Fishbowl Conversation is great for keeping a focused conversation when you have a large group of people. At any time, only a few people have a conversation (the fish in the fishbowl). The remaining people are listeners (the ones watching the fishbowl). The caveat is that the listeners can join the discussion at any moment.

Running the activity:

  1. Place five chairs in an open area facing each other. The chairs should be in the middle of the room, or around a round table.
  2. Instruct participants on the fishbowl rules:
    “Four people should sit on the chairs. They will start the conversation. One chair is to be kept empty all the time. It is available for whoever wants to join the conversation. When someone sits on the empty chair, someone else (typically the one either sitting longer or less involved in the current conversation) has to leave, vacating one chair. The other participants who are not sitting on the fishbowl chairs cannot get involved in the conversation. They are listeners. If they are to speak, they first have to sit on the empty chair.”
  3. Select a topic for the fishbowl conversation and get started.
  4. Switch topics whenever appropriate. It can be time-boxed or changed whenever the conversation runs out.

We have seen this activity being used in conferences and large group conversations. We find it especially useful for very large group conversations, with pre-selected topics.


Remote-team advice: This activity works well for remote teams. Use a remote board of your choice. Write the name of each participant on a sticky note and define the fishbowl area. The sticky notes in that area represent the talking fish in the fishbowl and should be moved accordingly as people enter and leave the conversation.