How to host successful virtual panel discussions

When it comes to physical events, you may be used to having a wide variety of speaker events, with keynote speeches, informative presentations, and panel discussions. These help inform your audience, and pull in crowds, depending on your guests’ reputation. An invigorating panel discussion is a great way to engage your audience and inform them. 

You’ll be glad to know that the virtual platform also lets you organize these discussions, and lets you broadcast them to a live audience. You can even record them for later, so that people can access them whenever they want. A successful panel generates a lot of hype around your virtual event, so you want to make sure you get the right set of speakers and topics for that purpose. Here are the basics of a panel discussion, and how it can elevate your virtual or hybrid events

What Is A Panel Discussion?

hybrid panel

A panel discussion simply refers to a situation where a group of people sit together in front of an audience and discuss a particular topic. These typically take place at academic, recreational, sports, business or other kinds of conferences where the audience has joined because of a common interest. The speakers are usually authority figures in the field, and often have differing opinions on the chosen topic. This leads to an active discussion which educates and excites the audience, provides them new points of view and gives them a chance to ask their favorite experts questions. 

These discussions are a great way to get a nuanced understanding of a topic, and listen to the various perspectives around it. While it started as a purely physical phenomenon, with all guests in one place, virtual panel discussions are now increasingly popular. They make it easier to get your guests together in one place without having to worry about logistics and scheduling months and months in advance. In addition, they let you cater to a larger audience, with more interest generated online. 

What Are The Types of Panel Discussion?

panel discussion

There are numerous types of panel discussions. Three of the main ones are public, educational, and recreational panel discussions.

Public Panel Discussions

These are generally held to share and discuss concerns faced by the general public. If you deal with social, humanitarian, or economic issues, and want to increase awareness, this is the type you’ll go for. They inform the audience about a particular issue, share the relevant details, and invite questions and concerns for consideration. Many public offices hold these panels when they’re planning to introduce major policy or legislative changes, in order to get an idea of the expected response. Then, they can reorient their ideas accordingly, if needed. 

Educational Panel Discussions

Most panel discussions are of this type. They discuss the details and nuances of a certain topic, such as a highly specialized academic field. They also intend to educate the audience about a certain matter, with facts, knowledge, and the various points of view surrounding it. These include discussions on scientific theories, educational methods, and learning strategies. They are typically held at academic conferences, where the audience is all set to go in-depth about various informative topics. 

Recreational Panel Discussions

Sometimes, the goal of a panel discussion is just to introduce a new movie or comic book, and get some audience hype around it. These are usually held at events such as comic book conferences and movie announcements. While these discussions may not be as educational as the first two, they still provide and discuss information valuable to a large audience. In fact, these often tend to get the highest levels of attendance due to the sheer hype around major entertainment announcements. 

What Are Examples Of Panel Discussions?

panel auditorium

There are some great examples of both physical and virtual panel discussions out there. However, as we are dealing primarily with virtual panels, here are a few great examples which have made them work successfully.  

E3 2021

Every gamer looks forward to the E3 event every year. While it was usually held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, it embraced the hybrid event model early on. Therefore, even when physical events were canceled, it still managed to pull through this year with a free online event. 

This event included a number of fascinating panels, with developers and other experts discussing various aspects of game development, design, and writing. It proved to be a major success, with most game development companies using virtual panels to make their release and update announcements.  

Comic-Con @ Home 2020

This was one of the few major events which actually managed to take place in 2020, the most uncertain time of the pandemic. As in the previous case, this also operated on a hybrid model in earlier years, but went completely virtual because of COVID-19 restrictions. 

However, it held a rich series of panel discussions, with everything from new movie releases to the role of directors in popular cinema as topics. These discussions enabled the usual hype around the event, and their online versions ensured a large audience could experience them. 

Duke University 

Most academia shifted to online platforms when the pandemic hit, but still continued with its classes and educational events. Of course, they followed restrictions by holding these events virtually. Duke University and its alumni held a stream of panel discussions which covered a range of topics, from the impact of COVID-19 on restaurants to systemic racism.  

Why Should You Have Virtual Panel Discussions At Your Events?

event lobby

If you’re hosting a virtual or hybrid event, you need to generate some hype. In addition, you need to offer your audience valuable information they cannot find elsewhere. Your event’s panels can provide people the perfect opportunity to to learn more about their field or industry, and even get the chance to ask questions. Therefore, a panel discussion can really boost audience interest, and get you more visitors. 

A virtual panel discussion is a whole other ball game, as you have much more leeway and freedom to invite guests from all over the world. This lets you choose the best of the best, and leverage their presence in your event marketing. If you get industry bigwigs, you’ll generate considerable hype around your event, and will see a lot more online registrations. Chances are, if the expert says something impactful or gets into an active discussion with other panel members, your event may even go viral on the internet. Therefore, it is always a good idea to have exciting virtual panels at your hybrid or online events.   

Who Should You Invite?

panel speaker

Your choice of guests can make a huge difference in how successful your virtual panels will be. As a general rule of thumb, you need to make sure you invite reputable industry experts from all sides of an issue. No matter what direction you lean in, you want to generate an exciting and active discussion in your event panel. This will help you cater to a wider audience, who will be there for either side of the debate, and will also like the chance to respond to their opposing side. 

Furthermore, you cannot take forward a panel productively unless you have a good moderator on the panel. This moderator will prod the debate and carry conversation by bringing up certain questions and hearing from both sides. If they do their research well enough, they can really get the speakers to get into the exciting details of a topic. Therefore, you need to hire a moderator who does their research and is good at carrying discussions forward. They should also know when to wrap up the discussion, and ask the audience for questions. This requires the right skills to guide a discussion and help take it to a conclusion. 

The Importance Of Panel Discussions At Virtual Events

networking lounge

It is quite important for you to include at least a few panel discussions in your virtual or hybrid events. If you just have an exhibitors’ hall and a few speakers, then you won’t be able to generate much hype around your event. People tend to throng to places where they know they’ll hear an interesting and enlightening set of arguments. If you just have speakers delivering solo speeches, then that won’t get the same pull. 

Basically, you need to offer some value and excitement to your audience. They need to know they can get an experience here that they cannot have anywhere else. Give them the chance to see their favored or opposed industry experts in discussion, and also offer them the opportunity to ask questions. 

All of this will help bring a larger and more interested audience to your virtual events. You’ll get reasonable levels of engagement, and may even generate conversation on various social media channels. 

General Panel Discussion Topics For Your Virtual Events

Exhibit Booth 

Now that you know how important it is to have panel discussions at your event, you should figure out what sorts of topics you should consider. Do your research and look at the top trending conversation topics in your field. This can be anything from a dispute around a scientific theory to systemic discrimination on a racial basis. Once you know your industry trends, you can narrow down your topics and look up the right speakers to invite. 

Alternatively, you can see who you want to invite on your panel discussions, and determine the topics according to their specializations. This is a commonplace practice in the academic field, where many experts have very niche interests, so it is better for topics to be as specific as possible. 

You should try to keep a list of panel topics which will interest and inform the audience, so you might want to go for specific ones, rather than broader general discussions. However, make sure the niche topics are something your audience will be interested in attending.  

How Do You Structure A Panel Discussion?

The ideal panel discussion will follow a certain format and flow. You and your panel moderators need to make sure your speakers will follow this flow, and conduct the panel accordingly. Here’s how a panel discussion should ideally go: 

  • An introduction of the speakers and moderator
  • A brief explanation of the topic and its scope
  • A small talk by each speaker to establish their views
  • A question and answer session with the moderator and speakers
  • A conclusive statement
  • Opening the floor to audience questions

This flow takes the discussion ahead in a natural and reasonable manner. This avoids making any of the speakers feel like they’re not listened to. You should invite moderators who have a knack for taking such discussions forward in an engaging way. Basically, they should have enough knowledge of the topic to ask the right questions. 

In addition, your moderators should also be able to deal with the virtual meeting platform you’ll be using. So, they’ll know when to mute someone and let others speak without being rude about it. Virtual moderation is a whole other ballgame, so they need to be well-informed and tech-savvy. This will help make your virtual panel discussion a success.  

Where Can You Host A Virtual Panel Discussion?

Animated Virtual lobby

Over the past few years, there has been a rising need for virtual and hybrid event hosting platforms. However, even with all the options available, not every single one offers the right experience. 

vFairs is an excellent option, no matter what industry you belong to, and what scale your event will be. It offers various kinds of virtual event solutions and integrations to make things easier for hosts and visitors alike. Furthermore, it is quite easy to use, with ample technical support provided, so you won’t get stuck at any point. So, use this platform to host the best virtual events. 

In conclusion, you can host successful virtual panel discussions if you use the right platform and plan these panels thoroughly. You just need to do your research properly, and get the proper tools for the job. 


How to host successful virtual panel discussions

Shanzay Asim Haider

Shanzay Asim Haider is a content writer with over 5 years of experience. She loves to learn and writes for vFairs because of the exciting potential of the virtual and hybrid event industry. Her hobbies include reading (of course), jigsaw puzzles, and playing overly convoluted board games.


How to host successful virtual panel discussions

Shanzay Asim Haider

Shanzay Asim Haider is a content writer with over 5 years of experience. She loves to learn and writes for vFairs because of the exciting potential of the virtual and hybrid event industry. Her hobbies include reading (of course), jigsaw puzzles, and playing overly convoluted board games.
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