4 Tips for Hosting a Successful Roundtable Discussion

By on March 1, 2019

Roundtable discussions give participants an opportunity to connect deeply, hash out ideas and share their perspective on a given topic. The very notion of sitting around a table, literally or metaphorically, conjures up images of camaraderie and individual attention, making these sessions a great alternative to a more impersonal presentation.

Here are four tips for hosting a successful roundtable discussion—one that imparts plenty of value on attendees.

 Invite a Comfortable Number of People

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Whether or not you ask participants to circle up around a literal table, this image should still serve as a guide for curating the right atmosphere. Roundtables differ from classic panel discussions because participants face one another rather than an audience. This creates a dynamic in which people engage directly with one another’s ideas and commentary.

Now imagine 20 people sitting around a table, all waiting their turn to talk—or just jumping in. The sessions would become chaotic, quickly. Even the most skillful facilitator would have a hard time keeping up, and participants would walk away feeling they barely had a chance to contribute in a meaningful way amongst the disarray.

On the flip side, inviting too few participants makes it more of a “square-table.” While participants are sure to get plenty of time to talk, it’s likely the discussion will be missing out on a few more points of view that would elevate it to truly dynamic. It may even put undue pressure on the speakers because they’re each tasked with keeping more of the conversation afloat.

Many experts consider somewhere around six to 10 participants ideal. Of course, certain environments may call for slightly more or less.

Curate the Right Mix of Expertise and Personality

Just as important as how many people will be attending is the question of who’s invited. The ideal roundtable discussion brings together a healthy mix of credentials and perspectives. The right combination of attendees can be positively electric in terms of the quality of discussion.

Think carefully and do your research when you’re considering what potential invitees can bring to the table, both in terms of experience and personality.

 Make Sure You Have a Strong Moderator

As Poll Everywhere advises, every roundtable discussion needs a moderator “comfortable with keeping the train on the tracks.” Much of the timing and participation will come down to who’s in charge of facilitating the discussion. This person must be able to control the session without dominating it; to respectfully help participants stay on course throughout.

This might mean noticing which participant is getting the least “air time” and creating opportunities for them to jump in It may mean rerouting someone who’s overtaking the conversation. There’s an element of time management here, too. To get through most or all of an agenda within the allotted time, you’ll need someone to keep an eye on the clock and keep things moving at a good clip.

Focus on the Journey; Not the Destination

Depending on the nature of the topic at hand, there’s no guarantee your roundtable will reach one neat conclusion. People may walk away holding disagreeing beliefs. However, the point is to facilitate a genuine back-and-forth in which people offer insights and listen to others in equal measure. The opportunity to share, think critically and debate constructively is more important than pressuring participants to reach a single conclusion.

Focus on the benefits the journey—the discussion itself—brings to all involved rather than getting hung up on the final outcome. A successful roundtable discussion will ask people think in new ways and kick off a constructive dialogue, after all. That’s almost always an expedition worth taking.

A successful roundtable discussion has the right number and mixture of people, as well as a capable moderator and enough open-endedness for attendees to explore new ideas.


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4 Tips for Hosting a Successful Roundtable Discussion