Five ways to execute a panel discussion

By Jerusha Shah

Webinars have evolved immensely over the past few years. One of the most popular ways to present a webinar is a Panel Discussion. In fact, our 2021 Redback Report highlighted panel discussions as a preference over single presenter discussions and fireside chats.

The key to a successful panel discussion is to create more active experiences via an informed debate that canvasses a range of opinions and shares useful knowledge. Here are five ways to execute an effective panel discussion.


1. Anticipate your Audience

The first thing you should consider for any virtual event is your audience. No one audience type is the same, and with evolving issues and pain points – your target audience’s needs, and solutions will also change. Consider what problem you are trying to solve, or which issues need to be addressed.

The correct speakers for your event are vital, but it is critical to not stray from your intended webinar topic. This ensures your audience will be satisfied as they will be delivered the content they were promised when they signed up for the event.

A clever way to pick up on how engaged your audience is during your panel discussion is to run polls during your webinar.

Always remember to collect valuable information and feedback from your audience and constantly assess audience satisfaction when it comes to topic areas that create the most interest. We also recommend collecting feedback on the effectiveness of your speakers, and the overall technical delivery of the event.

This feedback will enable you to refine your content and delivery, ensuring satisfaction across attendees and stakeholders alike.


2. Topic Matters

We often see panel discussions on TV shows like ABC’s Q&A or channel ten’s The Project. Something we can observe from these shows is that there are always different points of view represented. Having a one-sided discussion will be sure to fizz out any momentum you have going.

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 relevant).

Relevant panel topics that deal with contemporary challenges or wins are also likely to engage a wider audience. These topics 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. Involving key stakeholders including team members will get you diverse opinions and input to choose the best discussion topic areas that are right for you.


3. Deciding on the Right Speakers

Topics and audiences will always be changing, the one constant that needs to be carefully considered every time is your speakers. Speakers have the grueling task of bringing any topic to life and engaging with the virtual attendees just as they would in a face-to-face event.

Our research shows that 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 presenting a distant second at 22 percent. Therefore, whatever topic you choose, it’s essential to align your speakers and ensure they are subject matter experts who will be able to present effortlessly during the event

It is also essential to provide structure for your speakers, you don’t want them to go rogue and completely off-script. Brief them beforehand to stay true to the topic and confirm which talking points they should place emphasis on. It’s also a good idea to invite speakers with different perspectives, skills, and backgrounds to ensure they’ll approach your topic differently, creating more interest among viewers.

It’s 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.

Some topics will often be mundane or overly complex, regardless of these factors’ speakers should be agile and charismatic to energise the event and draw in the participants.


4.  Train your Moderator and Presenters

Your moderator’s role is to welcome the audience, introduce the speakers and the topic, control and lead the discussion without bias. Your moderator should take a back seat and let your panelist have the spotlight.

Every event is also susceptible to human error or technical glitches and due to this, it’s important to brief moderators on the need to fill or ad-lib. Mistakes happen, it’s a skill to promptly resolve minor incidents on the fly and swiftly move on.

Presenting to a virtual audience requires the ability to engage viewers through a camera or webcam. Rehearse this by inviting your panelists to practice presenting via webcam or in the studio, and watching the footage before your online event — it’s the best and quickest way to improve speaker delivery and engagement.

Set up a pre-event run-through to walk through the webinar with everyone involved in the event and connect your presenter and moderator. This will allow them to align on the end goals and objectives of the webinar.


5. How to Host a Panel

For panel-style discussions and debates we often recommend presenters to be seated at a desk in a studio, but you can still have some (or even all) of your speakers joining in remotely.

Panel discussions presented from 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 panelists 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.

While putting together a webinar panel might seem like a lot of work, by following these simple five steps you’ll be well on your way to creating an impactful debate that will provide a valuable opportunity to engage your audience uniquely and entertainingly.