Take your places in the fishbowl!
When congress attendees not only take part but also actively contribute, it occurs thanks to the innovative ideas and expertise of Kongresskultur Bregenz in event organisation, says Urs Treuthardt, director of the regional tourist board, Bodensee-Vorarlberg Tourismus.
The conference format known as the fishbowl is designed to facilitate participative discussion. It's very easy to set up and implement. You arrange chairs in a circle and place a particular number of chairs in the centre – at least three. The fishbowl is ready. The facilitator, or moderator, then asks two attendees to take their places on two of the central chairs and to discuss a given question. The attendees looking in on the fishbowl from outside can join in the discussion at any time by going to sit on vacant chairs in the centre or by standing behind one of the chairs. The person who is speaking at that time can finish what he or she is saying, and then leaves the fishbowl. So whenever a new participant comes to the centre, another always leaves and rejoins the listeners. In this way, different aspects of a given topic get to be discussed from the different viewpoints of the various participants. Conference attendees participate actively.
I like to use the fishbowl format for what I call harvesting after various presentations have been given. It enables participants to discuss matters eye to eye on the same level. The atmosphere is relaxed because everybody can but nobody must take part. But this is also the challenge of this particular format. You have to know there are people in the audience who like communicating with others. If not, the discussion will drag. Apart from that, the format needs a good facilitator who can get the discussion off to a good start with interesting speakers. For this to happen it's perfectly OK for the facilitator to "summon" people to the centre who can be depended on to have something to say about the subject in hand. When the discussion has got going, it is easier for participants in the outer circle to get involved. The facilitator can now and again enliven the debate by throwing controversial topics into the fishbowl. I had the pleasure of taking part in a very successful variant of the fishbowl format at the second MICE Lab at Bregenz Festival House in 2014. The photos speak for themselves.