and assertive.
In a Hot Questions session you're not limited to merely asking questions, and you're not limited to having just one speaker on the stage. A Hot Questions section can consist of playing some melody to each participant and asking them what memories it brings, or doing the same with different scents, or bringing different objects and ask them to present a sales (or anti-sales) pitch, or you could bring several people to the stage and ask them to defend opposing positions in a debate, or one to start a story and the other to finish it, etc.
Of course, for the answers to be truly improvised, don't share your questions or ideas about the session with anyone.
Ideally, you should pick your Hot Questions targets from people that don't have any role in a meeting, in order to give everyone a chance to participate, and you should have your list ready before the start of the meeting, by checking the agenda and seeing who's attending. A member should not be able to decline the request to participate, if they do so, you can politely press, but if you see fierce resistance, it's better not to press further. Of course, if there are not enough members, or if you sense that someone is "too confident" that they won't be picked because they have a role, you're free to do so.
Clubs have different views on whether you should ask for volunteers or not. If you do, this should come before the question is asked. After all, the point is not asking a question and getting a reply from someone that is already prepared to answer.
Clubs have also different views on whether you should or should not ask guests to participate. If your club has such a tradition, then they need to follow the rules just as everyone else – if you want to pick a guest or if you accept guest volunteers, that should happen before the question is asked.
Hot Questions is a very delicate section. Don't expect very structured speeches, and sometimes you'll need to come to the rescue of a participant that has spoken for a while then goes blank or just doesn't know how to finish. If this is clearly the case, just intervene with a "Thank you", extend your hand to shake theirs, then lead an applause as they walk off the stage.