Panel discussions are one of the most popular types of webinars with virtual audiences. In fact, almost one in four respondents (24%) to the 2020 Redback Report nominated panel discussions, featuring a moderator and two or more presenters, as their favourite type of webinar.
The key to a successful panel discussion is to create a more active experience via an informed debate that canvasses a range of opinions and shares useful knowledge. If you can get some repartee going between participants, so much the better.
Here are 6 of our favourite strategies for creating a successful panel webinar:
Remember Your Audience
When it comes to planning a panel discussion, the first thing you should do is think about your audience: what problem are you trying to solve, or what issue are you trying to address?
While your speakers are key, make sure they stay on topic so your webinar delivers what it promised.
A good way to gauge how engaged your audience is with your debate and individual panelists is to run polls during your webinar.
This can provide valuable information for your moderator in terms of the topic areas that are creating the most interest, and the impact your speakers are having on your audience.
Choose the Right Topic
A panel discussion should be about presenting differing points of view, thoughts, ideas and solutions. Consider choosing a topical or controversial issue that will provoke debate, differing opinions and even conflicting views (but make sure your moderator is on top of the subject matter and confident enough to keep it cordial).
Good panel topic ideas can be sourced from current affairs, regulatory changes or other topical events in your sector, research studies, ebooks and whitepapers, detailed blogs, media reports, popular pages on your website, and online forums. Consult with key stakeholders, including staff, because the more input you collect, the more relevant your topic will be.
If you can address the important questions your audience has, you’ll go a long way to creating a comprehensive debate that will keep them engaged.
Choose the Right Speakers
Presenting information and speaking to a virtual audience creates its own challenges. Speakers need to engage with attendees as though they’re in the same room, without benefiting from the energy a live audience brings with it.
Our research shows that almost three quarters of webinar attendees (74%) rate passion and good online delivery as the most important qualities in a speaker, with knowledge of the content their presenting a distant second at only 22 per cent.
It’s a good idea to invite speakers from different sides of the argument, with different perspectives, skills and backgrounds to ensure they’ll approach your topic from different points of view.
But remember, your audience wants to hear about your topic, not about your speaker, so make sure you clarify your expectations to each panellist, and brief your moderator thoroughly as well.
It’s also important that everyone gets a fair share of the spotlight so don’t go overboard when it comes to the number of panelists — a minimum of two and a maximum of four is usually enough.
Choose the Right Moderator
Your moderator’s role is to welcome the audience, introduce the speakers and your topic, and control and lead the discussion without taking any particular point of view.
Your moderator should take a back seat and let your panellist take the spotlight. They also make sure the discussion remains genial, and make sure that no single voice dominates an argument and all perspectives are heard.
As well as keeping the discussion flowing, a moderator should make sure the audience remains engaged by inviting them to participate in polls and Q&A at predetermined times. They should manage questions from your audience, and make sure any questions are properly answered by your panelists.
An effective moderator should have a good knowledge of your topic areas, and the issues affecting the business and its industry sector, including the relevance it has to each of your speakers so they can prepare intelligent questions and segues to keep the event flowing.
They may also need to fill, or ad-lib, if there are any delays or technical glitches.
Train Your Presenters
Presenting to a virtual audience requires the ability to engage viewers through a camera or webcam. Rehearse this skill by having your panellists practice presenting via webcam or in the studio, and watching the footage prior to your online event — it’s the best and quickest way to improve speaker delivery and engagement.
Let your speakers know the goals and objectives of your webinar, which will help them choose the most appropriate content. Talk through what they’ll discuss individually, and organise a pre-event get-together with your moderator so everyone has an idea of the key areas of focus and how their input will add to your overall narrative.
A pre-event run-through will also give you a chance to walk through the webinar together, and improve the interpersonal dynamics between your speakers and your moderator.
How to Host a Panel
For panel-style discussions and debates we often recommend presenters are seated at a desk in a studio, but you can still have some (or even all) of your speakers joining remotely.
Panel discussions at a studio desk enable you to canvass a broad range of opinions in a collective virtual discussion.
They also bring all your presenters together, which can encourage a more dynamic discussion.
Your set can also be designed so panellists can sit an appropriate physical distance from each other but be brought together thanks to the wonders of camera angles and editing.
Your studio producer can dial in remote presenters as required, and it’s easy to cut to pre-recorded segments as well, creating variety for your viewers.
Studio broadcasts are also a great way both to differentiate your content from that of your competitors and to keep your audience engaged because they allow you to customise how you stage your virtual event and present it in the most visually appealing way.
Be prepared to take questions
The ability to interact with presenters is a key reason people enjoy webinars, so ask if your webinar provider allows you to take questions through tools like live chat and virtual chat rooms.
If you’re filming your panel in a studio a great way to boost engagement is to play pre-recorded TV-style video questions. Video questions are a very popular format with webinar viewers because both speakers and attendees get to see the person asking the question, which creates a greater connection. A participant who takes the time to record a question and send it in, usually has a good question to ask, so it can be a great way to stimulate debate.
You can also ask for questions before your event and share them with your panelists so they can prepare their answers and gather further relevant points for discussion.
Another option is to set up virtual chat rooms where the discussion can continue after your formal event has finished.
While putting together a webinar panel might seem a lot of work, by following these simple six steps you’ll be well on your way to creating an intelligent debate that will provide a valuable opportunity to engage your audience in a unique and entertaining way.