Savvy marketers and event managers know that sometimes the best way to communicate with your audience is to let the experts do it for you. That’s why virtual panel discussions are so beneficial for your business — and your audience.
Live events help you create a pipeline for new customers and collect valuable leads. A live panel discussion is even better because it adds value to your audience and establishes your company as a thought leader in its industry. Add virtual event software into the mix, and you’ve got a truly dynamic event on your hands.
But how do you host a virtual panel discussion? And what exactly is a hybrid one?
To answer all your questions about virtual vs. hybrid panel discussions, we’ve got advice from Pauline Mura, Senior Partnership Marketing Manager at Livestorm (and virtual panel hosting veteran).
Livestorm helps teams collaborate and deliver memorable live or on-demand video experiences.
A virtual panel discussion is a type of online event that gathers speakers together to discuss a topic in-depth. Like the in-person version, a good virtual panel comprises speakers with industry experience who can deliver useful insights to the audience.
A virtual panel discussion can be either 100% online or a hybrid event. But what does that actually mean?
A 100% online panel discussion has no in-person attendees or speakers. The event takes place entirely online, hosted using virtual event software like Livestorm. Pauline hosts regular online panel discussions at Livestorm, covering topics like customer onboarding and remote work.
A hybrid panel discussion combines an in-person and virtual event experience. Live audience members are physically present at the event, but many will also join virtually. Hybrid panel discussions have an in-person audience while the speakers join remotely using video streaming software.
Pro tip: virtual attendees can experience both hybrid and virtual panel discussions live or on-demand via a recording.
Just like when you host a webinar, recording your event gives your audience more freedom to attend in a way that suits them. For Pauline, this flexibility is the best thing about hosting events online.
Livestorm helps teams collaborate and deliver memorable live or on-demand video experiences.
So, you’re thinking about taking your panel discussion online. But how do you go about hosting it? Let’s take a look at Pauline’s advice for virtual panel best practices.
The best platform for a virtual panel discussion is Livestorm, of course! But we don’t say that lightly, because choosing the right virtual meeting platform is key to hosting a successful event.
Attendees are 21% less committed to free online events, according to Blizzabo, which means there’s a strong chance they won’t show up. But Livestorm can help you promote your event properly and will send automated email reminders so no one slips through the cracks.
Not only that, but Livestorm is primed for audience engagement. “I love to see the audience using emoji reactions when panelists are talking,” says Pauline. “It's a fun way to get people to engage with the topic, show support, and create a sense of atmosphere.”
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To keep your audience engaged, you’ve got to make sure they feel included. A panel discussion should never just be a conversation between speakers.
“I use polls to find out what the audience’s biggest challenges are and make sure the panel tackles them,” says Pauline. “It works really well because the audience gets to steer the discussion into areas where they need support.”
As the host, it’s your job to make the most of your virtual event platform’s engagement features—and make sure there’s time for a Q&A at the end.
Pro tip: a carefully placed call-to-action (CTA) button will help you engage customers and drive conversion. In some virtual event platforms, like Livestorm, you can add a CTA button to appear during the event, giving your customers the chance to visit your website or even sign-up for your newsletter or product demos.
To moderate a virtual panel discussion, you need to get organized. Nobody likes an event that drags on later than planned, so keep to time and research relevant questions to keep panelists on topic.
“I always interview my panelists ahead of the event to help me prepare a script. That way I can decide in advance which questions to ask each speaker. Sometimes I have to cut questions to keep to time, but that’s easy to do if I'm prepared,” says Pauline.
You can also appoint a co-host to act as tech support and chat moderator to make sure you can focus on the speakers while someone else engages with audience questions.
Pauline’s number one tip for moderating a virtual panel discussion is simply “have fun!”. Because if you’re enjoying yourself, your audience is more likely to have a good time too.
The most engaging virtual events use gamification methods like awarding points to audience members who ask questions and interact with polls. You and your audience will get the most out of your panel discussion if you give them plenty of opportunities to use engagement features like automated Q&A and emoji reactions.
Choose your virtual panelists based on their industry experience and communication skills. “Speakers should be experts in the topic, and if they have a large social media following, that’s even better,” says Pauline.
Panelists with public speaking skills and a big platform are best placed to capture the attention of your audience and drive registration figures. Before you book your speakers, ask yourself the following questions:
Pro tip: when choosing panelists, diversity isn’t just a buzzword. A diverse range of voices allows for more dynamic conversation and will resonate with a wider audience.
Hosting a hybrid panel discussion is challenging because you have to ensure your virtual audience and your live audience have a synchronized experience. Get your burning questions answered below.
The best platform for hybrid panel discussions depends on your venue, audience size, and return on event (ROE) goals. Hopin is a strong contender, as it offers a customizable reception space and booths for smaller interactive sessions, which may make your virtual attendees feel more engaged.
Livestorm has benefits, too, including a new feature for speakers to scan a QR code to join the moderator chat on their mobile device, which Pauline loves. She says, “now I can focus on the speakers but still keep an eye on what’s going on with my audience”.
The major benefit of hybrid panel discussions is that they can reach a wider audience. But only if you promote your online event.
The first step is to use your virtual event platform to create a compelling landing page complete with speaker bios. Then, place a banner on your website to attract registrations from a captive audience.
You should also set up automatic email reminders and be sure to sync with social media platforms. “At Livetorm we use Zapier to integrate with LinkedIn,” says Pauline. “So, anyone who signs up through the LinkedIn event will automatically register through Livestorm.”
It may sound complicated to livestream your event, but if you have strong software and a steady internet connection you’re already halfway there.
Make a list of the lighting, camera, backdrop, and microphone requirements well in advance, and plan a test run. “Always take the time for a dry run,” warns Pauline. It can be tough syncing up everyone’s availability, but you need to run through everything ahead of time to save errors on the day.”
Pro tip: Social media tools like Instagram Live or YouTube Live offer free livestreaming, but dedicated video conferencing software is more likely to offer an integrated audience experience.
When welcoming speakers, keep it short, accurate, and interesting. “I like to keep the introductions really short so that you can dive right into the event and avoid running over time,” says Pauline.
That said, there’s always time for an icebreaker. Pauline often starts by sharing a statistic with a missing figure and asking the panelists to vote for the right number using a poll. She says, “it’s really good for sparking discussion and breaking the ice while getting straight into the topic.”
If you’re worried about facilitating a hybrid Q&A you’re not alone. 50% of event organizers find moderating a Q&A across two audiences challenging, according to Blizzabo.
But your event software should come with features like Q&A upvoting to help make virtual attendees feel included. “I encourage virtual event attendees to use the upvoting feature in the platform so they help us prioritize which questions to answer,” says Pauline.
“I choose the most upvoted questions and always click the ‘answering live’ button to make sure that the audience member’s question appears on the screen.”
Pro tip: always leave 15 minutes for a Q&A and let your audience know how to participate in advance.
Now you know the difference between virtual panel discussions and hybrid panel discussions. But which is better for your business?
Hybrid virtual panel discussions give participants the flexibility to participate in their preferred format. They can also be more rewarding for hosts and speakers, who enjoy the live reaction of an in-person audience.
That said, hybrid events can be tricky to facilitate without causing virtual attendees to have a less engaging experience. Plus, you’ll face steeper costs when booking a venue, duking it out with livestreaming tech, and covering speaker travel expenses.
100% online panel discussions are cost-effective and ensure everyone has the same experience. With a virtual event, you’ll also have more scope to try out engagement features like emoji reactions and virtual Q&A sessions, since everyone will be using the same tools.
So, if you have the budget to spare on venue and equipment costs, a hybrid panel discussion might be for you.
Otherwise, use a virtual event platform like Livestorm to host completely flexible, synchronized virtual panel discussions that will drive conversion and provide added value to your customers.
A panel discussion is when expert speakers gather in front of an audience to discuss a topic in-depth. But Zoom isn’t the only virtual panel discussion platform out there! Other video conferencing platforms like Livestorm are also well suited to hosting panel discussions.
Livestorm has hosted many panel discussions online, including _How to Create Product Education Programs that Drive Revenue _which featured panelists like Katya Buratovich, Onboarding Manager at LearnUpon, and Jaclyn Anku, Head of Partner Training & Education @ Gusto.
To lead a successful panel discussion, you should plan ahead and choose your speakers carefully. Here’s how to do it: