How and why to include a roundtable discussion
There are a few presentation types considered staples in the world of workplaces, conferences, and events. There’s the keynote speech delivered by a notable speaker or leader, of course. Then there are the expert talks in which speakers present on information within their areas of expertise. There are also panel discussions, which allows multiple people with knowledge of a certain subject matter speak in conversation with each other for the benefit of the audience.
But one type of presentation that often goes overlooked is the roundtable discussion. Next time you’re planning an event, conference, or meeting of the minds, consider these four benefits roundtables can offer.
Everyone Gets to Learn from Their Peers
Roundtable discussions are great because they grant the opportunity for all attendees — and the audience, if there is one — to learn from a group of peers. Instead of hearing one, two, or three people talk, attendees get to swap information with six to 12 people. This means there’s the potential for more people to chime in with useful questions, anecdotes, and data.
One executive who attended a series of roundtable discussions with top CMOs from around the country noted that attendees benefited immensely because everyone was “transparent and open to learning.” With the right attitude, every single person sitting around the table can offer valuable insights and gain perspective from their peers. It’s a great way to work through challenges pertaining to a central topic so everyone walks away having broadened their understanding.
Moderators Can Keep Things Flowing
Roundtable discussions have an appealing conversational nature. If the conversation is flowing, there will be a lot of valuable give-and-take between participants. As Poll Everywhere notes, good moderators for roundtable discussions are able to politely cut people off if needed, while also drawing out contributions from people who are receiving less of the spotlight.
When the conversation is flowing smoothly, it’s a thing of beauty — and will add a dynamic element to any event or conference.
Roundtables Allow for Differing Points of View
Certain subject matters can be contentious. It’s very rare, if not downright impossible, everyone at a given event feels the same way about a certain topic. But roundtables can facilitate honest discussions between attendees with differing firsthand experiences and points of view.
As Darling Magazine writes, roundtables can allow us to hear from people “we initially see as unrelatable.” Something about hashing things out respectfully around a table tends to bridge stances better than, say, a tense question-and-answer session or a confrontational panel of people disagreeing with one another.
A Round Table Breaks Down Hierarchies
Think about a typical table in a meeting room for executives. You’re probably picturing a long table with chairs all the way around. There’s an obvious head of the room where the official or unofficial leader sits. People may even sit in descending order of importance.
Seating participants around a round table brings a very different feel to the room. It’s more equitable. There’s no leader. This presentation format encourages everyone to speak up, regardless of their title. If you’re invited to the table, you’re just as important as anyone else seated there. Breaking down the typical hierarchy can go a long way in facilitating interesting conversation, turning over new stones when people feel comfortable contributing to the collaborative discussion.
You can strengthen your next event by planning a healthy mix of lectures, panel discussions, and roundtables. Each different format each brings unique advantages to the table for participants and audience members, so don’t forget to include them when you’re putting together your lineup.