A roundtable group discussion can be a meaningful highlight of your conference or corporate event. Attendees love roundtable meetings because everyone has the chance to participate in the conversation. Unfortunately, these discussions can also be a disaster — because everyone has the chance to participate in the conversation!

Without a strong plan, roundtable discussions can feel a lot like the kind of “blah” business meetings we leave the office to escape. To avoid a chaotic free-for-all or yawn-inducing “lecture-thon”, here are our top group discussion tips and tricks for a successful roundtable discussion.

Define your goals

Your roundtable discussion can be an engaging alternative to a keynote speaker. However, it’s important to know exactly what you want your attendees to gain and whether a roundtable discussion format is actually the best way to achieve your goals. Establishing goals upfront will help you run a smoother event from start to finish. It will also become the basis of your agenda (you can find our tips for a smart agenda below).

To help define your goals and roundtable discussion topics, think about the following:

  • Is there a problem that your industry faces that you would like to address?
  • How does the topic reflect your brand?
  • What will you do with the information after the event?

Once you’ve determined your goals, it’s important to consider whether a roundtable group discussion is the right format, even virtually or as a hybrid event, to achieve them. For a brainstorming meeting or information sharing with minimal interaction, try some of these alternate ideas for creative conference activities.

Plan your space

With the impact of COVID-19, roundtable group discussions have changed to accommodate remote attendees and smaller groups (or bigger spaces). Before inviting your attendees, it’s essential to check out the recent CDC regulations that may impact your event, like the requirement to wear masks or social distance. The Eventbrite Safety Playbook can guide you through assessing risks and developing a checklist focusing on the welfare of your attendees.

An online event can be just as effective and engaging as if you were in person. Video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, allow for breakout rooms where attendees can interact with a smaller group at once.

If you’re hosting a hybrid event with both in-person and remote attendees, you’ll need to prepare audio-visual technology to make sure remote attendees feel as involved as those in the room. If you’re new to hybrid events, check out why they’re becoming more popular.

Once you’ve determined how many people can attend your event, it’s time for logistics. How many attendees will be participating in each conversation? How long will the roundtable activity run for? If your time allocation is generous, group sizes can be larger (10-15), but if time is short, groups will need to be smaller (6-8) so everyone can contribute. You may need to consider a mix of formats like breakout sessions or panel discussions alongside your roundtable to inspire attendees to keep the group discussion flowing.

Invite the right people

Like selecting a keynote speaker, who you choose to moderate the conversation could be the difference between a good event and a flop. A strong moderator will know exactly how to facilitate a roundtable discussion and can keep things on track if the conversation stagnates. Here are some quick suggestions for finding the right candidate:

  • Do your research and ask potential moderators for professional references.
  • Look to your network for recommendations for someone your peers have had success with in the past.
  • Search for similar events to find and connect with tried-and-true moderators.
  • Check to be sure the moderator has experience leading in a virtual or hybrid format.
  • Meet your preferred candidate face-to-face before booking to assess how they engage in conversation.
  • If you’re not hiring an experienced moderator, ensure your chosen person has a good understanding of the topics you need to cover and can help guide participants.

As with speakers and facilitators, do your groundwork to make sure attendees have the opportunity to engage on a more personal level than sitting and passively listening. If you’re organizing multiple groups from a variety of professional backgrounds, review the titles of each attendee in your attendee list and connect complementary skills with group discussion topics that are relevant.

Take the time to plan how event-goers will still feel connected while attending online. Whether in a virtual or hybrid setting, find ways to engage all attendees. For example at a hybrid event, those attending in person can break into smaller groups at tables while those online can join a virtual breakout for discussion.

Prepare a brief for facilitators

When you’ve set goals for your roundtable discussion, consider how your event might achieve them. Be very clear about what points you want attendees to discuss to avoid getting stuck on a single issue. To help moderators stay focused, provide good questions to ask in a round table discussion and clarity about your expectations and desired outcomes. Set lead-in questions that frame the topic and prepare a guide for your moderator on where to direct the conversation.

It’s important to remember that the moderator is at the table to facilitate the conversation, not lead it. Instruct them to use the brief to encourage your attendees to speak and avoid answering their own questions. If they’re a less experienced facilitator, share some group discussion techniques in advance to keep everything running smoothly.

You may want to consider securing additional facilitators for a virtual or hybrid roundtable discussion format. Continue to set clear expectations and connect the facilitators with one another to ensure a smooth event.

Set an agenda

Give every attendee a copy of the agenda to keep them focused and informed. Your agenda should outline:

  • Topic: Define the topic of the roundtable discussion.
  • Purpose: Establish the purpose of the conversation to help attendees work toward a common goal.
  • Specific questions or major points: This will help to avoid misunderstandings or vague answers.
  • Timeline: State the start time, finish time, and any breaks. This will assist in time management and avoid disrupting the flow of conversation.
  • Key information: This will ensure attendees don’t need to ask housekeeping questions such as the location of the bathrooms or refreshments.
  • Ground rules: Establish a code of conduct to limit undesirable behavior (such as rudeness or a single person dominating the conversation).

Record and share the results

Where possible, record each roundtable group discussion or have an extra set of hands to transcribe the major points and outcomes. A successful conversation will produce content that is valuable to both your attendees and your event branding. Sharing results with participants is a great way to keep them engaged after the event and it could also create content that helps attract a similar audience to future events. Part of your planning should include how the results of the discussion will be used. If you have groups, assign time for each table to share the top-line results and engage in further discussion.

If you don’t have time for this on your agenda, don’t leave your attendees wondering what will become of their ideas. At a minimum, send out an email with a compilation of all top transcribed points and answers reached by your groups. If you’re hosting a virtual or hybrid roundtable discussion, ensure online attendees get their voices heard, too. If your attendees came up with a solid plan, let them know how the information will be put to use and follow up with the results of any actionable outcome.

For example, to establish your event as a leader in your industry, releasing an infographic or presentation of the results achieved by your group(s) will show value to future attendees and may even help to attract sponsors.

How to run a successful conference or corporate event

A roundtable discussion is one piece of a much larger puzzle when planning a successful conference or corporate event. Ensure yours is a success from start to finish with simplified registration for your next corporate event.

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