The 5 Most Often Asked Questions about In Business Roundtable Discussions

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In February, IB will be bringing readers another roundtable transcript — this one focused on energy. As always, I am grateful to our panelists and also to the sponsors who provide the opportunity for independent, quality discussions to occur and to be recorded by IB.

Who decides who will participate or what questions will be asked? What goes in to putting together such a discussion? Is it scripted? We routinely get these and other questions, so I would like to take you behind the scenes to learn the answers to the five most common questions that both our editorial and our sales staff most often are asked about the roundtables.

  1. How does IB decide who participates in a roundtable discussion?

    The first three seats usually are reserved for representatives of the companies who sponsor the roundtables, which is fitting, as they do make a financial contribution to the creation of this editorial product. However, it is not an advertising product — the seats are not “purchased” in the sense that IB can (and will) guarantee that the sponsoring industry has a voice at the table, but it will not be a predominant voice over the other participant opinions.

    For the February roundtable, for example, both MGE and Alliant Energy made an investment to bring the discussion verbatim (versus by individual interviews) to our readership. However, only MGE was seated at the table; Alliant opted to sit this one out, since the utilities already were represented.

    The remaining seats are always filled at the discretion of our editorial department. We like to bring in different points of view, and we always include at least one business representative, regardless of the topic. In the case of the February roundtable, the CEO of Wave Wind was invited as both sponsor and participant.

    I put together the February group, in consultation with my editors, and we decided to also include Todd Stuart, who represents some of the largest energy users — manufacturers — in the state. When you read the transcript, you will see how and when Stuart disagreed with positions some other panelists took.

    I personally also wanted Paul Soglin to participate — in part because, admittedly, as a former Madison Mayor, he has a lot of visibility and can be counted on for candid remarks that take into consideration government regulations. Now he is in partnership in an energy company in Sauk County, so he also brought a very relevant business edge to the discussion.

    The last seat was offered to Keith Reopelle, senior policy director of Clean Wisconsin, who sat on the Governor’s Task Force for Global Warming. Pretty impressive, eh?

    Sometimes I invite up to eight participants. For a topic as heady as energy, we decided five was sufficient so that they all could well express their divergent views and interests.

  2. Who decides what questions are asked?

    I do. Sort of….

    The conversations are not scripted, nor is there a formal agenda. I collect topic ideas from both of our editors and also our participants; however, panelists are not sent sample questions until the day before the roundtable — with the warning that they likely are not the actual questions. Since we want a free-flowing discussion devoid of formal presentations or marketing posturing, the questions are fluid and will, in fact, change. The discussion is live, and anyone can move it a different direction. As moderator, I can stop the discussion, redirect it, or ask someone to add another comment. No one knows, ultimately, where the discussion will go. But personally, that’s what I find most thrilling.

  3. What gets edited out?

    Uh. Um. Well… you know… well…. as Chuck said… I mean… well, I think… you know? IB also reserves the right to edit for grammar so that our participants can relax and not worry about saying “he and I” when it should have been “he and me,” etc.

    Other than that, we use a “scalpel edit” which is kind of like the Governor’s veto rights. It’s the most sophisticated form of editing, since we don’t allow ourselves the luxury of interview rewrites — a word here, a simple phrase there. We never change the context of the meaning. If someone says, “In the state, here in Wisconsin” — I will shorten it to “In the state of Wisconsin” or, if space is at a premium, to “In Wisconsin.” I only make changes where the meaning is obvious. Redundancies are edited out for both space and fluidity.

    Typically, I need to make 20-plus pages of copy fit into a space created for eight pages of transcript copy. Every word is examined, but the meanings and remarks remain consistent with the order of the discussion, and with tone — with the phrasing and intention of the speaker.

  4. Do people ever get really angry or emotional at roundtables?

    Yes, they do. We’ve had a couple of very notable and quotable back-and-forths. There are flashes of anger or annoyance when we bring two very vocal or strongly opposing sides together, or ask four competitors to sit at a table together to discuss sensitive situations. I usually can break the tension with the quip “and now I have my pull quote” to remind them that their remarks are definitely on the record.

    A lively discussion with pithy quotes, however, is the point of having a roundtable, so I won’t unnecessarily interfere with hearty debate. I trust the professionalism of the group, and besides, there is always a peacemaker sitting at the table. (Usually it isn’t me — it’s someone else less comfortable with confrontation.)

  5. Do you ever have guest moderators?
    No. Initially, as her schedule allowed, we had Phyllis Wilhelm of MGE in the role because she is a professional moderator. However, her responsibilities involve a complex schedule, and ultimately I took the mantle, since our editorial department already was charged with formulating questions, timing and topics. Since it’s one of my favorite roles now at IB, I remain thankful to Wilhelm for setting the bar high, and for establishing our routines and expectations!

    Also, we have only one opportunity, given the investment it takes, and the difficulty in scheduling guests, to record the discussion for our readership, so familiarity with what we have already offered editorially — so that we don’t have redundancy of topic from one issue of IB to the next — is important. A guest moderator (other than Wilhelm) would not know our product well enough, we feel, to ensure that our readers are best served.

Have more questions? E-mail me at We know you will enjoy the February energy roundtable! If there is a discussion you would like to see offered as a future roundtable, contact Jon Konarske at to explore viability and scheduling opportunities.

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