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Panel Discussion: How to Conduct one? (Tips & Examples)

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Panel Discussion: How to Conduct one? (Tips & Examples)

Panel discussions are a classic format that are extremely value-rich. Gathering a group of guest speakers to speak, converse, and reflect on a specific topic is rewarding for both the audience and all those involved in the panel. That being said, if you’re responsible for organizing a panel discussion, it can feel like a pretty impossible task. There are a lot of moving parts from inviting your guests, publicizing the panel, coordinating the event itself, to actually moderating the discussion on the day. In addition, you may think that panel discussions work best in-person which poses a bit of a problem in a COVID world. Luckily, panel discussions actually translate really well to an online format, so you don’t need to worry. This article covers everything you need to know about running a successful virtual panel discussion, with tips for organizing, structuring, and moderating the event.

TL;DR 

  • A virtual panel discussion is a panel discussion that takes place online with a live audience. 
  • The main purpose of virtual panel events can vary from educating, entertaining, to facilitating interesting discussion, showcasing different points of view, and promoting your business organisation. 
  • The advantages of virtual panel events are that you can invite remote panelists, reach a wider audience, and repurpose the HD recording. 
  • A panel discussion event is made up of the panelists, a moderator and your audience.
  • Timing, preparation, a strong moderator, a stellar panel of speakers, and powerful software are the key to a successful virtual panel discussion.

What is a panel discussion? 

A panel discussion is where a group of guest speakers, panelists, come together to speak on a particular topic or issue in front of an audience. The discussion is facilitated and directed by a moderator. Typically, a panel will comprise of industry leaders, a group of experts in the relevant field, or well-known figures in the area of discussion. A good panel will include a diverse range of panelists with differing opinions, since this is the key to an interesting and stimulating panel discussion. At the end of the structured panel discussion, most moderators will leave time for an audience question and answer session too. 

What is a virtual panel discussion?

Virtual panels are the same as any panel event you’ve attended in-person. The only difference is that instead of gathering in a physical event space with an in-person audience, you and your panelists come together through an online platform (such as Riverside.fm) and your audience joins the live stream from the comfort of their own home. 

What is the main purpose of a panel discussion?

Panel discussions often have more than a single purpose. They’re a great way to garner publicity for your own organization or business, but they’re also extremely value rich and offer a chance to listen in on some thought-provoking discussion. Here are just a few of the reasons you might choose to host a panel discussion: 

Educate on a particular topic 

Panel discussions are highly effective ways of educating your audience about a specific theme, question or topic. You are free to choose literally any subject you want to form the basis of your panel discussion, then all you have to do is curate your guest list carefully to ensure you invite a broad range of perspectives. 

Publicity 

Running a virtual panel discussion event is an excellent way to promote your own business, grow your reach, and offer some real value to your existing audience. This is particularly the case if you’re able to invite big names to participate in your panel discussion. 

Offer valuable insight & spark interest 

Panel discussions offer the opportunity to gain valuable insight and listen in on a (hopefully) truly thought-provoking discussion. The centerpiece of any panel discussion is the interaction between your different panelists - this is where the magic happens - and this is what your audience attends for. 

Facilitate interesting and meaningful discussion 

Often, Panel discussions bring together an unlikely group of people. This can result in extremely interesting discussions with new conclusions, perspectives, and ideas being put forward throughout the event. 

Platform different perspectives 

Panel discussions are also an important way to explore and showcase different perspectives and viewpoints on a specific topic. Your panelists will most likely come with unique perspectives from a variety of diverse backgrounds and though you may see some controversy or some opposing views, this is all part of a healthy panel discussion (as long as your moderator keeps everyone in check).

Entertainment

If you’re looking to engage with your audience, Panel discussions can provide great entertainment. Although the format sounds serious, it doesn’t have to be. It all depends what you’re trying to achieve with your virtual panel discussion. 

What are the advantages of a virtual panel discussion?

In general, panel discussions are a highly efficient and effective event format. You can pack a huge amount of value into a single event and facilitate genuinely interesting discussion. Virtual panel discussions do this and more: 

Remote guests 

Hosting your panel discussion virtually means that you can invite panelists from anywhere and everywhere in the world. This means the sky’s the limit when it comes to choosing your ideal panel members. 

Unlimited audience 

A virtual panel discussion means that you don’t have any limits on audience numbers or who your audience are. Audience members located around the world will be able to tune in and you won’t be constrained by the size of your event space. 

Easy & affordable

Virtual panel discussions are even easier and often more affordable than conventional in-person events. You don’t need to rent an event space nor pay your panelists’ expenses. All you need to do is set yourself up with a highly affordable online platform (such as Riverside.fm) and you’re ready to go. 

Repurpose 

Hosting a virtual panel event means that you’ll be able to easily record then repurpose your recording. With Riverside.fm, for example, your event will automatically be recorded locally in full HD, so regardless of you or your panelists’ internet connection you’ll receive a flawless recording. After the event, you’ll be able to cut the video down into clips for social media or repost it on your website for audience members who couldn’t make it on the day.  

What does a panel consist of?

As we said earlier, it can seem like there are a lot of different moving parts when it comes to organizing a panel discussion, so let’s break it down: 

The panelists (aka panel guests)

Your panelists, or guests, are the stars of the show. This shouldn’t be just a random selection of people, but a hand-selected group of individuals who will all add value to the discussion in their own particular way. 

How many panelists are there in a discussion?

When it comes to thinking about your panelists, you’re probably wondering how many people you should invite. There’s no set number, but it’s all a matter of achieving a balance between too few and too many people. Too few panelists will result in a sparse and lackluster discussion, whereas too many will probably mean you’re pushed for time and won’t be able to appreciate each panelists’ contribution. We’d recommend between 3 - 5 panelists as an optimum, but it all comes down to your particular event. 

The audience

Although you could technically run an audience-less panel discussion if you really wanted to, this would slightly defeat the point. The audience is a critical part of any virtual panel discussion, providing additional stimulation for the conversation through their questions. The responsibility for attracting an audience lies predominantly with the event organizer, so you should do your best to build hype on social media ahead of the event and work on your existing leads and audience. That being said, it never hurts to ask your panelists to promote the event on their own individual channels too. 

The moderator (aka the chair or discussant or MC)

Last, but certainly not least, is the virtual panel moderator. A strong moderator is absolutely essential for a successful panel discussion event. The moderator structures, orchestrates, and facilitates the discussion, maintains the momentum, and also ensures that everyone sticks to time. They’ll also field and select the audience’s questions. 

How do you structure a panel discussion?

The way you structure your panel discussion is completely up to you. Your panel discussion moderator will be responsible for following the structure of the discussion and keeping the rhythm and pace. The following is a list of panel discussion ‘elements’ that you can choose to include or omit: 

  1. Audience welcome & introduction. The moderator will welcome the audience, thank them for attending, and address any administrative or logistical matters. They may also give a brief agenda for how the rest of the event will be structured. 
  2. Panelist introduction. You may choose to have the moderator introduce each panelist with a brief background on them. Alternatively, you may ask each panelist to introduce themselves. 
  3. Initial remarks. This is an opportunity for your panelists to present their perspective or position on the topic at hand. 
  4. Moderator questions & discussion. This is the main part of the panel discussion, where conversations flow (at the moderator’s chosen pace). The moderator will direct the discussion through questions and also ensure that each panelist has a chance to contribute. 
  5. Audience Q&A. The moderator will invite the audience to ask questions to the whole panel or certain members. The questions will be chosen by the moderator to ensure maximum interest. 
  6. Summary. The moderator gives some final remarks, thanks everyone for attending, and concludes the event. 

How do you start a panel presentation?

As we’ve seen, the structure of your panel discussion is completely up to you. You could, for example, choose to jump straight into the main discussion, or follow more of an ‘official structure’, by kicking things off with an introduction, welcome, and opening remarks from each participant. 

What are the steps in a panel discussion?

Panel discussions tend to loosely follow the structure we laid out above. That being said, some event hosts may want to encourage more organic and open conversation between the panelists themselves, so the moderator may take a slight step back during the main part of the discussion. An audience Q&A segment is a core aspect of most panel discussions, and this is a natural progression towards the end of the panel discussion.

How to run a successful panel discussion 

Running a panel discussion isn’t easy, so once you’ve put in all the effort, you definitely want it to be worth it. Here are a few tips to running a successful panel discussion: 

Get a strong & reliable moderator 

Your moderator is the key to the success of your panel. Even if you’ve got a super strong panel if you haven’t got a reliable moderator the whole event can fall apart. First and foremost, your event moderator should facilitate interesting, fulfilling and dynamic discussion. But your moderator should also feel comfortable reminding everyone (audience and panelists) of house rules. They should have no qualms ensuring everyone sticks to time, and they should enforce and maintain the tone that you’ve set for your event. 

Keep to time 

Good time management is absolutely essential for a successful virtual panel discussion event. Though time constraints may feel limiting, if you’re not on the ball with your timings, your event will feel unprofessional and sloppy. Ensure to transition swiftly and in a timely manner between different segments of your event and gently remind panelists to stick to time. 

Choose your guest list carefully 

When it comes to virtual panel events, it’s all about quality not quantity. Your panel members should comprise strong panelists who feel comfortable in front of an audience and that are good conversationalists. They should have something interesting to say about the topic of discussion, but also be able to offer interesting insights and reactions to opposing opinions. 

Prep for the panel

As with most things, preparation is the key to success. The better prepared the moderator and the panelists are, the smoother things will go on the day. You should make sure that the moderator is fully informed about the topic of discussion and the panelists should know what to expect. 

Promote your event 

Don’t forget to promote and advertise your event like there’s no tomorrow. In order to maximize attendance to your virtual panel discussion, ensure to post about it across your socials and get your panelists to do the same. 

Use Riverside.fm to host your virtual panel discussion 

Riverside.fm is a browser-based platform that makes hosting and recording your virtual panel discussion simple and straightforward. With Riverside.fm, you’re able to host a seriously high production value event and get a full HD recording out of it. With a Riverside.fm subscription, you get access to a whole array of features that will enhance your panel discussion and help deliver the best experience possible for your audience: 

User-friendly 

Riverside.fm is designed with the user in mind. Whether you’re the host or the guest, the workflows are simple and intuitive, making hosting your virtual panel discussion a breeze. 

Automatic local recording 

Riverside.fm automatically locally records each participant in full HD.  This means that at the end of your panel discussion, regardless of everyone’s internet connection, you’ll have a high-quality recording ready to be published, reshared, and repurposed. 

Screen share & Media Board 

Riverside.fm has a whole range of features that help to amp up the production value of your panel event. Share your screen to add an extra element to your panel discussion (this will automatically be recorded as a separate track), or use the Media Board to integrate sounds, music, or other media. 

Join or host from the mobile app 

If you or your panel guests tend to be on the go, the Riverside.fm iOS and Android mobile apps have got you covered. Join from wherever you are easily, with all the high-production features available to you from your smartphone. 

Note: Hosting is only currently possible from the iOS app. 

Live audience call-in 

As we’ve seen, a major element of a panel discussion is audience participation. Riverside.fm makes it super easy to include your audience in your virtual panel discussion with the live audience call-in. This allows an audience member to join the call temporarily to ask their question and interact with you and your panel members. 

Magic Editor 

Once you’ve finished with your panel discussion, chances are you won’t want to sit down to a long-editing session. That’s where Riverside’s Magic Editor comes in, getting your recording publication-ready in just a matter of minutes. 

Check out this panel reflecting soccer legend, Maradona. This was recorded with Riverside, and as you can see is in high-quality, even though all participants are in different locations. 

3 Tips to Improve Your Panel Discussions

Know why you’re running your event 

You need to pin down the purpose of your panel event. Even if it’s simply ‘to entertain’, establishing the ultimate goal of your virtual panel discussion will help you to create a cohesive tone of voice and atmosphere on the day, which will lead to a more on-brand discussion. This will also assist you in promoting and marketing your event to an appropriate target audience, as well as strengthen your messaging around the event itself. 

Prep your moderator & your panelists 

As we said earlier, it pays to be prepared. Not only should your moderator do thorough research in order to be highly knowledgeable about the discussion topic, but they should be extremely familiar with each panelist’s expertise and background. This will help them to draw out the best in each speaker and thus create a more fruitful discussion. As far as possible, you should aim to introduce the moderator and the speakers to one another ahead of event day. You should also try to walk everyone through what to expect, including what software you’ll be using and how to use it. 

Don’t overstructure the discussion 

It can be tempting to try and micro-manage every aspect of your panel discussion. Whilst this can work to an extent, you don’t want the discussion to wind up as a series of long and unconnected presentations by each speaker. Instead, you want to encourage an open and organic discussion in which the speakers are bouncing off one another. 

This Pop Culture Show panel with Backstreet Boys singer, Brian Littrell and his wife Leighanne & son Baylee makes for a great example to see how a panel should flow. The hosts made sure the questions ran smoothly and that the panel discussion sounded natural.

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