3 Tips for Hosting Engaging Member Roundtables

Roundtable discussions can deliver real value for your association, providing both an engagement experience for members and a learning opportunity for you. Here are some tips for facilitating roundtables that reap rewards for everyone.

Last week, I wrote about how associations are rethinking strategies to recruit and retain next-gen members. Well, the story behind that story comes from a meeting—a roundtable hosted a few weeks ago by the School Nutrition Association and Multiview, a digital marketer and publisher.

In August, SNA and Multiview formed a partnership to host an association roundtable. It just so happens that these organizations are next-door neighbors (in Fort Washington, Maryland), which makes it easy for them to bring together SNA members, as well as members from other area associations, to participate in conversation.

These meetings explore important trends, like generational habits, says SNA’s CEO Patty Montague, CAE. “For me to sit there, someone who’s not social media savvy, and listen to millennials talk about how important social media is, and how they use it, was incredibly valuable,” Montague says. “The real magic happened when people went around the room to ask questions.”

Future topics will address other emerging issues. The next meeting, scheduled for February, will focus on cloud-based technology and how it can improve member services and experiences, says Colby Horton, executive vice president of marketing and publishing for Multiview.

“It’s a great idea-sharing opportunity,” he says. “And when all is said and done, it’s a chance to hear directly from your members.”

Hosting a roundtable doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. To make facilitating these conversations easier, Horton suggests that associations team up. “What we realized is that a lot of associations are facing the same, big challenges and need that forum or space to share,” he says.

So, what goes into a well-orchestrated discussion? Horton has a few pointers:

Keep roundtables informal, small, and recurring. The partnership between SNA and Multiview works because the roundtables are brief (a half-day conversation), small (limited to about 30 to 40 participants), and held on a recurring basis (once every three months). The meetings are informal and unstructured—discussions are kept open to encourage attendees to speak up.

Identify an expert to lead the conversation. Before each roundtable, Horton identifies a subject matter expert qualified to lead the discussion. For October’s roundtable on millennial impact, recruitment, and engagement, the conversation started with a presentation on generational trends led by two researchers. Horton says it’s important to set the stage with data and evidence on the issue.

Handpick members and associations voices. The best discussions involve a broad mix of participants with something relevant to share. For the October discussion, SNA invited a young member who was a registered dietitian working in a nearby school district to give insights into her media consumption habits. Horton also hand-selected a few association executives who have seen success with millennial recruitment campaigns. “We brought in groups, like the American Hotel and Lodging Association, with a membership base predominantly in that category,” he says. “You’re looking to add voices that had similar challenges but found ways to meet them.”

Finally, for an association roundtable to work effectively, everyone in the room needs an opportunity to participate. Horton suggests leaving the majority of the time open for discussion rather than dominated by a packaged presentation.

“Your goal is to get to dialogue that results in implementable ideas,” he says. “The culmination of each roundtable should be that members leave with tangible solutions.”

Participants at SNA’s roundtable, who came from about a dozen associations, later received a whitepaper detailing key findings from the discussion [PDF]. Montague says she plans to share the paper with her board of directors, state association leaders, and young professionals committee.

“If you’re going to have a roundtable, you better have takeaways or notes capturing it,” she says. “We’re in the process of developing a new strategic plan in January, and this will be in there as reference material to be thinking about.”

From left, panelists Matthew MacLaren, Stefanie Dove, Nick Serfass, and Trevor Mitchell. (Multiview)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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