4 Ideas to Engage the Audience Before a Virtual Panel Discussion
July 22, 2020
Differences Between Moderating an In-Person and Virtual Panel Discussion
August 2, 2020

The mother of all panel events is San Diego Comic-Con where 6,500 people line up for Hall H.  Wouldn’t it be fabulous if you had a lineup waiting to get into YOUR panel?

This past weekend, SDCC pivoted to a virtual format called “Comic-Con @ Home.”  If anyone is going to do a virtual panel well, it has to be the folks at SDCC.  Fortunately, they created a YouTube Channel with a playlist for each day, so you can binge on panels if you’re interested…But I’ll give you the highlights from a format and process perspective (I’ll leave comments about the content for the fans!).

Even though all of the panels were pre-recorded (which detracts from the real-time user-experience and the ability to interact with the audience), the format enables the panel producer/moderator to be able to do some interesting things with the panel – perhaps things you wouldn’t normally be able to do!

As I binge-watched several panels (not all 350!),

Here are some great ideas that you too can use at your panels (virtual or otherwise):

  • Start on Time. As Beth Accomando noted, “Panels came online at exactly the time they were scheduled. I like that you had to do some form of waiting and everyone who had set up a schedule to follow was sort of experiencing panels at the same time and could pretend to be in the room with friends as we texted reactions.”
  • Video.  Comic-Con has historically shown new movie trailers and never-seen-before footage during SDCC panels.  This year was no different – other than their placement.  Many panels started with a video at the beginning to attract the viewer then added additional footage during the panel.
  • Fan Questions. Some studios, shows, and panel moderators reached out to their communities via social media to ask for questions in advance. Moderator Chris Hardwick would tee up a question as a “fan question” to bring in the audience.
  • Spill Secrets.  Considering these panels are pre-recorded, I gotta think that everything that gets broadcasted is fair game.  So I have to laugh when social media goes crazy when Kevin Smith “lets it slip” that George Carlin, who played Rufus in the first two Bill & Ted movies, appears in Bill & Ted Face the Music.  But fans love to be in the know about future events!
  • Behind the Scenes.  Fans also want to find out what happened…that no one else knows.  They leaned in as Charlize Theron dished about Mark Whalberg puking while stunt driving during the Italian Job (but she didn’t!).
  • Switching.  Rather than keeping the “Hollywood Squares” on the screen for the entire time (which is tiring on the eyes), the video editor would change camera views: spotlight on the speaker, gallery view, just two people who are having a short interchange etc.  Just changing the perspectives creates energy!
  • Template Foreground. Rather than looking at the typical black Zoom screen, several panels embedded the panelists into a “frame” that was branded to the show. The Vikings panel template was most impressive.
  • Backgrounds.  I’m not a big fan of virtual backgrounds, and in this case, I enjoyed seeing the actors, producers, and writers’ real-life backgrounds.  The world they live in.  Elegant?  Tasteful?  Homey?  Chaotic?  Messy?  It adds a depth of character and humanity.  But then again, I love a “splash” of a virtual background that emphasizes a specific point!
  • Multiple Languages. The panel on Mexican Lucha Libre was in Spanish with subtitles whereas a live panel would need translators or simultaneous translation!
  • Grab a Prop. During the What We Do in the Shadows panel, Moderator Haley Joel Osment asked the panel to share their favorite souvenir from the set.  During the Harryhausen 100 panel, Harry had his daughter, Vanessa, run and get a movie model used in his stop motion animation.  You wouldn’t be able to do that at the convention center!

I was particularly struck by   He said, “The panel itself was excellent, a perfect example of how to do a Comic-Con panel in quarantine while keeping things engaging and entertaining.  That’s partially down to the experienced moderator, actor Aisha Tyler, who knows exactly what questions to ask and how to pace these things. But more importantly, the actors and creators on the panel weren’t afraid to actually reveal things about The Boys Season 2. Much too often in these panels, the actors are sworn to vows of silence, unable to reveal even the tiniest, most inconsequential plot points.”

Understandably, there were many lesser-known/NOT sponsored-by-a-big studio panels that simply felt like a typical “Zoom Webinar.”  Interesting if the topic was your jam, but otherwise, nothing special.  Especially since these are all pre-recorded, don’t you think someone could slip in a picture of Jean-Luc Picard reading a book, a sound clip of him saying something clever, or an affirmation of something a panelist said?

As we become more conversant in video conferencing technologies, don’t be surprised if our audiences have increasingly higher expectations of the virtual panel discussion experience.  I certainly do!


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

Panel Discussion Tip #185 with Jeffrey Hayzlett: Finishing Panel Discussions

Image by tunechick83 from Pixabay

Kristin Arnold



We don’t spam!

Share This:
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.
Contact Us
Skip to content

Our privacy policy has been updated. By clicking, 'I agree,' you consent to the terms therein. I Agree