You just got invited to moderate a panel. Great! By the way, it’s going to be virtual. Oh dear. As a virtual event moderator, you are the stand-in for the audience. Your engagement throughout the interview or discussion will make a difference in how the audience perceives the experience. And if the recording will include you and your reactions and questions, it’s even more important to consider how you will appear on camera. Here are some tips for making your event more lively and interactive.
- Make sure your face is “alive”—your facial expressions, your engagement directly to camera, and your responses to the speaker are all essential for making the experience feel more personal for the audience. Practice in the mirror or in a private video call with no one but you on the line.
- For livestreamed events, let the audience know at the top of the interview and at regular intervals that you will be taking questions.
- Don’t expect the audience to immediately ask questions when you open the floor, so have a set of relevant questions ready for each panelist.
- Be sure you have a production team member save the Q&A and/or Chat so that any questions not answered live can be followed up by you and/or your interviewee. You can then post these questions and answers through your website and social channels–another way to promote post-event engagement.
- Come up with creative ways to engage the audience and make sure they feel represented, even if their faces do not appear in the livestream or recording. Ask people as they arrive to type in where they are tuning in from, if this is a nationwide or global event. Ask people to share one obstacle or challenge relating to the session topic.
- Promote virtual applause. One fantastic tip I got from my friend Jeff Greenberg who is an experienced virtual trainer, was to come up with a letter that stands in for applause. I usually change the letter depending on the topic. On a recent panel I moderated during the One Woman, One Vote Film Festival, Wonder Women Behind the Lens about visual effects artists and editors, we used the letter “W”. I asked attendees to “throw down a W in the chat pod any time you want to applaud the speakers or support what they are saying.” We had a lively discussion with lots of “WWWWWWW”’s in our chat that helped our panelists know there was an audience cheering them on.
Keeping an audience lively and engaged when you can’t be with them in person is a big challenge. That’s why being a virtual panel moderator is much more like being a television host or MC than it is like moderating a live panel. But with some advance planning and these tips, you’ll increase your audience engagement.
Amy DeLouise is a digital media expert, and virtual panel curator and moderator.