4 Secrets for Holding Successful Roundtable Events

Although event matchmaking solutions have made the process of pairing attendees with other attendees, sessions, exhibitors and vice versa faster and easier than ever, you still need to make sure that people actually take advantage of these matches.

To do that, you need to ensure these matchmaking activities relay value. A perfect example of an format or activity is the roundtable, which continues to be popular years after being first conceptualized.

What is a Roundtable?

Roundtables are hardly new, nor are they revolutionary. They’ve been around ever since keynote events became a thing. And essentially, that’s what roundtables are: mini-keynotes that, instead of relying on one speaker, involves everyone in the table sharing whatever’s in their minds. 

A moderated roundtable at our recent MUG Conference.

A moderated roundtable at our recent MUG Conference.

Where roundtables get interesting is when the participants are opinion leaders or experts in a particular niche or industry. But the important distinction with a roundtable, is that ideally, all who join the discussion do so because they actually want to, not because they were forced to. 

And that can make a world of difference in the quality of discourse that happens in these events. Voluntary participation can make what looks like a traditional boring meeting and turn it into a treasure trove of insider information—insights many professionals and businesses would gladly pay for.

So by now, you probably understand why roundtable events are still so popular, and why they have the potential of being compelling catalysts for matchmaking. If you’re looking to organize your very own roundtable event, here are a few reminders to consider. 

1.    Zero in on a Specific Theme, Topic, or Concept

Focus is what separates great and interactive roundtables from ordinary business meanings that are the bane of most employed professionals. 

A clear focus will guide the direction and quality of discussions happening in a roundtable, as it forces participants to stay within the limits of the chosen theme, topic, or concept, rather than talk in generalities. This is often what happens with poorly managed roundtables, where participants flit from one topic to the next without sharing anything truly worthwhile. 

Even niche industries or professions can be very complex, involving issues probably take too much time to cover completely. The limited time you have with roundtables means you need to make sure your discussions are as precise and as laser-like as they can be. 

2.    Pick Participants Likely to Match with Other Roundtable Participants

If you can find even 5 individuals with real knowledge and expertise about your selected topic, your roundtable’s value as a learning tool can increase ten-fold.

While it’s important to ensure that people actually join your roundtable, you also want to be careful with who you invite. The point of making roundtables worthwhile as a matchmaking activity is to convey their value, and having random people you know nothing about is not how you do that.

Quality trumps quantity any day of the week. If you can find even 5 individuals with real knowledge and expertise about your selected topic, your roundtable’s value as a learning tool can increase ten-fold. 

This is also important from the perspective of your sponsors, who need to appreciate your ability as a strong organizer if you want them to continue trusting you with their money.

3.    Have a Diverse Roundtable Agenda

But while it’s important to have a laser-like focus on your roundtable’s theme or topic, you also want to make sure that your participants have a sufficient and diverse range of issues to go over. 

Ultimately, it’s hard to control the flow of discussion in a roundtable. For example, even if you’ve prepared a number of talking points in advance, what might happen is the group simply speeds through everything until you’re left with no recommendations on what to talk about next.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But the more prepared you are with a wide range of “mini” topics within your specific theme or topic, the easier it will be to predict what happens next. 

4.    Get a Capable Moderator

Moderators should know how to handle people and make them feel heard.

Choosing a moderator can be a hit or miss process. For the most part, you want someone who’s a confident speaker, charismatic, articulate, and well-versed in the topic or theme of your roundtable. Moderators also need to be experienced in the field of conflict management. In other words , they need to know how to control the flow of discussions, especially when an argument comes up.

Passionate discussions aren’t inherently bad, but you don’t want them to bog down your roundtable. Moderators should know how to handle people and make them feel heard, all while moving the discussion forward. 

In Summary

When done right, roundtable events can be wildly successful, with participants walking away having learned something truly valuable. But much of a roundtable’s success depends on how you prepare for it, who you’ve invited, and what topic/s you’ve chosen. Just remember to take note of all of these takeaways to maximize your success. Otherwise, it’s highly likely you’ll end up having a snoozer of an event. 

Written By Tabitha Naylor

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