January 7, 2020
The best online panel discussions bring together complementary speakers to provide multiple perspectives on a topic important to your audience. This guide will help you host a successful panel.
Effective online panel discussions bring together a complementary group of co-presenters to provide multiple perspectives on a topic that's important to your audience. This guide will help you set your panel discussion up for success.
Continue reading for a compiled a list of easy-to-follow tips and tricks to help you plan and execute a successful webinar panel discussion.
Knowing a few tips on how to effectively implement a webinar panel discussion can streamline the process and ensure you don’t miss out on the advantages offered when using this webinar strategy. When planning your next webinar panel, keep these key suggestions in mind to optimize results, both for your audience as well as your speakers. Begin with pre-show pointers, such as:
Give your audience what it wants!
The first step in planning a successful webinar panel discussion? Think about your audience.
Often times, a session host may fill the time with personal contacts and affiliates who may not have anything relevant to offer to listeners. Consider the goal of your event (aka – the reason why people have signed up to begin with).
Knowing the purpose of your webinar panel will keep you focused on finding panelists who add to the core conversation, not detract due to their own personal agenda.
Some webinar hosts find that best way to focus on the audience is to ask for their input.
Having numerous panelists can mean running long on time, or missing critical topics altogether. Before your session, reach out to both potential and existing registrants to inquire about what they’d like to see and hear most when the tune in. Online surveys and emails can go a long way in letting listeners know that you value their time as well as their input.
Once you recognize what you’re hoping to achieve, it’s time to create your list of prospective webinar panel speakers. One of the biggest benefits to hosting a webinar panel is that you get to choose the best speakers for your cause.
Don’t settle for simply scrolling through options you already have a professional relationship with.
Dream big and be bold. If there are industry experts who you know can add value to your session, reach out and ask if they’d be willing to participate. Adding well-known names to your agenda increases registration numbers as well as actual attendance on game day.
Additionally, don’t go for a webinar panel of speakers who will all offer the same thing, or agree on everything. Diversify your discussion by including presenters with varying perspectives and opinions.
Convening a wide range of viewpoints can encourage active discussion and debate, both with each other as well as with members of your audience.
Anyone who has ever hosted a webinar understands that strategic preparation plays a vital role in overall success.
This holds true when including a webinar panel discussion. As soon as you have your list of presenters, you will want to begin coordinating the schedule, pinpointing individual strengths, and itemizing key objectives.
Know your time: Putting together an outline that sticks to the time allotted can prove challenging. Don’t wing everyone’s time slot. Put together a very specific outline of speaking order as well as amount of speaking time so nothing’s left to chance when you go live. Your audience will appreciate knowing that you are sensitive to their busy schedules and routines.
Pro Tip: Tell your webinar panel speakers ahead of time that you’ll send them a conspicuous signal (such as a private chat message) a few minutes before their time is done to keep them on track.
Do your topic research: Just because you aren’t carrying the conversation, doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to it as needed. Prepare for the webinar panel by carefully researching the topics being covered throughout your webinar. Your insight or varying perspective can add a new layer of interest with your audience.
Prepare slides: Yes, you will want your speakers on camera when they are talking but you should also include some visual resources as well to strengthen the overall audience impression. Work with your individual presenters to determine if they will be providing visual materials and slides for their discussions. If so, you will want to have access to them before the function so you can include them in the master presentation. If they don’t provide slides, you will want to create at least one for them. A simple slide with their name and topics can add a visual component to their conversation to keep listeners engaged.
Create an agenda: Finally, once you’ve developed the speaking order and brushed up on the latest topic information, you will want to create an agenda to share with participants. Highlight at least 3-5 main points so they know what to expect when they tune in. Before your function, you will also want to provide a copy to speakers as well to manage their expectations.
You may or may not be the main attraction at your webinar panel discussion; however, it’s still your webinar panel discussion. As the host, you will have certain responsibilities to your audience – effectively opening the session is one such obligation.
Once again, don’t wing it or you may risk losing them before you even get started. Plan ahead and get creative with your session opening.
Don’t simply reiterate the topic ideas; give a brief overview that details the value offered during the session as well as highlight any important instructions they will need as the event progresses. Your opening is also the time where you will emphasize when question and answer sessions will be held so you can manage expectations accordingly.
As the webinar panel host, you’ll want to practice as many event segments as possible to ensure a seamless experience.
While it may prove difficult to convene all your speakers for at least one dry run, it’s worth the effort. This is especially true if you will all be speaking from remote locations.
Even the most polished speaker may find himself struggling to effectively take over the conference from a technology perspective. A brief run through with your panelists can save invaluable time (and embarrassment) when you all go live.
In addition to pre-webinar panel planning, you will also have to consider how to manage the actual event itself. Once again, a little advance preparation can yield impressive dividends. When you go live, remember:
No matter how much planning you do, you will probably still have to moderate at various intervals throughout the session. Stay focused and facilitate as needed to sustain momentum and smooth out potential hiccups.
Most importantly, it’s your job to ensure all of your webinar panel speakers get their allotted time. You need to make sure they get the individual attention they all deserve. Stay on your toes to prevent more assertive webinar panel speakers from dominating the conversation.
Speakers on your webinar panel should never have to introduce themselves. That’s your job.
Give a brief overview on each panelist that includes name, company, area of expertise and specific topics each person will address during his/her presentation. Not only will the introduction pique the interest of your audience, it will also help your speakers stay on track and get to their respective points quickly.
You should always include Q&A segments in your webinar to increase interaction with your participants.
Question and answer components can break up the monotony, captivate the crowd, and instantly boost energy levels (which, inevitably, do dip a bit as the conference goes on).
Don’t allow each panelist to answer every single question asked. Listening to the same answer again and again is a surefire way to lose participants. Instead, give 1 or 2 presenters the chance to respond. Then, get the conversation moving forward to the next inquiry.
While you’ll want to encourage your listeners to ask questions during your webinar panel, you may want to consider having a few of your own inquiries on hand as well.
You can’t predict what will or won’t be ask once you go live. Having thought provoking questions for each of your speakers at the ready can keep the function progressing and offer an interesting viewpoint to your listeners.
Some presenters simply won’t be able to resist the opportunity to pitch their personal interests and products.
It’s crucial to remember that everyone who registered for your event is expecting to focus on a specific topic. The last thing your audience wants to listen to is a sales pitch from every speaker on your panel. If your webinar begins to feel like a giant infomercial, you may suffer irreparable damage to your brand. (As well as lose participants at record speeds.)
Just before you go live, reiterate your expectations to each panelist. If you do sense the conversation sliding into the realm of unabashed advertisement, do your best to organically direct the discussion back to your original focus. Your audience will thank you.
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