Roundtable – Concept, participants and characteristics

We explain what a round table is, its objective, participants and other characteristics. Also, differences with a debate.

round table
The round tables are used in congresses, fairs, television shows and negotiations.

What is a round table?

A round table is a type of group dynamic in which a topic of common interest to the participants is addressed, so that they carry out a discussion in which their views are held exactly the same.

Its name derives from this last sense, since in a round table there are no positions of power (traditionally, people of authority sit at the head of the table), but all those who sit at it are at the same level.

Round tables are common in different contexts and events, such as congresses, fairs, television shows and negotiations, always around a specific theme. There may or may not be a moderator in it, and the debate takes place according to rules agreed in advance, to ensure that the exchange of ideas is peaceful and civilized. Logically, these debates must take place at a (physical) table, although it is not always round.

In the Western imagination, the mention of the round table of the Knights of King Arthur is famous, part of a cycle of medieval stories starring the defenders of the kingdom of Camelot, ruled by King Arthur. At this table the king and his closest military nobles occupied a place, as well as, according to certain versions, the magician Merlin.

Characteristics of the round tables

The round tables, in general, are characterized by:

  • To explore a topic of interest to all participants (and for the audience), bringing together various opinion-makers or specialists whose different positions will be exposed and contrasted with each other.
  • Attendees are on the same level with each other, and there may or may not be a formal moderator to make things easier. Each one will have the same opportunity to present their arguments and after participating in the debate.
  • There may or may not be open questions to the public, generally at the end of all interventions.

The duration of a round table generally encompasses three phases:

  • Opening, in which the participants are identified and the public is introduced to the topic to be discussed, and the rules of participation of the event are given.
  • Exposition, in which each participant intervenes, in turn, to offer their particular approach to the matter. If there is, the moderator will then make a quick synthesis of what each one has said.
  • Closing, in which each speaker gives final opinions, draws conclusions, asks questions of the other or argues in favor of their position. The moderator, if any, then highlights the conclusions obtained and offers participation to the audience.

Objective of a round table

The objective of a round table is approach a topic from diverse, generally contradictory perspectives, and try to establish a common perspective or at least some kind of working conclusions. Unlike other types of debate, the round table does not necessarily have to solve the problem or offer solutions, but it must present each of the positions and establish the bases for future and possible debates.

Participants of a round table

Participants in a round table (between three and six people usually) They are very informed people in the matter to be debated, whether they are specialists in the field or not, and generally have different points of view or contrasting with each other. The physical presence of the audience and the moderator are optional.

Round table and debate

round table debate
Discussions tend to take place in a more confrontational environment than round tables.

A common distinction is made between a round table and a proper debate. This difference is that the round table invites a negotiation without hierarchies, that is, at the same level between the participants, and therefore encourages the obtaining of more or less conciliatory conclusions.

Instead, debates usually consist of oral confrontations of antagonistic ideas, exposed by two or more participants who occupy opposite positions (even physically). The debates are open to comments and refutations, interruptions and comments among its participants, and in general to a more hostile and confrontational environment.