Rise of the incoherent questioner


It’s reasonably late in the evening, I’ve had a sub-optimal trip to a wet and miserable London today, and I fancy a bit of a rant. I hope you don’t mind.

It’s a rant about a phenomenon I’ve noticed at various financial services meetings, conferences and workshops over the past year.  I’m going to call this phenomena ‘the incoherent questioner’.

We’ve all seen examples of him, I’m sure. It’s usually a him.

The incoherent questioner takes relish in grabbing his opportunity to ask a question during said meeting, conference and workshop. Only he doesn’t ask a question. He does something else instead.

Usually he rambles. He makes a statement, more often than not incoherent, based on his own experiences, biases or worldview.

What might have started as a genuine attempt to ask a question quickly – actually, not quickly, that’s another source of frustration when it comes to the incoherent questioner – descends into something else.

Personally, I find this character frustrating and rude.

We attend these events to hear from expert speakers, not from some chap in the audience who has a random point to make.

Questions from the audience are great, especially when they involve the incredible soft foam microphone box which was thrown and kicked around the Celtic Manor at the IFP Conference this year; bravo, event organisers. Bravo.

The incoherent questioner is not great. In fact, he’s a value destroyer. He makes me far less inclined to attend mass gatherings of financial advisers.

In case the incoherent questioner is reading this, some suggestions for you.

Scribble down your question on a scrap of paper before asking it. Maybe check with a friend or a colleague that it really is a question, and not a rambling statement of some kind.

Try limiting your question to twenty seconds. Ten seconds would be better. You can ask a decent question in ten seconds.

If you find yourself telling a story or recounting a particular point of view, rather than asking the speaker a direct and concise question, apologise quickly and take a seat. It’s better for all concerned.

What other tips or practical solutions can those of us reading this who share my frustration with the incoherent questioner offer?



9 thoughts on “Rise of the incoherent questioner

  • Had to laugh when I read this Martin, even though it isn’t funny when it happens in real life.

    They often start by saying, “I’ve just got a quick question.” And then 20 minutes later everyone is fidgeting and stratching their growing beards.

    I guess a curcuit speaker would have the confidence to halt the flow of the rambler and either get him to ask the question or get him to sit down. But for occasional speakers, they tend to stand there politely smiling whilst grimacing on the inside, not wishing to appear rude by interrupting, even though the rest of the audience are probably praying they’ll do just that.

    • I can imagine it would be really tricky to deal with, even for an experienced conference speaker. My best guess is the people who do this don’t often realise they are doing it!

  • It always amazes me that you can actually spot these people in the half second between them getting the mike and then starting to talk! Having said that (and I really don’t think I’m an IQ), I find it almost as annoying when a speaker leaves no time for questions at the end of their slot. Yes, we’ve come to hear them talk, but there is value in hearing what other (non IQ) advisers think are the weaknesses or problems with the presenter’s thesis.

    • Yes, they do tend to stick out like a sore thumb! If I don’t spot them before they start speaking, I can usually predict it is about to happen within the first three words out of their mouths…

      I agree there is a great deal of value in hearing the opinions of others during these presentations. What delegates need to do though is present their counterpoints in a very concise fashion.

  • Yes Martin, we all hate this guy.

    He is only slightly worse however than the other guy I really don’t like, the guy who takes up the speaker’s time (and/or other company representatives at a sponsored event) at coffee afterwards. This guy basically wants to talk to anyone who will listen, but especially the speaker, about how brilliant his planning solutions are, how wealthy his clients are, how great he is, and generally not at all about enhancing the content that you’ve just heard.

    • Yes, that guy is just as bad! Often you just want to say a five second ‘thank you’ to the speaker or hand them your business card to set up a future contact, but they are being totally monopolised by ‘that guy’ who is clearly the most important delegate in the room.

  • It’s also poor etiquette to continue asking questions following arrival of coffee. Usually it’s the same bloke.

  • Well put Martin, this behavior is completely unacceptable but far to frequent – a legacy of our industry I’m afraid. I attended a fund managers lunch recently that was ruined by one of these characters the speaker foolishly took the bait rambled on with him which meant we ran out of time and didn’t get down to the real purpose of the meet. I blame the Chair for allowing this to happen.

  • Martin,
    The ones that always get me are those that start with “I have a couple of questions….” this isn’t usually a couple of questions it is the start of a statement followed by another statement they really just want you to agree with, all of which is likely to take up the whole of the question time.


Leave a Reply