How to Run a Roundtable Discussion in 11 Steps

Discover how to lead a successful roundtable discussion. Get tips for in-person and virtual events and use our step-by-step plan to host an engaging event.

Published on November 30, 2023 • About 6 min. read
roundtable discussion

Considering a roundtable as part of your company's event program? With a compelling topic and a tailored guest list, you can organize a discussion that offers incredible value to your audience.

In this article, we'll cover how to host a roundtable, with tips to make virtual events more engaging and a complete framework to use for successful event planning.


Access these 6 email templates to drive attendance to your virtual events.

What is a roundtable discussion?

A roundtable is a discussion-based event that focuses on a specific topic or problem. Many events of this kind address business concerns or industry trends, providing new perspectives on challenging issues.

Roundtable discussions generally have a facilitator and several speakers. They allow ample opportunity for all attendees to share thoughts or ask questions on the discussion topic.

In fact, a roundtable is based on the idea of gathering around a table to discuss a problem. However, a physical table isn't a requirement, and neither is an in-person setting. A virtual roundtable can work just as well.

Roundtable vs. panel discussion

It's easy to confuse roundtables and panel discussions. Both are conversation-based events with high-level business or academic topics. Yet there are a few important differences. Unlike a roundtable, a panel discussion:

  • Tends to be more formal, with a set agenda and a list of panelists to lead the discussion.
  • Focuses more on expert speakers than on encouraging everyone in the event room to have a say.

Roundtable vs. seminar

In some ways, roundtables are similar to seminars. They can both cover business or academic topics, and they tend to encourage interaction. But unlike roundtable events, in-person and virtual seminars:

  • Typically have a featured speaker who leads the event, often using a webinar format.
  • May include time for questions or debates but focus more on formal presentations.

Why should you host a roundtable?

Consider hosting a roundtable discussion if you want to create a space where:

  • Attendees can share their own unique perspectives rather than aligning on a given topic. For many participants, the variety of insights and experiences are the main draw.
  • Open, candid conversations are welcome, as there's no strict narrative. While moderators are responsible for keeping the conversation on topic, all other participants can contribute equally.
  • Learning opportunities are abundant, and attendees can use their knowledge to solve real problems. Participants may leave the event with new ways to approach persistent problems.

Consider another format if these benefits don't align with your goals. For example, you may opt to host a webinar with a seminar or panel format if you're planning a more structured event.

3 Keys to a successful roundtable

A great conversation can provide actionable ideas and generate real value for attendees. To run a successful roundtable discussion, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Find an experienced moderator with deep knowledge of the topic. Ideally, you want a host who can provide insightful commentary and keep the conversation moving.
  2. Avoid leaving the event planning solely to the moderator. Instead, involve speakers in planning topics and agendas so you can reflect a wider range of outlooks.
  3. Make the event as engaging as possible for the audience. If you're planning an online roundtable, choosing the right virtual event software is essential for seamless conversations.

Access these 6 email templates to drive attendance to your virtual events.

How to run a roundtable

While this type of conversation often seems organic, it requires advance planning. Here's how to organize a virtual roundtable discussion for a group of any size.

1. Set a goal

First, get clear on the main objective for the conversation. What do you want to gain from hosting this discussion? For example:

  • If the roundtable is part of a conference or another multi-session event, the goal may be to create a space where attendees can discuss a specific topic or problem freely.
  • If the roundtable is a one-off event, you may want to take the temperature of the room, so to speak—or conduct informal research to find where your industry stands on a topic.

2. Select a topic

Using your main goal to guide you, select a topic that's likely to spark interest in your audience. To make the event a true roundtable, choose a conversation topic that will inspire friendly debate or encourage attendees to participate. For example:

  • Problems your audience is struggling with
  • Emerging trends your audience wants to understand
  • Directional shifts your industry has taken recently

Can't decide on a single topic or prefer that your audience choose? Consider polling your audience in advance.

3. Choose a format

To host a successful roundtable discussion, you ideally want to give all attendees an opportunity to speak. For smaller groups, a roundtable with an audience often works well, as you can invite participants to speak.

If your group grows too large, you may find it challenging to accommodate all potential contributors. In this case, creating separate breakout sessions often works better. Each session can focus on a subtopic that appeals to attendees.

4. Pick a facilitator

Next, nominate someone to moderate the event. While roundtables encourage open discussion, you need a facilitator who can keep the conversation on topic, prevent it from turning into a heated debate, and encourage audience participation.

Choose a moderator who has deep knowledge of the topic at hand and who is well respected in the space. With a trustworthy moderator to run the discussion, you'll have a much easier time attracting both speakers and guests.

5. Invite speakers

Once you've confirmed a moderator, work together to select the main speakers. If you've chosen an industry expert to facilitate, you can expect them to know which roundtable guests could inspire the most meaningful conversations.

Vet the speaker list carefully to ensure it meets your goals for a roundtable discussion. To engage the audience and provide value to attendees, you'll want to include a variety of perspectives on your topic of choice.

6. Build a guest list

If you're planning a small virtual or in-person roundtable or breakout sessions at a larger event, you may be able to skip ahead to the next step. In this case, the speakers may make up your entire guest list.

However, if you're planning a roundtable meeting with audience members, you'll want to invite additional guests. To set the stage for an engaging group discussion, choose attendees carefully. For example, you may opt to invite:

  • Corporate executives
  • Thought leaders
  • Industry experts

7. Create an agenda

While a roundtable format lends itself to open discussion, a successful event still needs an agenda. Use this simple framework to shape yours:

  • Introduce the topic and provide some basic context or background information.
  • Confirm goals for the roundtable, which could be deciding how to approach a problem, establishing best practices, or creating a list of questions and concerns.
  • Outline the discussion points that the moderator plans to present, but leave space for the conversation to develop organically.
  • Clarify the discussion format and relevant rules, including who can speak, for how long, and in which order.

8. Plan viewer engagement

Throughout the event, much of the focus may be on the expert speakers you've invited. However, the success of a roundtable often depends on audience engagement levels.

Plan to ask questions that align with the goals you've set for the event. For example, you might invite audience members to share their own best practices or discuss use cases for an industry trend.

Livestorm’s questions tab virtual interview tips

You can also invite attendees to submit your own questions. If you opt to hold a virtual roundtable, you can host an interactive question and answer session with event technology like Livestorm.

9. Prepare the event room

If you're planning an in-person event, plan to secure a round table for the moderator and guest speakers as well as ample space for audience members. You may also want to record or stream the live event to share with a wider audience.

Custom branding

If you're planning a virtual roundtable, you can invite up to 25 simultaneous speakers with a platform like Livestorm. Using Livestorm's integrations, you can set up a branded room and custom backgrounds to create a cohesive look for the event.

10. Share the replay

Although they're designed for smaller events, roundtables can easily reach larger audiences. By distributing replays, you can share guests' knowledge with others in the field.

webinar replays will keep your content engaging users

When you use Livestorm for virtual events, you can easily share replays with attendees. You can also use recordings as lead magnets when you make them available on demand.

11. Repurpose highlights

To get even more value from your event, identify highlights and repurpose them across marketing channels. For example, you can:

  • Add clips to a blog post that explores the topic further
  • Include clips in an email newsletter to your customers
  • Share short-form videos to social media

Livestorm for your next virtual roundtable

Choosing the right event technology is essential to hosting a successful event. Livestorm is designed to handle event room setup, marketing workflows, and audience engagement—so you can focus on producing the ideal event.

Here's how Livestorm can simplify your virtual event workflow:

  • Automated emails and optimized registration pages to boost attendance
  • Browser-based live event platform that doesn't require a download
  • Audience engagement features like Q&A sessions and polls
  • Replay links and on-demand recordings to share after the event

With Livestorm, you can do much more than run a roundtable discussion. You can host meaningful conversations that bring people together and build a community.