Get the Most Out of Roundtable Discussions

Here’s how to plan a roundtable that everyone can benefit from

A roundtable discussion isn’t just a PowerPoint presentation delivered in a suit and tie. It’s a platform that can sometimes be a make-or-break moment for your event, which is why you need to plan well.
Read on to learn how to plan a roundtable discussion that everyone can learn and benefit from.

Deciding on a Roundtable Discussion Format

The roundtable discussion format and the seating arrangement can vary according to your meeting purpose and the specific needs of the event. For instance, if you have a large group of attendees (more than 10 people), you may want to split people into roundtable groups to give everyone a chance to participate.

Remember that the larger the group, the longer the time needed for everyone to get a chance to participate. Keep each group between five and 10 participants to keep things running smoothly and on time.

Alternatively, you can invite key experts to participate in a roundtable discussion in front of the audience, similar to a panel discussion. You can even open the floor to questions to allow audience members more opportunities to participate, which evokes the feel of a roundtable while keeping the spotlight on the experts.

Crafting a Roundtable Discussion Plan

After you’ve chosen the format for your roundtable discussion, write down the key goals of your conference. Your roundtable discussion should help you achieve these goals. For example, if your conference has the goal of educating attendees on industry changes, make sure your roundtable features topics and questions that will stimulate relevant discussion.

The topics you decide to cover in the discussion should be included on your agenda. This document is the blueprint for your roundtable discussion and should be given to all participants before the discussion begins. It should feature information such as:

  • The purpose or theme of the discussion
  • Key questions and discussion topics
  • A timeline of the different sections of the discussion, such as introductions, topic changes and closing thoughts
  • The participants (for roundtables in front of an audience)
  • Rules, such as guidelines on topics that shouldn’t be brought up or reminders to be polite to other participants

If you are hosting a single roundtable discussion that attendees will watch as audience members, list the key points of the discussion for the participants to prepare and send them along with invitations to people who are knowledgeable on the topics. Don’t be afraid to invite people who have very different opinions, as this can help stimulate more engaging discussions.

Choosing a strong moderator for each discussion group is a key part of a successful roundtable discussion plan. This person needs to be knowledgeable of the format, the topics and the “blueprint” described above. The moderator also might need to jump in at times to ensure the conversation doesn’t get off topic.

Keeping Your Roundtable Rolling

So what do you do when the discussion is about to take place? First of all, some participants might be nervous, so you should try easing them into the discussion a bit. Instruct your moderators to hold a little icebreaker session, shake hands, say hello, and tell everyone to introduce themselves. 

To start off the actual discussion, the moderator can pose some initial questions that will engage the participants from the get-go. Make sure you keep track of who is participating actively and who isn’t; later on, pose questions to those who participated less to engage them more. 

At times, the topic may lead to a heated discussion or may only be dominated by a few participants. At such moments, the moderator should take control and change things up according to the needs of the agenda.

Finally, the moderator should ask the participants what they took from the discussion. Thank everyone and say you look forward to the next time.

Bringing Everything Full Circle

Roundtable discussions can be a great way to add a healthy dose of debate to your event. Make sure you brainstorm ways to get the most out of them according to your event’s unique needs. And if you’re looking for help planning an event that features roundtable discussions, don’t hesitate to reach out to the helpful event coordinators at Marriott