Updated: Jul 24
When was the last time you really connected to a webinar or online event? Was it before the Covid-based digital overload? Or are you one of the lucky few who has found meaningful content in an endless stream of lame events, boring panels, and lackluster webinars?
Regardless of your answers to the above, it is self-evident that most panel conversations fail to build engagement, garner an interesting conversation, or at the very least are free of technical issues and broad oversights.
The reasons for online panel discussions missing their mark are often not as complex as they seem, and if addressed accordingly can be resolved to bolster brand appeal and position key executives as budding thought leaders and industry influencers.
In Part I of this VI part series of what we’re calling “How to host and produce a live digital event people want to watch,” we’ll begin to dive into what shapes the panel, and how, with some planning and critical foresight you can avoid easy mistakes and produce an engaging conversation.
In the build-up to this article, my co-author and I discussed many of the elements that turn a panel from plain jane to extraordinary.
From finding the right mix of personalities, utilizing channel partners and corporate executives to blending specialties and on-screen presence, each factor plays a vital role in the feel and eventual engagement of a digital event. However, these elements must be considered only after you define who your audience is and what you intend to achieve through the conversation.
Banter is great, but if you don't know whom you're speaking to, the objectives and budget get lost very quickly.
Identify your audience
It might seem simple, but many go into the planning stage of a digital event without clearly identifying their audience and how to communicate with them. While it's great to get flashy names and polished graphics to support an event, it's even better to hone in on exactly what your target market is looking for and how to pull at their heartstrings.
To simplify the process, we suggest some basic segmentation to square it into the most refined image of your ideal attendee. In practice, the small-time spent at this stage will pay significant dividends as the process moves forward. A good way to start thinking about who will resonate most with your digital event can include but is not limited to identifying:
Relevant industries and sectors
The clearer you are in defining your core audience at this point, the greater chance you have of catering the structure, questions, and personalities on the panel to your customers' direct needs and pressure points.
Running a webinar is more like crafting a fine wine than winning the lottery. If produced correctly it is almost like a science rather than a game of chance, but only if the perimeters are clearly defined.
Just like the expectations of a good wine hinge on the market which must consume it, you must also set realistic expectations for your panel's aims. From promoting brand awareness, framing your executive as a thought leader, increasing leads and web traffic to building a LinkedIn following or just diversifying the forms of content being internally produced, all have value and must be approached differently.
Some quick tips and tricks;
If you intend to increase your brand awareness, consider the role your product offering or solution plays in the intended conversation. Be careful as a hard product push will dissuade many, especially in IT.
If you intend to increase web traffic, consider offering additional resources such as review blogs or video clips to provide additional value to attendees.
If you intend to promote your executive as the central thought leader in the conversation, consider more actively the personality blend to ensure your executive remains center stage in the discourse.
If you intend to increase your LinkedIn following, consider hosting or live streaming your event as a LinkedIn live.
If you intend to get leads, consider a longer promotional period with a discount or product offer given to attendees.
Of course, always remember to keep your target audience in mind and why and how anything you offer will be of added-value to them.
Choosing a Topic
Will your event get sucked into the news cycle or navigate the delicate balance of so-called evergreen content to provide lasting value for you both now and in perpetuity?
Understanding how to walk the line between hyper-timely conversation and a panel that can serve many purposes for your marketing strategy is key in both choosing a compelling topic and having it serve your ultimate goals (as defined above).
When you're in the brainstorming stage, kicking around ideas and attempting to thread the needle between available personalities and interesting content you should consider:
How technical is the idea you are trying to convey? Depending on your aims, this could be a crux to building industry appeal and you may need to brief the panelists more to ensure all concepts are clear.
Does the topic have a cross-over appeal to multiple sectors? If so, the panelists should reflect this diversity in their potential understanding of pressure points, etc.
How politically charged is your topic?
How does the topic complement your product offering or thought leadership base?
Building the panel
After refining your intended audience and the goals of your event, it is finally come time to pick the faces of your panel or digital conversation. That wasn't so hard, right? Well, maybe it wasn't a walk in the park, but either way now comes the fun part.
While there is no one-size-fits-all policy on how to form the ideal panel, we’ll attempt to give some advice that can (in general) help maximize engagement and promote the most fluid exchange between participants and attendees.
Depending on the topic, expertise, and time, there are countless ways to breakdown the format, but from our experience, the sweet spot for a dynamic and entertaining panel discussion involves:
4-5 panelists maximum. The more people in the room, the less opportunity each has to give over well-formed insights, so in this case, less is more.
To increase panel visibility, try to include a member of the press as either a participant or panelist.
To build industry support, consider having an influencer or analyst as a featured commentator.
To set the stage for your company to be seen as technologically aware, consider using a company CTO or other technical leader for more technical conversations vs. a CEO for a broader innovation or market pressure point discourse.
Don't waste the role of the moderator. Consider using either a seasoned PR professional or bringing in a dynamic industry expert to frame the conversation.
Balancing competing personalities
Once you have set your goals and (as a direct result) refined a topic for consumption, it's important to start thinking about not only the names and faces of the panel but how they will interact.
Getting an industry-recognized expert or even decent media coverage is not enough for your panel to succeed. More often than not, the success of any event is closely tied to preparing and balancing the egos and personalities of the speakers. To make the most of the time and opportunity every measure must be taken to provide a polished final product.
In practice, this means more than writing panel briefs (we’ll touch on this in upcoming chapters) and getting the graphics right. Based on experience, the best way to troubleshoot and build a report is to set some rehearsal time. Get to know the individuals you are featuring and understand their quirks.
Enhancing the dynamic and creating the right blend of personalities for your event can be as simple or complex as you choose to make it, but some consideration and preparation can go a long way in bridging the gap.
Some tips you may want to consider when attempting to blend personalities could include:
Set up individual or group rehearsal times. This can build a dynamic among the panelists as well as allow the moderator to ask important questions.
Always ask if there are topics that are beyond the panelist's scope or that they do not want to comment on. Avoiding missteps here pays massive dividends in the future.
Try to mix the order of commentaries during the presentation. This allows better exchange between the panelists.
Provide the entire panel with a complete panel brief including
The process of creating a live event that gets people thinking, attendees engaged, and panelists talking doesn't happen overnight. However, with much preparation and clarity in your objectives, the opportunities stand to elevate your brand and create major engagements for your live events.
Stay tuned for part II of How do you host and produce a live event that people want to watch? Preparations soon.