Q&A: Should you mention a person’s name during Q&A?

During a recent webinar, Tony W. asked

Is it a helpful technique to mention the person’s name who asks the question like you guys are doing right now?  Don’t some people get offended by this?

Tony,

I think you should consider it both in terms of context and culture.  Here are a few things to consider:

Generally, I do mention names – first names only.  The sweetest sound to anyone’s ear is their own name, and not only do you get that person’s attention when you respond with their name, but you get other people’s attention as well.  It’s part of what makes a live event real and personal.  I think it’s a big mistake to make a live event as impersonal as an on-demand piece of content.  That said, ask yourself a few questions:

What is the culture of the audience?

This could be national or geographic.  This could be organizational.  There are no absolutes, and you want to be sensitive to cultural norms.

What is the nature of the session?

Is it a smaller, private training session with 15 participants?  Is it like a public seminar where the speaker asks everyone to write their name on a card and set it up in front of them so s/he can respond by name?  Have you promised anonymity or would you and your audience benefit by keeping responses anonymous?

Is the event public or private?

I’m a big respecter of privacy, so I don’t use last names in public events, but unless everyone in the audience knows “Tony,” you’re not breaching that trust to address a question with “Tony asks a fair question… let me address that.”  If it’s a private event, what are the expectations?  As I mentioned earlier, I don’t use last names (or any other identifying info such as company), but I think you can personalize and respect privacy at the same time in a public setting.

If it’s important based on the context and culture, I’d be sure to address it when you set the ground rules for your meeting.  Err on the side of caution, but don’t through out an amazing opportunity to be live, personal, and real.  It’s what distinguishes the shared experience of a live event from all the other on-demand noise.

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