What is it?
In this light hearted and highly interactive format, experts rotate quickly through tables of attendees, explain their work in an accessible way and answer questions. Attendees rate the experts against set criteria so ‘winners’ can be awarded at the end of the event.
- Excellent level of attendee-expert and attendee-attendee interaction
- Fun, energetic and playful format
- Humanises and represents diversity and personality of experts, excellent for early career researchers
- Can become repetitive for experts
- Unable to dig deeply into a single issue
Umbrella-level concepts that span disciplines (climate, neuroscience, medicine, technology – these can be unpacked in many ways)
You will need:
- 6-8 experts, well briefed in the format with expectations agreed clearly
- A cafe style venue with tables to seat 6-8 people, one chair reserved for an expert at each
- A strong compere and carefully planned running order (draw a map!)
- Forms and pens at each table for attendees to ‘score’ experts
How it works (120 minute format):
(10 minutes) Facilitator introduces the event, the overarching theme, the format and the scoring criteria (note: I suggest multiple criteria with a mix of playful and serious, eg: “Coolness of work, importance of work, how engaging are they, how creepy is their work” – that way awards can be spread at the end of the night and the tone stays light).
(20 minutes) Each speaker gets 2-3 minutes to introduce themselves and give an overview of their work (no presentation aids!). This is to avoid them having to give the same spiel at every table. If desired, a rolling powerpoint can have a face photo of each researchers and a one-liner about their work – to keep reminding attendees of what was said/who is coming up next at their table.
(65 minutes) Experts rotate through tables of attendees – you need to do the math about how many tables/how many experts/how much time to give this. Facilitate changes strictly (a buzzer/countdown timer helps).
(10 minutes) Intermission – collect the scores and frantically collate them! I suggest awarding only one prize per expert (this takes judgement from the facilitator, but can be done secretly to avoid dented pride).
(15 minutes) Awards – make a show of this – thanking all experts for their contributions and time – when each award is given, the expert is invited up to the stage to reflect on the most interesting questions they were asked on the night.
Watch out for:
Brief experts carefully on the format, its expectations and benefits from the very outset – their preparation does not need to be intense but they must understand the way the evening works. It can be a brilliant way to introduce early career researchers to public engagement, but I’ve also seen high-profile professors absolutely clean up the voting and use the opportunity to promote their research strongly.
Have a distinct plan for seating audience as they arrive and make the initial explanation by the MC crystal clear about the rotations and timing. Fixing things on the fly is hard.
Too many similar experts: I saw this format attempted at a science festival with 15 (!) researchers from the same department (!). After the third expert who worked on the same project, our group fled in the interval.