Because I am a slob who likes to give the impression of being a person of culture and taste, I have attended several readings and lectures in my life. Usually, even if a talk is not in a field that I’m interested in, I still get something out of hearing an expert speaker present ideas.
At the end of every reading, though, comes the dreaded Q and A. What could be an opportunity for clarification and exploration of the topics at hand, almost always turns into a self-congratulatory festival of back patting and show-offery. The question almost always says more about the questioner than it asks about the speaker. Here are several of the most annoying people you’ll find at the average Question and Answer session.
Personality Type: The Smartypants
Example Questions: “I noticed that you drew mostly from the Cartesian perspective on existentialism, but you never touched on the writings that may have been influenced by Descartes, such as Sartre or Kundera, whose works in the 20th century posed many of the same questions about existence. I mention this conundrum in my book Cogito Ergo Some More: The Continued Exploration of Being. Could you speak to this?
Subtext: “While most of you came here to learn something, I arrived ready to show off how much I already know. My intricately crafted ‘question’ relates only tangentially to the presentation we just witnessed. In fact, it’s very likely that I prepared it well beforehand and then shoehorned in some reference to today’s events just so people wouldn’t throw rocks at me for being the most pretentious person that has ever lived.”
Personality Type: The Contrarian
Sample Question: “Though you implied that social media has allowed marketers to more effectively target customers who may benefit from their services, is it not true that nothing would stop a for-profit enterprise such as Google to violate its own privacy agreement in an attempt to maximize its bottom line and cut out third-party connectivity services?”
Subtext: “You may think you’re the expert here, Mr. Expert, but I’ve seen several YouTube videos that imply that the theories that you’ve spent years researching are nothing but a diversion set up by the government to distract us from the truth that corporations are compiling all of our information to sell to the Chinese government in the event that the dollar continues losing value on the global market… man.
Personality Type: The Superfan
Sample Question: “I don’t really have a question here, but I just wanted to say that I’ve already finished your new book on the ethics of stem cell research, and even though critics called your arguments ‘specious and bombastic,’ I think it holds up to your earlier work on the benefits of a raw vegan lifestyle, the original, self-published version, not the compromised second run on HarperCollins. I just want to say, your writing means so much to everyone here. Thank you for being you.”
Subtext: “I LOVE YOU! I WANT TO BE YOU! I AM SAVING UP TO HAVE MY FACE RECONSTRUCTED TO LOOK LIKE YOUR FACE! I AM GOING TO BUY YOUR BOOK EVEN THOUGH I ALREADY OWN IT BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT SELLING WHAT I REALLY WANT, A SAMPLE OF YOUR DNA!”
Personality Type: The Coy Seducer
Sample Question: “I don’t know if it’s exactly my place to say, but your memoir includes a lot of self-deprecating physical descriptions. You refer to yourself as ‘gawky’ and ‘doughy,’ in your childhood. That’s not how I would describe you as an adult. It just kind of made me wonder, do people now tell you that they find you sexy? [shy giggle]”
Subtext: “Yes, you mentioned your husband or wife during your reading, but I want you to know that I am physically available to one or both of you later on. I am making every single other person in this room uncomfortable, but that matters to me less than the slim potential for a one-off encounter with an unconventionally attractive intellectual hero of mine.
Personality Type: The Riddler
Sample Question: “I was wondering if you could talk a little more about the recent proliferatoinalism of the ideas of western individualism in the Oriental cultures as descripted in your book Behind The Origami Curtain or whatever it’s called. Where do you see the integrity of cultures going over the next several decades as globalization further explodifies.
Subtext: “I’ve got a lot of ideas in my brain, and I’m not exactly sure what any of them mean. I’m going to say all the words that I know and several that I can’t quite pronounce in an effort to appear compelling. I’m similar to The Smartypants, except that I don’t really know anything. I’ve just mimicked the speech patterns of the other people I’ve watched talk tonight in an effort to fit in. To hammer this point home, I accidentally used a racial slur that I wasn’t aware was offensive.”