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A virtual panel discussion can seem like a conversation amongst the panelists with absolutely no regard for the audience.  But there is no reason NOT to include the audience, even if the panelists can’t see them!  Here are ten ways to engage the audience:

  1. Play to the camera.  Take advantage of the “frame” of the screen.  Talk directly to the camera just like you are talking to the audience.  Show your facial expressions, make gestures within the “frame,” lean in when you want to talk, and lean back when listening.  Slightly over-exaggerate your reactions to what your fellow panelists are saying.
  2. Take a poll.  Sure, you can take a poll with the platform’s functionality. But why not spice it up with a  poll asking the panelists to do something – and ask the audience to do it as well (even if we can’t see them!). Grab a red, yellow, green object, raise your hand, thumbs up/down, etc.
  3. Annotate a screen share.  When sharing a screen, you can ask the panelists and audience to “annotate” the screen to select among options or share a preference.
  4. Use a whiteboard.  Ask the panelists (and audience) to answer a question, vote on a poll, or share an idea using a dry erasable whiteboard – or just a white piece of paper!  (I like to send the whiteboards out to the panelists ahead of time so we’re all using the same type of whiteboard).
  5. Show a prop.  Ask the panelists to bring in something to show that will enhance an idea, reinforce a point, or represents a model.  Talk about leaning in!  The audience will lean in to look at what you are holding up to the camera!
  6. Switch gears.  Adults get bored, so change it up every six to ten minutes to keep it lively.
  7. Change backgrounds.  Keep it interesting by changing your background between segments.  You can easily create visual variety with virtual backgrounds.  I have a VooDrop where I can easily flip over the backdrop!
  8. Queue the questions.  When questions flow in, let the panelists and audience know the order of who is in line to speak.
  9. Use the chatbox.  Especially for the audiences you can’t see, ask a question, or take a poll while asking them to comment in the chatbox.  Then read a sample of the comments and riff off the audience!
  10. Go to breakout rooms.  Especially with large groups, it’s hard to have a meaningful conversation.  So send the audience to a smaller breakout group with a specific question for more meaningful discussion.

For more resources on moderating panel discussions, visit the Knowledge Vault. To have Kristin moderate your next panel, visit the Powerful Panels official website.

Related Articles:

How to Moderate a Virtual Panel Discussion

How to Create GREAT Questions for Your Panelists to Answer during Your Panel Discussion

How to Structure a Panel Discussion

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Kristin ArnoldKristin Arnold
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.
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