Acing “comment tennis”

I am done with “comment tennis.” What is comment tennis? It’s what happens at the end of a ‘normal’ panel discussion.
The panellists (middle-class white men, mostly) have used up all their time (and more). The panellists haven’t really addressed the question, but rather have given their standard speech (it’s the lazy option).
The chair “throws the floor open for debate.” Oddly, the first hands that go up are attached to men who will give long speeches. The answers that come back will be longer still. The audience will sit there, watching speeches fly back and forth over their heads, like the crowd at a Grand Slam match between Federer and Djokovic. That’s comment tennis.

I am done with seething. I am done with through-the-roof blood pressure (200/115, since you ask). I. Am. So. Done. With. Comment. Tennis.

If you are too, then let’s get something happening (besides not going to the meetings we know are going to be irredeemably crap, the ones run by Trotskyists and other control freaks.)

Who is willing to stand up just as the chair announces “right, we’ve plenty of time for questions” and say the first bit and – depending on the mood – one of the three options (“soft”/”spikier”/”spikiest”)?

First Bit


we need three minutes to discuss in small groups what the panellists have just said. If you don’t give us those three minutes, well, many of us here can predict what will happen. White men will stick up their hands and ask long “questions”. Longer answers will be given by the panellists. People will fall asleep with their eyes open, and leave not having met anyone, not be able to make sense of what they have heard, figure out what they think.

Three minutes – 180 seconds – can turn that around 180 degrees. People who are nervous about whether their question is stupid can get the opinion of other participants, people who want to refine their question can. People can ask for simple points of clarification.

THEN we can have a truly free discussion, not dominated by the people who came into this room with confidence and expertise.

Option One: Soft
“It’s your choice, chair. You can go for the status quo, or you can go for innovation, and democracy.”

Option Two: Spiky
“It’s not your choice. Put it to the room. If a majority wants three minutes to hone their thoughts, make connections, then great. If not, well, that’s kinda sad.  Stockholm syndrome rules.”

Option Three: Spikiest
“If you don’t do this – if you try to make us listen to a bunch of pale male and stale men play comment tennis – then I and the other people who are standing up now – and others still sat down – are going to go somewhere else and have our own discussion. And it will be more fun, more productive than here. And we will not come back for more punishment, and we will tell all our friends and comrades not to bother coming here, because only the confident white middle-class men are welcomed to speak. Your choice, you unimaginative patriarchal muppet.”


I sent this around to a few people, and one of them emailed me back in part –

Yes, it’s time to get away from the same old same old- (says MCWF). You know I think this is the academic’s idea of interaction anyway, they’re used to lectures where everyone listens, takes notes and leaves.  Allowing questions is very pro-active and novel ( innit).

Besides some people may be a bit slow like me, I always think of a useful question on my way out, because only then do I know what hasn’t been discussed or addressed. And I need to think a lot to formulate a good question. 


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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