The tired old conference panel is getting a makeover with the “fishbowl” format


Watching a panel is passive, like watching a movie, while a fishbowl can create a sense of community, says Larissa Conte, founder of Wayfinding, a company that offers leadership coaching, and facilitates workshops and retreats.

Conte and Gabriel Wilson, an organizational coach and founder of Developmental Designs, chose the fishbowl format for their discussion at the Life@Work conference, an event themed around humanizing work and work culture, in Brooklyn yesterday. The result was a candid talk that didn’t end with all the usual niceties and hand wringing that are so standard in talks on race.

Conte and Wilson used a closed fishbowl, but also had the speakers follow the “mutual invitation,” conversation format, in which each person can either pass on a question or answer it within a given time limit before handing the microphone or spotlight on to another panel member of their choosing.

This may sound overly constructed and contrived, because it is. It also worked. The panel members had to listen to each other instead of thinking about how they were one or two persons away from being the speaker up next. The “pass” option allowed the experts to think about an answer and come back to it, or explain why they passed, if they chose to.