Roundtable discussions are a great way to bring people together to network, collaborate, and create meaningful connections between professionals. But hosting a roundtable event can seem like an overwhelming task. As an event planner, you want to ensure your attendees have conversations that are worthwhile. Knowing how to facilitate a roundtable discussion is key to creating an energizing and successful session.
And luckily, we’re here to help.
With more than 30 years of event planning experience that focuses on connecting like-minded professionals, we know a thing or two about facilitating energizing and impactful networking events.
And we’ve heard from a number of event professionals that have hosted their own roundtable events. As you might have guessed, we’ve heard just about everything — from overwhelmingly successful sessions to the flat-out roundtable disasters.
The good news is, we’re incredibly passionate about what we do and we think every event planner should have the ability to host a successful roundtable discussion (with or without utilizing our matching software).
For all the event profs who decide to produce their own independent event — although we really hope you consider working with us — we’ve created this how to facilitate roundtable discussions guide.
In it, you’ll find all the key planning points for room set up as well as facilitation tips + tricks to help you create meaningful conversations for your audience.
Round Table Room setup:
Tables: Hence the name roundtables, you should quite literally use round tables. Sitting in a circle — versus a rectangular table — ensures everyone feels involved and engaged in the conversation no matter who is talking. It also reinforces the idea that each person is allowed equal right to participate, as illustrated by the circular shape. We recommend seating between 5–8 people per table, depending on table size.
Audio: To keep things simple, we encourage using only a wireless microphone (with speakers) for the roundtable facilitator. This way, you are able to walk around the room and manage the event, all while on the move.
Timer Screens: Typically, we don’t recommend you incorporate any sort of timer screens at the event. They tend to take away from the conversations as the participants start to focus on how much time is left instead of being present in the current conversations.
In addition to that, it also gives you more control and flexibility over the session when you can manage and/or adjust the timing as needed. For example, if you want to extend one round by a minute or cut another round short, you can easily do so without the participants noticing.
Round Table Facilitation Tips:
Discussion Topics: The best way to decide on discussion topics is to go straight to the source: the attendees. Rather than trying to guess what they want to talk about, just ask them! When they register for the event, you should be collecting data about their demographics anyway including their industry, areas of interest, geographical location, job title, etc.
After they fill out this basic information, include an open-ended question that asks them to submit one discussion topic for consideration, noting that topics with the highest relevancy or frequency will likely be chosen. Or, you can come up with a starter list of topics and have them specify which topics they are or aren’t interested in.
Grouping Participants: If you really want to ensure you’re creating meaningful connections, we recommend you strategically seat your attendees. While this might sound like a headache of manual manipulation within excel, it doesn’t have to be. Our software can create strategic seating assignments at the touch of the button, using the data you collect during event registration. With it, you can group participants who share the same interests, have similar job responsibilities or roles, or come from the same geographic region.
Moderating: As the roundtable discussion moderator, it’s extremely important that you set the tone from the start and maintain control of the event. As soon as everyone has arrived and you’re ready to get started, be sure to provide clear instructions/expectations about the event. Give your attendees a general overview of the format of the event, the objectives, how to maximize connections, and what to expect. This should last no more than 10 minutes.
To start the discussions, have everyone quickly introduce themselves in a few sentences. Once everyone has met, you’re ready to introduce the discussion topics. Do your best to clearly communicate the topic to your attendees and let them know how much time they’ll have to discuss. You can put the topic on a screen or pass out a piece of paper with a list of discussion topics.
As the time comes to a close, let them know you’re close to switching to the next topic by giving a 30-second warning to wrap up the conversations. Continue to do so for each round thereafter.
Wrap-up: After the last discussion topic has finished, wrap-up the event with closing announcements. Remind your attendees to follow-up and keep in contact with their new connections so they can continue to build upon the relationships. It’s a good idea to encourage personal outreach rather than copy & pasting the same email to every person.
And those are the basics! Now you know how to facilitate roundtable discussions. If after reading this you don’t feel up to facilitating — or if you don’t have the time or resources to — or simply want to strategically seat your attendees for more strategic networking, we’d love to chat!