Game Pieces

Roundtable presentations are among the most flexible format offered at the conference, and may look quite different from session to session. The one thing that they have in common is that each allows for extended discussion among a small cohort of colleagues. Roundtables are excellent venues for giving and receiving targeted feedback, engaging in in-depth discussions, and meeting colleagues with similar interests.

As part of Evaluation 2006, AEA conducted an informal evaluation of the roundtable session format. Facilitators found roundtables to offer unique opportunities for learning and professional exchange. We received multiple positive comments, such as "this is what learning should be like" and "everyone was willing and eager to share - my attendees learned a lot AND I learned a lot." We wish to build on the strengths of the roundtable format and offer the following guidelines to assist you in preparing and presenting a roundtable.

Definition: Roundtables are 45-minute oral presentations with discussion seated around a table. Roundtable presentations typically include 15 minutes of presentation, followed by 30 minutes of discussion and feedback.

What does a roundtable session look like? When you walk into a roundtable room you will find a table with 10-12 chairs around it and possibly other chairs around the perimeter of the room. When the session begins, the presenters offer their presentation to those seated at the table. Each presenter is in charge of his or her 45-minute presentation, but most will include an extended discussion component with ample time for questions.

Some roundtable sessions are scheduled into 90-minute sessions. These will include two rotations, each with a different presentation, and each 45-minutes in length. Occasionally, due to a cancellation or scheduling issue, there will be only a single roundtable in a 90-minute slot. This roundtable will either use only the first 45-minutes or will offer an extended experience, at the discretion of the presenters.

Visual aids: Roundtables do not have traditional audio-visual aids available. There are no screens or overheads, but most roundtable presenters bring handouts illustrating their work. 

Preparation: Although roundtables rely heavily on discussion, this does not negate the need for advance preparation. You should develop the presentation portion of your session and practice it until you are comfortable sharing your thoughts and ideas.

Insider tip: Roundtables are excellent venues for hands-on exploration of case studies or materials and if you are going to use hands-on components, you should practice first with colleagues to make sure that instructions are understandable and the activity progresses smoothly.

Handouts: Bring 15 copies of all materials that you wish to share with session attendees. Be sure to include your contact information on the first page to encourage follow-up. Past evaluations have clearly indicated that one frustration, in particular for new and international attendees, is the use of 'insider' language, acronyms, and abbreviations that make it difficult to comprehend readily a presentation.

Insider tip: Outstanding presenters include as part of their handouts a) key lessons to be learned, and b) a list of resources (web links, books, people) to learn more.

Questions: While your attendees may be eager with questions, it is useful to have one or two prepared questions at the ready that you can use, if needed, to stimulate the discussion. Questions need not only be for you as the presenter, they may also be directed to the attendees at the session, encouraging their participation, feedback, and the sharing of lessons learned.

At the session: This is your time to shine! You have practiced and you are ready to share you knowledge and expertise:

Insider tip: If you are presenting as one of the two presentations during a 90-minute slot, you should attend the other presentation in order to support your colleagues, limit disruptions, and allow for smooth transition from one to the next.

Insider tip: If you have only a few attendees, take advantage of the opportunity to have each person briefly introduce him- or herself so that you may identify connections, and encourage exchange, among those in attendance.

Post-conference: After the event is over, you likely will receive emails or calls from those who heard, or heard of, your presentation. This is an opportunity to build your professional network and sustain the field through collegial exchange. Where appropriate,  you may want to ask those inquiring about their work to see how it might mesh with your own in ways that could be advantageous to you both.

Insider tip: If you have materials that you know multiple people would likely appreciate receiving, you may want to create a sign-up sheet to pass around at the session. In this way, you can send one follow-up email to the multiple attendees rather than multiple individual ones, each with the same information.