Running a successful roundtable

The Art of Running a Successful Roundtable

Roundtables date back as early as 1155 when legendary King Arthur hosted many prominent warriors and distinguished men, who later became the Knights of the Roundtable, tasked with caring for the disenfranchised. Whether King Arthur existed or not is debatable, but the idea of a roundtable has been passed down throughout history as a way to facilitate discussion. The art of running a successful modern-day roundtable is an excellent tool to have in your marketing and business development toolkit.

What is a Roundtable?

The modern-day roundtable is typically an informal, small event with 20 or less attendees who participate in a group discussion on a particular topic. Participants usually have similar interests or job titles. The format of a roundtable is flexible and can be easily adjusted depending on the audience or objective. Most roundtables last 1-2 hours.

The key element of any good roundtable is that it brings clients and prospects together to discuss important issues relevant to them in a moderated format. It is critical to have a clear focus with a strong moderator to guide the conversation. The more precise the topic is, the more successful running a roundtable will be. In a traditional roundtable, the moderator introduces the topic and opens it up for discussion. Other alternatives include expert speakers or panelists from your firm or the local community.

Roundtables are not intended as a sales opportunity. Instead, they are a great opportunity to listen, learn, and obtain valuable insights about your clients and prospects. Roundtables do, however, have significant marketing and sales benefits. According to B2BMarketing.net, roundtables and focus groups remain the primary means by which B2B marketers understand customer sentiment.

What are the Benefits of Running a Successful Roundtable?

There are a few staple presentation types such as keynote speeches, expert talks, and panel discussions. One presentation that often gets overlooked is the roundtable discussion.

Here are some benefits roundtables can offer your business:

  • Always have a moderator: Picking the most suitable moderator can be a tough task. This person is responsible for creating an amazing experience and helping navigate a meaningful discussion among experts. Make sure the moderator knows the key trends that impact the industry and the particular issue being discussed. Smart moderators do not stick to just reading the panelists’ names and asking if there are any questions at the end. Do not waste this opportunity; ask thought-provoking questions. Your audience will appreciate the event and you!
  • Learning from your peers: Instead of only hearing a few people speak, attendees get to share information with a group of 10-12 people. The open platform gives attendees the opportunity to share useful questions, anecdotes, and experiences. Attendees benefit immensely from a roundtable because everyone is transparent, open to sharing, and open to learning. Attendees typically walk away with valuable information and gain a different perspective from their peers. Finally, it is a great way to work through challenges pertaining to a central topic that everybody in the room is interested in.
  • Different points of view: It is impossible to believe that all attendees will feel the same way about a certain topic, which is why roundtables can be very exciting. Roundtables offer honest discussions between peers with different experiences and points of view.
  • No leaders in the room: Seating attendees in a circle brings a very different feel to the room. There is no leader. The format and setup is meant to encourage everyone to have an equal voice, regardless of their title.
  • Gain access to your target audience: When you hold small, exclusive roundtables, you are very intentional with those you extend an invite to. It is the perfect opportunity to attract senior people who might not attend other types of events. There is something about roundtable events that screams “exclusive.” This target audience is willing to attend because it is an opportunity to discuss critical issues with their peers. Some firms will promise anonymity to their attendees. Just make sure all attendees know that you are observing this rule when inviting them. Make it clear in the invitation.
  • Better understand your target audience: Make sure you have 1-2 sales/marketing people sitting in the back of the room during the discussion. They will have some great ideas for starting conversations at the post-networking event. Additionally, sales and marketing people learn new angles for selling to this target audience that will be beneficial at your next meeting. Finally, marketers are able to find better ways to highlight the audience’s pain points in future marketing content.

What Type of Roundtable Should I Host?

The easiest way to organize a roundtable is with a theme around a certain industry, a particular specialty, or a common job title. Participants benefit from the knowledge shared within sessions, but the networking component is also important. They are able to gain significant amounts of knowledge and connections from meeting likeminded professionals.

It is important to be cognizant of other roundtables and groups in your area before selecting roundtable attendees. In order to bring value, you do not want to compete with existing roundtables.

Some ideas to consider include:

  • Industry-focused Roundtable
  • Business Line Roundtable
  • Business Issue Roundtable
  • CFO/Controller Roundtable
  • Small Business Owner Roundtable
  • Women in Leadership Roundtable
  • Nonprofit Executive Roundtable
  • Independent Physician Roundtable
  • Professional Services Executive Roundtable
  • Family-Owned Business Executive Roundtable
  • Construction/Contractor Roundtable
  • Next Gen Leadership Roundtable

Now that you have chosen your roundtable “theme,” you need to decide who to invite. Invitees should be some of your best clients, top prospects, or individuals referred by centers of influence. You can also consider inviting several clients and encourage them to share the invite with colleagues they feel might be interested. Be sure to start small and aim for less than 20 attendees.

Consider hosting a networking event, like a cocktail hour, after the roundtable. This gives attendees an opportunity to meet and get to know each other and provides an added benefit for attendees. Be sure to invite your sales and marketing team!

With our new normal, Zoom or videoconferencing makes it even easier for clients in varying locations to meet without the constraints of travel.

What Have Some Firms Learned?

“When the COVID-19 pandemic started, we wanted to provide AAM members with a platform for peer-to-peer dialogue of the unfolding crisis,” said Christian Moises APR, practice growth specialist at Ericksen Krentel CPAs and Consultants in New Orleans and board member and liaison for AAM’s quarterly thought leadership publication Growth Strategies.

AAM has held four roundtables so far, with topics focused on internal/external communications, leveraging webinars for business development, and preparing to reopen for the new normal. Each roundtable has featured a conversation facilitator and two to three subject matter experts who provide a brief overview of their experience with the topic, while providing strategic and tactical insights. The conversation is then opened to participants, limited to 100 members, to ask questions or share what they are doing at their respective firms.

The agenda, which is set with a roughly 30-minute planning call, comprises three main points of interest to discuss with a few pre-planned questions to get the conversation going.

“The response has been great. Each of the four roundtables maxed out at 100 registrants,” Moises said. “We quickly realized after the first one when a participant emailed us the next day saying she had already implemented a new idea gained from the roundtable that this was a viable format to engage our members and provide resources in a new manner.”

The roundtables have also helped AAM provide thought leadership by using notes from the call to generate thought leadership, engage nonparticipants in the conversation via the association’s membership forum, and create new content ideas for other committees to research.

Rachel Pompeani, marketing manager at Barnes Wendling CPAs in Ohio, started a roundtable series in 2019 to highlight the next generation of leadership. Rachel said, “Before the first session, we invited our clients and prospects to participate and now have a group of 25 who consistently attend. We hold these quarterly and have started virtual sessions.”

“It seems like there is great value in these roundtable sessions because they are smaller and more intimate. The attendees get value from each other and not just the presenter,” Rachel added. “We typically have an open forum where everyone can participate and bring their experiences to the table. We send out surveys to the attendees to get their feedback and make changes based on the responses.”

Running a Successful Roundtable is an Excellent Tool

As you can see, there are lots of great benefits of a roundtable for both the participants and the hosting firm. That is no surprise considering roundtables have been around for centuries. If you’re experienced in running a successful roundtable, we would love to hear from you.

Co-Authors for this article are Irma Zaldivar and Rachael McGrew

About Irma Zaldivar

I have 16 years of experience in all aspects of marketing and business development and have been in the accounting marketing industry since June 2015. I worked at a very small accounting firm prior to joining BDO. I am passionate about marketing strategy. To know that I can play a role in a business’ overall game plan for reaching potential buyers and turning them into customers is a very gratifying feeling. Currently, as a digital marketing manager, I am responsible for leading all new campaign requests from start to finish. For the past two years I’ve been the co-chair of the Association of Accounting Marketing (AAM) monthly newsletter, the AAM Minute. I’ve been involved with AAM since I started my career in accounting marketing five years ago and it’s provided me a lot of great ideas to bring back to my team.

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About Rachael McGrew

I’ve spent the last decade developing a sharp eye as an editor and a love of words as a marketer and communicator. You can find me behind the screen, behind the lens or behind a project, thriving on organized chaos in a highly-intense environment. When I'm not writing or shooting, you can find me spending time with my outgoing husband and hilarious 10-year-old, traveling and loving life.

Rachael McGrew on LinkedIn

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Karen Love on July 21, 2020 at 9:34 am

    Very well done article!

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