There's no exact science to hosting a round table meeting, but it helps to follow some general guidelines so the meeting stays organized, timely and productive. Because a round table discussion naturally requires participants to gather around a table, you must send out invitations with an attached RSVP. You want to make sure you have enough seating for everyone. It's best to notify participants of the agenda ahead of time, so you can orchestrate constructive, on-topic discussions. Round table meetings require enough time for oral presentations and open discussions, so you should plan for the gathering to last 45 to 90 minutes.
Send out a brief two- to three-paragraph review of the topics you plan to discuss during the round table discussion. You might attach the agenda to your invitation, so guests can prepare ways to contribute to the meeting. On the invitation, include the date, time, location and any considerations, such as what floor the meeting will be held on and whether snacks or a meal will follow the discussion. Let participants know how long the round table meeting will last, and hold tight to your scheduled time frame. Limit your attendance to a maximum of 30.
Introduce all participants at the start of the meeting, including yourself. Make sure you know how to pronounce each person's name correctly and have a brief description of the role they'll play in the round table discussion. You might say, "To my right is Tom Jones, director of the Head Start program. He'll be sharing ways to help young children get interested in reading." Or, "Across from me is Linda Lewis, the librarian at the public library, and she's excited to hear your ideas on summer reading programs."
No Hogging the Conversation
Talk to presenters, department heads and special speakers several days or weeks before the round table meeting so each person knows what topics he should cover. Instruct presenters to open up the table for discussion and feedback, so the meeting doesn't feel like a series of lectures. Ask speakers to limit their presentations to two to five minutes so there's sufficient time for dialogue. As the host, you might restate what a presenter says, summarize ideas or ask questions to spur conversation. One of the most important protocols for a round table discussion is to promote healthy, interactive communication. No single person should dominate the discussion.
Debating is an acceptable component of round table discussions, but participants must be respectful, polite and considerate of each other's viewpoints. As the host, you might shift the discussion to another topic if the dialogue gets heated or slumps into a rut. It's your responsibility to moderate the discussion, so you may need to politely interrupt and help the group refocus on the most pressing issues or concerns. Or, you might need to reduce the time limit to two to three minutes if participants or presenters get too long-winded.
- Middle East Studies Association: Categories of Presentation
- If I Knew That in College: How to Lead an Effective Round Table Discussion
- American Evaluation Association: Guidelines for Roundtable Presentations
- North American Associations of Christians in Social Work: Round Table Discussion: An Effective Public Engagement Strategy
- American Pediatric Surgical Nurses Association: Roundtable Discussion Guidelines
- Learning Ace: Harvard Graduate School of Education: 2010 Student Research Conference: How to Lead an Effective Roundtable Discussion
- mediaphotos/iStock/Getty Images