Mastering Roundtable Discussions

roundtable-discussionWhenever you hear someone suggest a roundtable discussion, do you roll your eyes and say, “Here we go again?” I’m the same way.

So, why is that?

For me, it’s because roundtables usually end up having one person hog the spotlight and put us all to sleep by talking on-and-on. Then, because they’ve said most of the ideas in the room, nobody else feels like they’ve contributed.

Don’t get me wrong, round table discussions with your peers can be a great source of ideas, but they can also turn into huge time-wasters.

Around the world format

You can do a roundtable discussion using an around the world format, which means you start on one side of the room and then move one-by-one around the table until everyone has had a chance to speak.

This structure has some benefits, because once a loudmouth has said his/her piece, that’s it. Unfortunately, you need to go all the way around the table and it can take a long time. If there are 15 or more people in the room, you’re going to be there for a while.

Volunteer format

If you open the floor to volunteers, you get the people who actually want to speak.

I prefer this method, but you may then have to watch out for people commenting on a speaker before them. I think it’s mostly because a speaker says something that triggers an idea in their head.

Normally, you would have to wait until your turn, or if there were a lot of people before you, the urge to respond may pass before you get to speak. When all you have to do is put your hand up, you can fire off your response too quickly, and sometimes without thinking things through.

How to continue or extend the discussion

Don’t force people to talk if they don’t want to. Instead, you can provide multiple avenues to generate discussion. By allowing ideas and feedback to be contributed in a variety of ways, the discussion can continue long after the meeting ends.

Here are a few simple ways to facilitate an extended discussion:

Paper – The old standby method of receiving feedback. It’s not perfect… but it works.

text-polling Social Media Tools – I use a tool called Poll Everywhere when I speak to groups. It lets me ask questions and allows people to text or tweet the feedback to me. If you have a small group (under 30 people), the service is free. You can also just use whichever social media tool is in favour with your group.

Flip Charts – If someone records the information on flip charts, it makes the current information more visible, so there is less overlap, and also lets you keep a record of what was said. An alternative would be to use a Word document or a mind map chart projected onto a screen.

How to set up an effective roundtable session with your group

Here’s a quick preamble you can use to set up the roundtable discussion.

  1. Everyone speaks once. If you have additional comments, please write them down, email, text, or tweet them to me.
  2. You have a maximum of 2 minutes. Please respect our busy lives. You WILL be timed.
  3. During your turn, please add any relevant comments that have not been shared yet.
  4. Keep the feedback focused on our objective. Here’s a reminder of the objective…