I am a huge fan of progressive in-person session formats, especially when they are participatory rather than passive. This blog has covered High-Impact Storytelling (by Nancy Dixon) and Buzz Sessions (by yours truly). Fishbowls are the latest format to peak my interest. In her blog post titled “Unpredictable by Nature“, @kikilitalien links to a wikipedia entry on fishbowls.
There are a few variations, but the gist is that there is both an inner circle of chairs and an outer circle. The outer circle is listening to the inner circle’s discussion. The best way to make it participatory is to leave one of the inner circle chairs open so that a member of the outer circle can take it periodically. When this happens, some member of the inner circle must move to the outer circle so that one chair remains open.
There are several things that I love about this format
- It allows for shy passive learners to remain in the outer circle and just listen
- It allows for selected experts to set the tone for the inner circle
- Inner circle “experts” are likely to ask each other different, deeper, more-probing questions, than an audience would ask of a panel
- The “open” inner circle where a seat is left open allows for outer circle members with a particularly relevant expertise to jump in and provide fresh perspectives
I plan to promote this format at events where I have some influence and will keep everyone posted as to my thoughts after actually experiencing one. If you have tried it, please share your thoughts.
UPDATE 2/7: Thanks to @samueljsmith I experienced a fishbowl at EventCamp10. I thought the experience was very interesting. The group was extremely engaged and the seats changed over well. The biggest challenge to me was that when a new person joins the circle it is because something has sparked their interest that they want to respond to or build on. By the time it is their turn to speak, the conversation has moved on. This leads to a very disjointed conversation where each person is not responding to the person who just spoke.