Last week, as a member of the National E-tailing and Mailing Organization of America (NEMOA), I conducted a breakfast roundtable for a group of small business owners. Typically at breakfast roundtables, you sit with one table of eight to ten people and stay there for the duration of the event. You are only privy to the conversation at your own table. I wanted to create an environment where people could engage in discussions around several topics, meet more people, and get the highlights of what others had talked about at the other tables too. Thus the “Roundtable Roulette” was born.
Preparation: My first question was about what topics to cover. In answer this, I sent out a survey prior to the event, asking several questions about top issues facing this group of small business owners. With the data, I was able to devise spot-on table topics and create table signage in advance.
Facilitation: I began by presenting the results of the survey and highlighting some of my observations (while they ate breakfast). Next I explained how the “roulette” would work and introduced the topics in the following manner:
- Tell participants they will have 10 minutes (or 15 minutes — I found 10 to be a little brief) at each of 2 (or 3) tables of their choice.
- Explain that participants will have three tasks: 1) quickly introduced themselves; 2) select a note-keeper; 3) discuss challenges and best practices regarding their topic. Let folks know they will repeat this process 2 or 3 times, and that all discussion highlights will be shared at the end of the session. (Don’t forget to equip note-takers with flip charts, tabletop easels, index cards, or note pads).
- Review the table topics. If you come prepared with too many, quickly survey the group by a show of hands to find out which are most popular.
Table Topic Discussions
- For the first round, have folks stay at the table where they ate, and tell them to begin.
- Be sure to announce time as it’s running down, so they can plan accordingly.
- Alert the group when time is up, and instruct them each to find a new table. When all are settled into their new tables, have them begin their roundtable — intros, note-keeper selection and discussion.
- If time allows, repeat for a third round.
- At the end of the session, go topic-by-topic and have note-keepers (or other participants), share the best practices and suggestions.
- Record these on a flip chart, take notes, or collect the notes, so that you can circulate them later.
Notes and Facilitation Options
Be sure to gauge your group as the roundtable is going on. You won’t know how they are doing unless you walk around and listen in. You may need to adjust time up or down depending on how long the “quick” introductions take. If folks are having trouble moving from “challenges” to “solutions” You might also need to specifically ask groups to come up with 3 concrete suggestions. You might also choose to have tables record their suggestions on a flip chart, tabletop whiteboard, or on index cards, so they can more easily be shared later.