What is a roundtable discussion?

A roundtable discussion can be an online or offline event that is by invitation only – either only for the participants in the discussion or with a small audience that will be offered the opportunity to ask questions. Rather than a debate among several people watched by a broader audience, it is a more open discussion where people can align or challenge their own positions and share thoughts and expertise.

Seven steps to organise a successful roundtable discussion

Step 1: Remember that any event is not a stand-alone work or a goal in itself. You need to understand and define the scope of the event and how it plays into both internal goals and external trends. Consider why you are holding this event, and what the next steps could be. How does it correspond to your internal timelines and goals?

Based on this, set up an indicative timeline as well as a clear theme for the event. Timing, how long the event should be, number of speakers and how much time they will each get, are all important questions.


Step 2: After you have set the theme and the overall scope of the event, you need to identify and invite speakers. It is a good idea to have a moderator in mind at this stage already, as it may be of interest for the people receiving the invitation to speak to or evaluate the chosen moderator.

Give your speakers information on the set up. Will it be livestreamed? Will it be only the participants in the discussion invited? Is it online only or are some participants meeting in a conference room? Will it require any technology or travel arrangements from the speakers? Who else is invited?


Step 3: Prepare the speakers and the moderator properly. This means sharing information on the other participants so they know who they will be communicating with. Share information on the expected number of participants. How will the outcomes of the roundtable be shared? If it is by invitation only, do Chatham house rules apply?


Step 4: If it is an event with a small audience, market and advocate the event to the right stakeholders and potential participants. This can be done by personal invitations, or in a broader network. If communicated with a broader network, clearly state on how many places are available to listen in, if any. How will you divide the audience seats – by first-come-first-serve?


Step 5: When you carry out the event, make it clear to participants how they can request to speak, whether they are getting an opening statement, etc. How can they get the moderator’s attention? If there is a small audience, how can they send in questions, if at all?


Step 6: After the event, it is important to follow-up with relevant stakeholders and, if applicable, audience members. For example, you should consider having a final report to share with them, a summary with key takeaways for participants and/or to post on social media, depending on the previously agreed setup.


Step 7: How should you move forward with your overall strategy?