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Fishbowl Discussions

My friend Smitha sent me this link about fishbowl conversations as something that might make sense to add to the PASS Summit or other events. The concept is that you arrange chairs in a circle with a panel of participants and the moderator guides the discussion. The audience sits outside the circle to watch and listen. A variation is the “open” fishbowl where one chair is left vacant and someone from the audience can join in and then let someone else sit in.

So…it’s not quite a panel. I’d define panels as audience facing physically, and that changes the dynamic. This reminds me of Sunday morning talk shows that have a round table and they discuss issues while we the audience watch. It’s fun and educational (mostly) to watch a small group discuss an issue from various view points.

Not sure how well it works not having tried one. Building a circle of chairs is easy, but what about the audience? Do they stand, or do you move more chairs in outside the first circle? A good moderator is probably really important in some conversations, not in others. Getting the group together – is that planned, ad hoc, or both?

Anything that facilitates conversation at an event is a good thing, and I’d like to see this one going a few times. Anyone tried it or watched one?


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Bryan Smith on 25 September 2009

One problem I'd think would arise with the audience surrounding the speakers is being able to clearly hear the people you're closest to. Their backs will be to you and in a crowd that's being quiet that could still make it hard for you to hear.

Posted by Andy Warren on 25 September 2009

I guess microphones might solve that? Adds to logistics, but might work.

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