I am a firm believer in the value of a question and answer session in a webinar. Managing this effectively is important for gaining maximum benefit (both for your company and for the attendees). It gives you some interaction with your audience, rather than having them sit as passive receivers. It can also be useful in finding out what they are interested in and confused about.
I used to do a lot of Q&A sessions with operator-assisted questions asked live over the telephone. It opens up a feeling of reality and immediacy, as the audience can hear that these are real people and not just your own pre-planned questions. I still feel that this is your best mechanism for dealing with things like training sessions and webinars designed for a smaller group or a limited invitation list such as existing customers.
But for the majority of open registration marketing events, I now prefer to use typed-in audience questions. The chief drawback is that it is sometimes hard to figure out what the questionner is refering to, as they may type something during presentation of a particular slide, or in reference to a presenter's statement – and by the time you get to the Q&A at the end of the presentation, you can't remember the context.
This is outweighed by the benefits:
1) You can pick and choose which questions you want to answer. You will often want to shy away from focusing on problem areas or things that highlight your competition. The webinar technology vendors have a ways to go on making this interface easier and more powerful for audiences and presenters alike. I get frustrated when a vendor only permits one question per person in the queue, or limits functionality for multiple presenters to indicate to a moderator which questions they want to take.
2) Typed in questions are the only way to interact with people who listen to your audio over their computer speakers rather than a telephone connection.
3) You can more easily preload your own desired questions in the queue to emphasize key points or just to get things going during an awkward pause with no audience questions coming in.
When reading typed questions, moderator skill becomes apparent in its presence or absence. A dull recitation of a long question does not set up the presenter for an involving answer. S/he should paraphrase in order to bring out the key question points if necessary. Pre-planned questions should be introduced with the same spontaneity and enthusiasm as if they were typed in from the audience. And occasional reminders to the audience about how to interact bear repeating when the question queue is low.
One of the services that Webinar Success offers is on-air support and moderator duties. This can be a great way to boost the professional sound and appearance of your event without requiring any other associated services. I believe we are the only company to offer this kind of a la carte selection of service options.