If you were a child, can you think of anything cooler than speaking with a real astronaut? New Scientist Live made that dream come true for over 6000 children at their last years’ festival.
This four-day event brings 40,000 people into a world of scientific wonders every year. Although it attracts all age groups, the organizers never used to tailor the content to younger folks.
This year, the festival hosted its first Schools’ Day – a full day dedicated to activities for children.
To make it special for the little ones, the organizers invited Tim Peake, the UK’s first European Space Agency astronaut, as the keynote speaker. Afterward, they let the schools steer the Q&A by sending their questions to Slido.
And the result? Children were ecstatic. The energy in the room went through the roof.
Rose Garton and Valerie Jamieson from New Scientist Live share the story of how they did it.
Holding a large Q&A without roving mics
The organizers wanted the 20-minute Q&A to feel like a conversation.
“We wanted the children to feel like they were ‘speaking’ with Tim Peake,” shared Rose Garton, Event Assistant Manager.
Their challenge was to engage their large audience at once and make it easy to ask questions.
“Our ultimate goal was interaction. So, instead of having the moderator guess the topics the kids wanted to hear about, we simply let them ask.”
But with thousands of people, it was impossible to do a Q&A with a roving microphone.
There were further downsides to handheld mics. “In my experience, people often share comments instead of questions or hold on to the mic and ask several questions,” said Valerie Jamieson, Head of Content.
So they replaced the mics with Slido.
Letting the children steer the conversation
A week before the session, the organizers shared a link to Slido on their website and social media. They also sent the link to schools via email so the teachers could post their students’ questions in advance.
Thanks to these efforts, 99 questions from schools came in before the Q&A even started.
“Our reason for choosing Slido was that it’s easy to use. No need to download anything, the teachers can visit slido.com, enter the event code and send their questions,” Valerie explained.
At the start of the Q&A session, the organizers displayed Slido on the main screen. Suddenly, hundreds of questions flooded in.
But it wasn’t just about the number of questions.
“We received higher quality questions thanks to Slido. Requiring people to write them down and reviewing them spared us the waffle you get when you use microphones,” said Valerie.
As the questions came in, Rose reviewed them to keep the discussion on point.
Throughout the Q&A, the teachers and students upvoted their favorite questions. The moderator, Valerie, asked these first. Instead of preparing her own questions, she focused solely on the ones collected in Slido. “For me, it was all about the audience,” Valerie explained.
The children had many questions and the topics were broad.
- How do you recycle in space?
- Can you play musical instruments there?
- What would it take to be the first woman on the Moon?
With only 20 minutes and hundreds of questions to get through, the session was fast-paced. “Tim kept his answers short to get through as many topics as possible,” Rose added.
Valerie did an excellent job of connecting with the children. When reading out each question, she asked, “Is that person or school here?” When their school name was picked, the children roared. Their cheers echoed across the hall.
We all had goosebumps.
“The show was amazing for the kids,” noted Rose. “While I couldn’t see what was happening from backstage, I could hear their excited cheers.”
The result: A real-time conversation between thousands
By the end of the session, Tim Peake answered the 26 top-voted questions out of 706 they collected in only 20 minutes.
And the best part: thousands of children saw their dream come true.
The organizers were happy with how lively and dynamic the conversation turned out. After the event, they received many positive comments from the schools.
“The children really enjoyed it. I felt great energy from the audience when I was on stage,” Valerie shared. “We couldn’t have done that session as successfully without Slido.”
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