How to host a successful roundtable discussion

How To Host A Successful Live Or Virtual Roundtable Discussion

Planning to host a roundtable discussion? Discover how to run a live or virtual roundtable discussion in 10 simple steps to execute a flawless event.
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October 13, 2022

Roundtable discussions date back thousands of years, back to a time when kings ruled their land. These types of discussions can take place with businesses like small mom and pop companies to big billion dollar corporations. Companies of all types have come together to create and brainstorm new ideas, have genuine chats and ask questions. This guide will help you run a successful roundtable discussion. 

What Is A Roundtable Discussion? 

A roundtable discussion is a moderated conversation with several guest speakers. The guest speakers are able to speak on a variety of subjects and are even able to take questions from guests in the audience. Roundtable discussions are able to be held on a smaller or larger scale, depending on the size of your company! 

Benefits Of A Roundtable Discussion 

Roundtable discussions are beneficial to both the guest speakers and the audience. The audience has the opportunity to ask questions and connect with the guest speakers. The guest speakers can also connect with the audience on a more personal level and get a better understanding of their thoughts and concerns. 

1. Everyone Learns From Their Peers

When hosting a roundtable discussion, depending on the size, most everyone should have the opportunity to either say a question or voice their opinion. During the discussion, one peer may say a comment or ask a question that others may not have thought about. The guest speakers can answer their questions to the best of their ability, giving insight to everyone attending. With a large group of people, all with different thoughts, questions and ideas, everyone is able to learn something from each other! 

2. Different Points Of View

As discussed in the point above, everyone who attends roundtable discussions is going to have different points of view. One guest in the audience may have a view on something, and they have the right to bring that thought to the discussion. While expressing their view, other audience members may get a whole new perspective on the subject at hand. With the use of a moderator, the discussion can be kept civil, while also giving everyone the opportunity to speak their mind and have an open discussion with the guest speakers. 

3. Healthy Open Discussions

One great benefit about roundtable discussions is the chance for the audience to have open and healthy conversations within their peers and the guest speakers. A roundtable discussion is the perfect place to have conversations about subjects that guests may not want to discuss in any other setting. Moderators should let the audience be aware that the roundtable discussion is a safe space, and they should feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. Moderators also have the right to end any discussion if it strays away from the subjects at hand. 

4. Moderators Keep Things Flowing 

Moderators are the backbone of a roundtable discussion. They are the ones who invite the guest speakers, run the event and make sure the conversations are on track. Moderators also make an agenda for the layout of the discussion. They can add all of the subjects that are planned on being discussed, a Q&A session and even a networking event at the end. Moderators can also keep the guest speakers on track. We have all been at an event where the subject has gone off on a tangent and the discussion has moved to somewhere completely different. With the help of moderators, they can keep the subject on track and even have a time limit for the speakers to talk. 

Being the moderator in a virtual roundtable discussion

How To Host A Roundtable Discussion in 10 Steps

A roundtable discussion has many pieces to put together in order to be successful. When planning for the roundtable discussion, following these 10 steps will help you execute a flawless event that your audience will learn things from. 

1. Define A Goal

Roundtable discussions can be held in order to discuss just about any subject. In the beginning of the planning process, defining your goals for the roundtable discussion should be the top priority. When you set a goal for your discussion, you then have a metric for which you can use to measure the success of your event. Goals for a roundtable discussion can be as simple as talking about every subject on the list, or gathering a certain amount of topics for discussion. When you clearly define the roundtable discussion’s goals, you are able to look back after the event and determine if you hit all of the goals you set. If you hit all of your goals, you can deem the event as a success! If you don’t hit every goal, don’t worry! Roundtable discussions, like any other event, have their ups and downs. What you take away from your event will only help with the planning and execution of the next one! 

2. Define A Topic 

Every roundtable discussion needs a topic that will be the theme of the event. Moderators should let their guest speakers as well as their audience know what topics are going to be discussed, that way they can plan accordingly. Topics can range from budgets and funding, management practices, technology or any new policies that your company may be implementing. Within each topic, moderators can break up each subject into subcategories, and discuss them one by one! That way the guest speakers and the audience can gather their thoughts for each smaller subject and not have to speak about such a broad topic. Outlining the main topic and the subcategories within the agenda will let everyone know what is going to be discussed. 

3. Plan A Type 

Roundtable discussions can be done with a small or a large group, depending on the size of your company. If you have a large group, you are also able to break up the large group into smaller roundtable discussions and talk about certain topics in that setting. If this is the route you want to take, let your audience know! Smaller groups can be assigned by the moderator, to ensure that each group has the same amount of people. Small roundtable discussions can be done at smaller round tables, so that the audience members are able to see who they’re talking to. 

4. Invite The Right People 

Roundtable discussion moderators are usually the ones who invite both the guest speakers and the guests. By starting your planning process with determining a topic and your goals, you are then able to determine a guest list. Inviting the right people will help you build a successful event. Be sure to give your guest speakers and guests enough notice for the event, and be sure to send them the agenda! By doing this, your speakers and guests can prepare themselves for the topics going to be discussed. They can prepare speaking points and questions, which will only help keep the event moving along. If your roundtable discussion plans on talking about budget and funding, inviting people from the accounting department and upper management would be the correct people to invite. 

5. Find A Moderator

As previously mentioned, a moderator is the person who keeps track of time and keeps the event running smoothly. In order to find a moderator that is going to be a good fit for your event, try and think of someone who is responsible, trustworthy and organized. Having someone who maintains these attributes will keep your event on track. This person shouldn’t be afraid to interject into the conversation if they feel it is steering away from the subject at hand. Moderators should keep track of the time for every subject. Using a “stoplight system” will help guest speakers understand how much time they have left to speak, when to start and when to stop. Moderators should meet with the guest speakers before the event, giving them a quick rundown of how the roundtable discussion is going to run. 

6. Choose The Right Tools

A roundtable discussion can be held either in person or virtually! If your event is going to be held virtually, pairing with a virtual event platform can help you plan your event with ease! Roundtable discussions are mainly focused on the passing along of information to your attendees, and as long as people can gather, either in person or virtually, your event will be a success. If your event is in person, be sure to have microphones handy, for both the guest speakers and the audience. 

7. Prepare A Brief For Facilitators 

In order to keep your roundtable discussion running smoothly, providing your guest speakers with a brief will let them know how the event will run! A brief run through of the agenda and a quick tech rehearsal will ensure a successful event! Another way to prepare your guest speakers is by having some audience members send in questions prior to the event. These questions can be sorted through by the moderators, and they can quickly run those questions by the speakers. This way, the speakers can have a better understanding of some of the questions that are going to be asked by the audience. 

8. Choose Speakers

Like selecting the right people to invite, choosing the right speakers for your roundtable discussion should be based upon the type of discussion you want to have! The theme of your discussion should have guest speakers who specialize in the subject, as they will have the most knowledge to present to the audience. Guest speakers who have the most knowledge on the subjects at hand will be able to give the audience an insight into their world. Any new knowledge that your audience can gain from talking with these guest speakers will only broaden their horizons. 

9. Set An Agenda

For any event, an agenda is the best way to establish your goals and keep your audience aware of what topics are going to be covered. As the event goes on, moderators are able to use the agenda to keep the event on track. Adding in time for audience questions and even a spot for networking can allow your attendees to get to know one another without getting off track too much. Moderators can also share the agenda with the guest speakers so they can be prepared for what subject is coming next to prepare their talking points. 

How to set an agenda for a roundtable discussion

10. Record And Share Results

Recording meetings and discussions has always been a great method to ensure that everyone within the company knows what was talked about. There may be some guests who registered for the roundtable discussion, but may not have been able to attend. When you record the discussion, you are able to share the results with everyone within the company! Both in person and virtual roundtable discussions are able to be recorded, one with a camera and one with a meeting recording. Both types of recordings can be sent companywide, and everyone will be able to receive the information from the event. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What Is The Purpose Of A Roundtable Discussion?

A roundtable discussion is a great way to gather around a table, either big or small, and talk about subjects in a comfortable setting. Audience members can create questions to ask to the guest speakers, making them feel as if they are truly a part of the event. In the corporate world, there are constantly new changes, policies and even technology. Roundtable discussions are a fantastic way to provide your audience with this new information and guest speakers can answer any questions that may arise. 

2. What Is The Difference Between A Panel Discussion And A Roundtable Discussion? 

Roundtable discussions are less formal than panel discussions. Roundtable discussions can be held at an actual round table, that way the speakers and guests can be sitting face to face with one another. Panel discussions usually have the guest speakers on a stage or platform, with all of the guests facing forward. While this style of seating still gets the information to the audience, the round table seating seems more personal and comfortable. 

3. Why Are Round Tables Better For Meetings? 

As stated above, roundtable discussions bring the audience closer together with the speakers. Sitting together, looking at each other will create a sense of togetherness. With roundtable discussions, the information provided by the speakers can be passed on to the audience members in a comfortable environment. 

4. What Is The Advantage Of Having A Meeting At A Round Table Rather Than A Rectangular One?

When it comes to a roundtable discussion, physically using a round table will help create a sense of community and togetherness. Like most meetings and panels, the guest speakers are up on a stage, with all of the chairs facing forward. This may cause audience members to get lost in the shuffle during the meeting. With the use of a round table, there is no “head of the table” so everyone is able to feel like they are part of the discussion. Everyone should feel welcome and comfortable when learning about new subjects. Your guests should look at one another, as well as their guest speakers, and feel like they are talking to an old friend. 

Conclusion

Roundtable discussions should be the type of event that potential guests don’t want to miss! The topic of conversation should be engaging and fun for your guests as well as your speakers. Teaming up with guest speakers who are experts on the subjects you are going to focus on will help the audience gain the most knowledge possible. Moderators can get creative with their roundtable topics and themes, and make it fun for everyone involved! In order to make the event a total success, keep your speakers aware of the subject matter and any questions sent in by the guests. That way, the event can flow smoothly, all of your goals can be met and your guests can receive information in the most comfortable way possible. 

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