Host A Stellar Panel Discussion Online To Engage Your Audience
A successful virtual event needs to seamlessly incorporate audio and visual components for a final presentation that builds sustainable brand exposure, recognition, and loyalty. Panel discussions are usually the highlight of any virtual event because it brings together experts in a specific field that attendees want to learn from.
While presenters are the most important pieces of a great virtual event panel discussion, you also need to provide technology to support the message and help attendees engage with the content. Your virtual meeting software need to support a range of content formats like PowerPoints, graphics, Q&A sessions, images, and live virtual panel discussions to host a virtual event for your audience.
Before you put your panel discussion in front of an audience, you’ll need to craft a compelling, thought-provoking session. Let’s look at what makes a great discussion panel and some do’s and don'ts of hosting a virtual event.
Photo by Headway
What Is A Panel Discussion?
A panel discussion is an event facilitated by a panel moderator whose job is to guide a panel of experts and the audience through an engaging conversation about a specific topic.
The panelists are typically considered experts and thought-leaders in their industry. Their job is to share facts, present their opinions, and respond to audience questions. This format offers a unique opportunity for audience members to hear special tips and feedback from presenters that they would otherwise not have received from a traditional virtual presentation or meeting.
Usually lasting for about 60-90 minutes, panel discussions typically happen in real-time with a live audience participating and can be recorded for on-demand viewing. They work well for virtual events because everyone can be in one location or participate remotely via a virtual event platform.
There are many reasons why hosting a panel discussion can be beneficial.
They allow you to offer clarification to your audience on complex issues and topics.
They bring together audience members and industry thought-leaders to engage in meaningful discussion.
They offer a platform for people to ask questions that can benefit others in their industry.
They trigger lively discussions that lead to the development of new ideas.
Remember, a panel is not a set of presentations with minimal audience participation. It’s also not a one-on-one interview with each panelist. It should be a structured, free-flowing conversation that incorporates questions that were previously submitted by the audience and read by the moderator or asked live by audience members.
What Makes A Great Discussion Panel At A Virtual Event?
Virtual panel discussions deliver extensive audience influence and session value, making them a valuable part of any virtual event. You can invite experts in your industry to discuss important topics, and your attendees can learn and interact with presenters along the way. This is a great way to build hype for your event and deliver fantastic information to your attendees.
However, just the thought of planning an outline, coordinating schedules, and lining up the technology needed for a virtual panel discussion is enough to overwhelm even the most seasoned event planners. This is why we put together a few items to consider as you host a panel discussion for your next virtual event.
Take a look at this ultimate guide to hosting a successful panel discussion online and have your virtual discussion planned in no time!
1. Determine Your Panel Objectives
A panel discussion is an integral part of your virtual event’s agenda. Panels offer a wealth of education, engagement, and event interest opportunities. It should never be used as a time filler, last-minute option, or done because it is expected.
Think carefully about your goals for the panel discussion and how it contributes to the day’s agenda. This will help you choose the panelist discussion format that will help you meet your objectives. The topic that you choose should be based on the core message of the virtual meeting since the virtual panel is meant to bring a new perspective to the discussion. This means your virtual panel should be made up of industry experts who can answer questions and provide additional insight to your audience based on the main presentations.
A successful panel needs a dedicated amount of time to account for unplanned discussions, key takeaways, and audience question-and-answer sessions. So it’s essential to pick a specific panel topic to start with and set goals for your virtual event and business.
2. Choose The Best Moderator/MC
The moderator is the single most crucial factor in the success of your panel discussion because they control the flow of information and help steer the conversation to keep attendees engaged and interested.
When moderating a panel discussion, the MC’s job is to create the right chemistry to meet the needs of the panel and set the ground rules while keeping the panel on topic and on time. They should be able to appeal to different viewpoints within a group of people and guide the discussion to ensure both sides are heard.
Consider the tone you want to achieve with your panel, and let the facilitator position questions and set the pace of the discussion between panel members. You may want a firm facilitator to keep everyone in line or a moderator with a journalistic flair to ask probing questions. Or maybe you are looking for someone who is witty and can crack jokes to engage the audience. Either way, they should be able to keep off-topic banter to a minimum and focus on the task at hand.
Ask your Virtual Event platform provider if they would provide a professional moderator to host your panel discussion. Some tech providers, like BeaconLive, will make sure every event runs as smoothly as possible with the help of trained professionals to host your virtual gatherings.
3. Pick The Most Engaging Panelists
Once you have decided on the right moderator, begin curating your panel. Gather a group of experts and industry thought leaders knowledgeable on the subject matter and can work with the crowd and panel members. They should be able to answer questions that arise during the panel discussion and have the following qualifications:
Level Of Expertise: Make sure one of your panelists is a recognized authority in the industry who can establish credibility with the audience.
Previous Experience: Check to see if they have had previous speaking engagements to know how experienced they are with public speaking.
Diversity: Make sure your panel represents the demographic of your audience and offers different perspectives to encourage interesting discussion.
Preparation: Panelist preparation is the difference between a boring panel and an amazing one. Panel members must be willing to volunteer key points and concrete examples.
Communication Skills: Panelists should be natural conversationalists. They should be comfortable with public speaking and appear at ease with discussion. Panelists also should be able to professionally discuss different points of view without alienating anyone.
Once you’ve found your dream team, arrange a conference call with all panel members and the panel moderator. Clarify the purpose of a panel discussion and break the ice between panel members to ensure the conversation runs smoothly on the day of the virtual event.
Test the panel platform, let the fellow panelists get to know each other, and allow the moderator to share the questions they plan on asking. While it’s best not to over-prepare your panelists, having an idea of what they will discuss topics helps keep the conversation fluid without anyone feeling as though they need to ramble to keep the discussion lively.
Concerned about what to do if your panelists don't show up? Read for some de-escalation tips in your last-minute time crunch to execute a perfect and professional event regardless of the circumstances.
Photo by Maxime
4. Secure The Best Tech Platform
Because your panel discussion will be streamed virtually to your audience, it’s essential to use a platform with the capabilities to support both the audience and the stakeholders behind the scenes.
Choose a virtual event platform that is intuitive for you and event attendees. Learn the platform capabilities and determine which are most beneficial to your event. If your audience is new to virtual panels or webinars/webcasts, keep it simple and provide easy access.
Your chosen virtual event platform should include all of the following components to ensure a successful panel discussion:
Fully managed platform with dedicated event staff who will take care of technical issues that come up during the presentation (and there will always be technical issues that come us).
Virtual event accessibility to ensure that your event is accessible by as many people as possible.
Listener counts to see what aspects of the event are most popular so you can improve in the future.
Public or private chat to help facilitate the sharing of information and ideas between attendees in an organized and efficient manner.
Phone dial-in access for people who are not able to attend your event at a computer.
Event lobby to help your moderators control the flow of attendees throughout the day.
Live polling so your audience can interact with the panel to ask questions and provide feedback.
While it is possible to use multiple platforms to market, prepare, and execute your virtual panel discussion, it’s best to trust one company to keep all components of your event in one place and streamline access.
5. Make Your Final Panel Discussion Preparations
Once all the pieces of your virtual panel discussion are in place, it’s time to make final preparations. These steps will allow you to troubleshoot potential problems and prepare your moderator and panelists adequately.
Plan Introductions And Timings
Meet with your moderator individually to discuss panelist introductions and discussion pacing. Decide if panelists will introduce themselves in 30-second intervals or if the moderator will handle that.
Make sure your moderator is prepared with panel questions and knows which panelists should initially answer which questions. Provide your MC with guidance on how to pace the discussion and discreetly signal panelists who are out of time.
Do A Run-Through With Panelists
Arrange a meeting with all panel participants. If streaming live from a venue, make sure all lighting, microphones, and furniture work with the panel aesthetic.
Since panelists are streaming from individual locations, ensure their background and lighting are not distracting and that their technology functions appropriately within the platform. Panelists should have headphones and mics to provide the best audio quality.
Doing a run-through before your next panel discussion will also allow you to help panelists get comfortable with your panel discussion format to ensure the conversation goes smoothly.
Organize Audience Question-And-Answer Session
In-person events typically require microphone movement around a venue. With a virtual panel discussion, you’ll need to plan which method you will utilize for audience member questions.
Utilize a live private chat function within your event platform to allow live audience members to send questions discreetly. This allows you and the moderator to screen questions and pose those you feel add to the discussion.
The Do's And Don’ts Of A Great Panel Discussion
On the day of your virtual panel discussion, be prepared to troubleshoot and step in where needed, just like during an in-person event. Take a look at the do’s and don’ts of a successful panel.
Once the discussion is underway, take notes on what works and what doesn’t. This allows event planners to make informed decisions going forward.
Host A Successful Panel Discussion Today!
Panel discussions have stood the test of time. Now it’s your turn to pull them from the dark ages and host a virtual panel discussion using the most cutting-edge virtual event platform available.
This guide will help you make your next panel discussion the highlight of your event agenda. You will draw in attendees, engage them, and make a significant impact on the success of your next virtual or hybrid event.