Do you currently host roundtable discussion meetings for your members at your chamber?
If not, they can be a good way to bring different voices to the table. They also help members of the community discuss important topics that they may not get to talk about at the standard networking event.
In this article, we’ll cover what roundtable discussions are, how they can benefit your chamber and members, and three discussion topics that may be helpful to your community.
What is a Roundtable Discussion and How Can You Use it at Your Chamber?
A roundtable discussion is a conversation on a single topic held between a relatively small group of perhaps 8 to 10 people. The goal is to bring more voices to the table, interact with one another, play off ideas, and solve a singular problem.
But how you host a roundtable discussion at your chamber can depend. What are you trying to accomplish and how many people do you think need to be involved?
A roundtable discussion is most effective when participation in the table discussion is limited to a handful of members versus a large crowd. However, the disadvantage of this is that you may actually see value in more than ten people being involved. That’s understandable.
The more voices, the more noise.
And that makes it difficult to come to a solution or a point that you can start acting on the suggestions brought up by the group.
So how do you get more people involved without impacting their ability to be heard?
Create an event with a roundtable discussion in the middle of the room. Around the table place chairs for the audience. Encourage people to come to watch the discussion.
After 15 minutes, ask the discussion participants to stand. Invite those who want to participate to come up and take the spot of someone currently at the table. Continue the discussion for another specified amount of time. Then invite the participants to stand again.
Repeat this process for the hour or hour and a half that you have designated. During that time, you may hear many different voices or you may have an audience that wants to continue to hear the original ones. Either way is fine.
If your roundtable discussion is surrounding a topic that has supporters and detractors, divide the room in half. Put supporters on one side, detractors on the other. Then take turns discussing the topic at hand. Then invite audience members to stand behind the side they currently agree with.
As the topic is discussed, if any of your audience members are swayed to the other side they should feel free to get up and join that side. This is an interactive way to gauge the hot buttons of the community and the most effective parts of the discussion.
It’s important to note and to share with the audience that they should feel free to move about the room, even if they only agree on a single point of what the speaker brings up. As that point is made they can migrate to the side they support. If another point is made on the other side of the room, they can join them. Fluidity should be condoned and encouraged for those who are in the process of making up their minds about the topic.
Questions and Comments From the Audience
Another way for more voices to be heard is to use a town hall format where the discussion may be among 8-10 people but the audience is invited to interrupt and ask questions as they feel the need. If you’re worried this may become too disruptive to the flow of conversation, use a moderator who can walk around the room and gather the questions. The questions can then be presented at the end.
However, know that if you decide to use the latter, a Q&A session is often something that is rushed through and doesn’t become part of the ongoing discussion. Allowing a conversation to take place as the topic is being discussed will be less stilted and more organic.
Plus, people build on the discussion naturally with the former format, whereas an FAQ at the end of the discussion only allows for those collected questions to be addressed in the time remaining.
There’s nothing to say that your roundtable discussion needs to occur in real-time. You could hand-select 8 to 10 leaders within your community, give them the topic at hand, and record their discussion. Post the recording somewhere like Facebook to allow people to share their comments while they’re watching.
If you choose this format make sure you reach out to the “watchers” in some way. You can call out their comments on social media. For instance, you might try something like:
“Don’t forget to check out our video of our roundtable discussion about finding the right hires. We had a great discussion and a lot of actionable items shared. Make sure you check out the comments as well including John’s about the current economy.”
Calling someone out will make them feel good, make them feel like part of the discussion even if they weren’t seated at the original table, and it makes other people curious, wondering “what did John say?”
Why are Roundtable Discussions Valuable to the Chamber?
Some people think a roundtable discussion is too small because it only invites a few people to speak. In the section above, we saw how you can magnify the reach and participation in a roundtable discussion. But what we didn’t cover is why these discussions are so important to chambers of commerce.
The chamber is uniquely situated to be a bridge between government and business. As we so often say in the chamber world, chambers are the voice of business. When someone joins the chamber they’re investing in the growth of their business by admitting they need the connections, knowledge, and know-how of the chamber to continue to grow. Providing value to that business is about assisting them in doing something that would be very difficult for them to do on their own.
That’s where roundtable discussions come in. The chamber brings together thought leaders from the community to discuss issues of importance. While a member may be able to do that on their own, it would take a lot of calls, a lot of favors, and a lot of time to arrange it and make everyone’s schedules come together. After the conversation, though, they’re usually not in a position to put together or act on the things that came up in the discussion.
A chamber, on the other hand, can not only bring the heads of industry together with a lot less effort, they can also work with them afterward on any of the issues, questions, or suggestions that came out of the discussion.
When you bring people together and you solve problems together, you become invaluable to them. The same is true of the chamber in this example. Roundtable discussions also show that you understand the pain points that people in the community are facing. You are a problem solver, even if you don’t have all of the answers yourself. You know how to bring people together who can help solve the problem.
This puts your chamber in a very good light, helps continue to build your reputation, and shows that you are an organization the community can turn to in order to get things done.
It shows the chamber is unbiased. While the chamber wants to do what is good for business and the economy, the chamber itself doesn’t have vested interest in a particular outcome. So it is the perfect organization to bring about discussion.
3 Roundtable Discussion Topics for Your Chamber
If you want to bring your community together to discuss topics of importance you may want to consider the following:
- Workforce Development. Do local employers have access to the types of employees they need to succeed in the future? Assemble a mix of top employers from the community as well as those who are charged with educating them on a high school and college level.
- Diversity. The topic of diversity is in and of itself diverse. You can talk about diversity in employment, diversity in your community, diversity in your schools and opportunities, and the different kinds of diversity. Diversity doesn’t always mean race. It could mean economic diversity, making sure you have a broad range of industries and employers so that if a major employer is shut down or leaves town there are others to take its place. Bring together a mix of leaders of industries, employers, educators, and economic development people.
- Attracting Young People. Another problem many cities face is that young people are moving away from their area. When this happens the future of their community is in question, particularly if they’re not attracting new young people to the area. This discussion should center around what businesses can do to make your area more attractive to young people and young families. Bring in heads of business, entertainment, hospitality, economic development, and universities to discuss what can be put in place to make your area more attractive.
Roundtable discussions are an excellent way to illustrate the value of the chamber to the community. They can also bring together people who may otherwise only speak in the shallowest of terms afforded by occasional interaction.