Does it feel like no one is really attending your 30-60 minute webinars anymore? Does your video content seem long, or dry? Do you have an in-depth technical topic that takes some nuance to communicate? Are your SMEs (subject matter experts) sick of zoom interviews, or sitting for interviews in general? Maybe you're just looking for a different format to mix things up a bit?
I recently went to my first in-person work related event since the beginning of the pandemic and it was AMAZING. Honestly I didn't even realize how much I missed being around peers, learning and connecting. No matter how good our digital tools are, I think most of us realize that they just don't quite match the special things that happen when you're face to face connecting with fellow humans.
Since those opportunities are only tiptoeing back, most of us are still bridging our zoom lives while trying to make real connections with customers and prospects in a way that feels authentic and valuable. For those of us still managing a lack of in-person events with a need to connect with prospects and clients, a panel discussion can be a great option.
WHY Host A Panel Discussion
We're all familiar with the effectiveness of a panel discussion. At a conference, I often look for these first. A group of experts offering different perspectives on a topic I'm interested in? Sign me up!
A panel discussion can be a great bridge for your team if you're facing any of the challenges above, or wanting to connect with your audience in a new way. A panel is particularly helpful for communicating about an in-depth or dense topic, or offering different perspectives on a controversial topic where even experts may disagree.
While a video panel isn't quite as good as an in person event, it can run a close second. The same great benefits of hearing a group of experts putting their minds together around a topic provides really rich education and engagement opportunities for your audience. Also, unlike an in-person event, you can control the production and re-package your video for multi-purpose use post event. You can gate the resource and use it to collect email addresses, you can transcribe it and turn it into a white paper, you can cut it up into ads, or smaller pieces of content, the sky is the limit.
So how do you put a panel together?
Nuts and bolts
These 7 steps will ensure that you can deliver a well-produced panel discussion that looks and sounds great, and impresses your audience.
- Scheduling: This is probably the simplest and most painful step. We suggest limiting the panel to 3 participants so that you can actually get on their calendars, and so that people can hear different perspectives without struggling to keep up with too many voices.
With the moderator, having four faces on a panel is easy to look at and follow, and is symmetrical. Things get a little crazy and even cattywampus when you start getting into 5+ participants, and inevitably people start speaking over each other.
- Prepare: Once you have your date set, and SMEs and moderator scheduled, you need to work on your content or script.
Our post on how to conduct a great interview provides great tips and tricks for interview prep including research, question curation, and more. All of this is true here and even more so, as participants will be live or pseudo-live, and you won't have as much editing capability with multiple participants. In addition, consider scripting your conversation more like a webinar than pure interview questions. Knowing in advance what the moderator will be asking and of whom will allow everyone to share without talking over one another, or excessive interruptions and the associated awkward apologizing, which just takes up valuable time.
Other considerations - Will your event be live with questions or discussion? Are you recording it for editing and repackaging? Thinking through the application will help you decide which tools and approach are best for your event.
- Tech Setup: You'll want to think through your tech set up and which platform will work best for you.
• Zoom Webinar - Most of us are probably pretty zoom proficient these days, but if you haven't hosted a zoom webinar, you'll want to practice muting folks, and running through a test event. Then you'll need to record and edit in post-production.
• StreamYard - This is our preferred hosting tool that allows for additions like lower thirds, transitions, and the ability to determine in real time who will be the focus of the stream at any one time. Editing after the fact is simpler and more straightforward, and allows you to get a finished product out very quickly.
- Promotion: If your event is live, don't forget to get people there! There are various ways to do this, including email, paid digital media and more. Make sure to hone in on your target audience and isolate your outreach if your event is topic or role specific. Depending on your goals, make sure to spend any promotional money getting the right people there.
- Event: Standard rules apply here. Whether your event is live or recorded, get there early, run through all the technical details, and make sure your panelists are prepared and comfortable. If you're welcoming guests to a live event, have a plan and instructions for telling them how to participate, and make the rules of engagement clear. Make sure you are recording so that you can relax and enjoy the discussion.
Most importantly, have fun! If you're bored of your topic, attendees will be too. Try to bring out the fun or excitement from your panelists and really draw out their expertise. Encourage stories, examples, and short rabbit trails for interest's sake.
- Post-Production: This will vary by tool, but you'll want to clean up any problematic areas, and if possible edit down unnecessary chatter or interruptions. If appropriate, you may want to run a pre-and post roll, add CTA's (call-to-actions) and even potentially re-record your intro for further use.
- Promotion: Don't forget to complete the cycle. Even if people didn't attend the event, allowing them the opportunity to watch in a resource library, or give their email for access is a great way to continually get an audience in front of your helpful content. You can promote all over again with email, or paid media. Consider CTA's or a pop up on your website as well on key pages.
Like a webinar, a panel can be a great event to re-promote with a recorded video and a live moderated Q&A. Play around to see what's right for your audience!
Recently we hosted a panel discussion for our client, Redapt. They are an end-to-end technology solutions provider that brings clarity to dynamic technical environments. As such, they have very dense, information-rich technical content that they are communicating to a broad audience.
The Sitch: As energy flagged (both internally and externally) for webinars and long-form video content, Redapt was looking for a new creative approach to communicate information about Kubernetes adoption. They also wanted to create content that could be viewed by clients and prospects on-demand in their new video library.
The Solve: We wanted to create a more conversational approach on a dense topic, allow people to hear from the diverse perspectives of experts, and speed up the content creation approach by focusing on conversation more than scripting.
A panel discussion can be a great (and fast) way to add an additional content experience for your audience, and provide a new way to engage with your expertise.