Roundtables – The Power of Food & Drink

I have always liked roundtables as a networking or new business activity. I suggest roundtables to clients who are looking at alternatives to the traditional marketing mix to reach new and even existing customers. It’s an engaging activity that requires no preparation from the attendees, just a willingness to interact.

It’s a simple concept to ask around 12 people to gather in a nice location for a quality lunch or dinner to have a chat about a selected subject. You don’t want the group to be too big, otherwise it doesn’t allow everyone to contribute and to allow for some side conversations when you are eating the lovely meal.

The hardest part of organising a roundtable is deciding on the invitation list and then the seating order. It may not sound that difficult, but they are both equally important and should not be done without thought. Depending upon the subject, you want to have a nice mix of people with different but compatible roles and experience so that everyone feels that they are talking at peer level.

It is important to have a topic to discuss and to manage the group conversation.  Otherwise you’ll find that you have an in depth knowledge of your guests’ recent car purchasing experience but that’s not really what you’ve spent money to achieve. The most successful roundtables are always those with a clear objective and a topic that the invitees have a shared experience of or viewpoint on. Remember that you need to interest them enough to come and spend 3 hours talking with a bunch of strangers, some of whom could be their competitors.

It’s good to have a tight and clear focus topic for a roundtable but I know from experience you need a broad and wide potential agenda for discussion. You don’t know what your guests are going to want to talk about until they’re all gathered around the table. Having a wide and well researched conversation topic is especially important if you have a group of individuals who take a bit of time to warm up.

That’s where I come in – to prevent tumbleweed moments, and to ensure that everyone has a positive experience and comes away feeling they have benefited from the conversation. It pays dividends to have an experienced moderator to help run and chair the Roundtable. I greatly enjoy the role of chair in these sessions as you never know where the conversation will go and if you select a good bunch of people, who have something in common, the discussion can be very insightful.

Common feedback that I receive is “it’s comforting to know that I am not the only one having to overcome barriers or having problems with process.” The roundtable is a great leveller and helps the attendees to level-set against other business people in similar roles and having similar issues or successes in their roles.

Like any other awareness activity roundtables can make great addition to most marketing calendars. But like an event they take time to get right and it is better to plan and prepare for a roundtable as that will give your client a better chance of creating success and meeting their objectives.

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