How to stop a boorish Q&A Hog in 3 easy steps

I recently attended a terrific, high-powered panel presentation that unfortunately became hijacked by what I’ll call “a Q&A hog.” You’ve probably witnessed a Q&A hog in action at a conference or presentation.

Q&A Hog, defined: an annoying creature that rambles incoherently during the Question and Answer period of a presentation. The hog typically takes up to 5 minutes to ask the presenter a very specific or off-topic question that no one in the audience has any interest in discussing. Q&A hogs usually have some personal agenda or simply love to hear the sound of their own voices.

The panel presentation I witnessed? The Q&A hog actually grabbed the floor mike and took over. It was a bad scene, man.

The hog held the entire audience hostage with non-stop rambling. The panelists and audience members started shuffling and checking their smart phones. The moderator looked wild-eyed around the room, vainly searching for armed gunmen with tranquilizers to shoot the beast down.

Q&A Hogphoto credit: Sheep Purple

Boors don’t pick up on obvious visual cues of disinterest. It’s not in their nature. They’re going to keep talking — until you shut them down. Mere body language and facial gestures won’t do the trick.

If you’re the speaker or moderator, you must shut down the hog.

And you must use words. Firm, direct words. It’s the only way.

Here’s a sample script you can try:

“Pardon, I’m going to cut you off. We have a limited time for Q&A. I want you to sit down and think about how you can ask your question in 30 seconds or less. Until you do, who else has a short question for me?” (Body language — scan the room with your arm raised.)

This direct method may seem harsh if you’re a sensitive sort. You may feel that you’re being rude to the hog. But you’re actually protecting and comforting your audience, which is far more important.

And actually, you’re not being rude to the hog at all. Unlike most people, hogs don’t seem to understand the “sit down and shut up” subtext of the above above script. Instead, many  seem to like the challenge: “What fun! I need to solve a puzzle! How am I going to reword my question to meet the time frame?”

You can try variations of the direct approach, but stick to three basics.

  1. Tell the hog you’re going to interrupt. Important point: never ask a hog if you can interrupt. Tell them that you’re cutting them off. If you ask “can I interrupt you?” — they’ll probably say “no, bear with me,  I’m almost done.” Then you’ll get 300 more hours of rambling incoherence.
  2. Align yourself with the audience. Remember, the audience wants the hog to shut up, too. By using the code phrase “limited time”, you’re signalling to everybody that unlike the bore, you respect their time. You’re going to honor and protect your audience.
  3. Move it along. “Who else has a short question?” while scanning the audience works wonders. During your scan, you will make eye contact with someone who is eager to shut down the hog, too. Giving this person ‘the nod’ is all the encouragement they need to get up and ask…anything.

I always recommend the direct approach for shutting down Q&A hogs. What’s your approach? What works for you?