The way it happens is so familiar to me, I can almost see it before it's real at this point. It can be a reading, or a lecture, or a panel discussion, or an on-stage interview. It doesn't really matter. It will always occur in pretty much the same manner each time.
After the initial presentation, the host will turn to the audience and announce it's time for the Q and A portion. Folks will slowly start lining up behind the microphones placed in the aisles on either side of the stage. By the end of the program, a not insignificant number of them will leave frustrated as time is called before their query is asked.
Not to brag, but if I have a question to ask during these types of events, I can pretty much guarantee I'll get my turn. This is not because I'm a journalist. (Although, I'm sure it doesn't hurt.) Or, because I interrupt or elbow people out of the way. (I don't. I swear.) I just know the general rhythms.
I want you to get your turn, and make the most of it, as well. So, here's what I've learned.
Sit as close to where the microphones are placed as possible. Get an aisle seat if you can. The fewer steps you need to take when the time comes, the better.
Be thinking of your questions from the start of the show, long before the Q and A session. Start pondering how you'll phrase it. Be concise. Have a backup in case they answer your question ahead of time, or if someone else who happens to go before you asks a question that's too similar. No one needs to hear the same question asked twice. Most of all, be prepared. This is what separates those who get their chance and those who don't.
When the time comes, don't hesitate. This may be the most important tip I can offer. There is almost always a pause between when the Q and A is announced and when the first question is asked. No one wants to go first, but if you want your question answered, it had better be you. Plus, once other people see others asking their questions, they'll find their own courage or think of something to ask that hadn't occurred to them before. And, then you'll be too late.
Finally, if you're lucky enough to get the chance at the microphone to ask your question, make sure it's actually a question. And, don't filibuster. Everyone else will immediately dislike you, and you won't accomplish anything anyway. There's nothing that makes my eyes roll harder than when I hear some goofball get their chance and waste it straight away by saying, “This is more of comment than a question.” Please. No one came to hear you.