How to Moderate a Panel Discussion for a Hybrid Event

Moderate a panel dissucsion for a hybrid event - blog cover

So, you’ve been asked to moderate a panel discussion for a hybrid event. Two of the panelists will be in-person and one will be virtual, and you’re looking for tips on how to be an effective moderator. Read on!

How do I make sure my hybrid panel is a success?

No matter the meeting format, panel discussions present an invaluable opportunity for adding lively discussion to your event and increasing attendee engagement. The collective knowledge and experience of your panelists will of course determine the strength of your panel discussion, and intentional moderation of the panel will help drive its success. 

Moderation becomes even more challenging, however, for hybrid events. You may need to include both in-person and virtual panelists in the conversation, and take questions from both the floor and Zoom!

To help you moderate a panel discussion for a hybrid event, our team has pulled together the following tips and advice.

How do I design a hybrid panel?

Ensure you and your team dedicate time to designing a panel with the greatest impact. When thinking through designing your hybrid panel, consider the following: 

  1. Don’t make your panel too large. To ensure each panelist has enough “screen time” without sacrificing the depth of discussion, we recommend hosting no more than three panelists. It’s tricky navigating in-person and virtual panelists simultaneously, so a smaller panel will ensure you as the moderator are not stretched too thin. 
  2. Think about if your panel is balanced and inclusive. A panel discussion allows for a diversity of perspectives and knowledge. Be intentional about the voices you are highlighting to create a richer experience for all involved. Virtual participation by panelists allows for even greater diversity of voices as no travel is required. So, go ahead and invite that expert from the other side of the planet!
  3. Make contingency plans. Even if a panelist expects to attend in person, prepare for the eventuality that they may need to attend virtually at the last minute due to travel or illness. It doesn’t hurt to have a back-up panelist as well, or to design your panel so that it can still have an impact even if only two can participate on the day of the event.

How do I prepare to moderate a hybrid panel?

Any public event can be nerve-racking, and hybrid panels add another layer of complexity. Following the tips below will ensure both you and your panelists feel prepared and at ease going into the panel discussion.

  1. Ensure there is a designated virtual event producer. If you are planning on moderating the panel on-site, ensure you have a designated person on the Zoom end to coordinate with virtual panelists on the day of the event and jump in to troubleshoot if necessary.
  2. Set up a panelist check-in before the event. A brief Zoom call altogether (moderator and panelists) before the event creates an opportunity for: 
    • Your panelists to interact and get to know one another a little, making them more comfortable with you and one another.
    • You as the moderator to set any expectations for the event. Some panelists may not be familiar with the hybrid format, so this is the opportunity to address their questions regarding event details. 
    • You as the moderator to get input from the panelists on any specific topics they might want to touch on. Work with your panelists to create a set of 3-4 discussion prompts that can be used to move the conversation forward while you are waiting for questions from the floor. 
    • You and the panelists to agree on how questions from the audience will be taken. Do you want to take questions throughout the discussion or only at the end? Explain how questions from the audience will be taken (e.g., floor mics, virtual hand-raising, Zoom chat).
  3. With the event producer, talk through the physical and virtual stage set-up. Make sure there will be a large screen or screens dedicated to displaying the video feed from Zoom. The screens should be located to the side of the stage, visible to both the panelists and the audience, as the in-person panelists will want to see and hear the virtual panelists (as will you, as moderator!). The moderator should be able to access a laptop to take questions via chat or virtual hand-raising from the virtual audience. A video camera should be focused on the floor mic(s), so that the virtual panelist can see audience members asking questions. It is important that the set-up reflects a cohesive environment for both virtual and in-person panelists and attendees, and doesn’t favour one over the other!
  4. Hold a brief rehearsal with in-person and virtual panelists: The day before the event, arrange with the event planner to test the video, audio, screens, and computer with your panelists (in-person and virtual) present, along with the A/V staff from the meeting venue. The time to work any bugs out is beforehand, and the more that your panelists get to practice before the event, the more comfortable and relaxed they will be during the event. This is also a great time to check if there are any issues with your physical and virtual stage set-up.

Any additional tips for moderating a successful hybrid panel?

As moderator, you shape the experience of the panelists and attendees. In our opinion, hybrid panels that incorporate the following elements have the greatest success:

  1. Make it feel like a true conversation: Use the discussion prompts that you and the panlists put together during the check-in to shift the discussion from one topic to another and move the conversation forward. Encourage panelists to respond to and build on each other’s comments, and if you can, let their responses guide your questions; aim to make connections between their answers. Make sure you’re balancing responses from both your virtual and in-person panelists.
  2. Actively listen to your panelists and notice body language. Just like in a 1:1 conversation, we recommend active listening cues (eye contact, nodding, verbal acknowledgment after someone has spoken, etc.) to create a sense of comfort and respect for your panelists. Don’t forget to watch your virtual panelist for these cues as well! 
  3. Take questions from the audience: Explain to attendees how questions will be taken from both audiences (e.g., in-person attendees queue up at a floor mic, while virtual attendees type their questions in Zoom chat). Make sure to keep an eye on Zoom chat, and take questions from both in-person and virtual participants (you can alternate between the two)! Kick off with your discussion prompts to get the conversation started.

In a hybrid panel discussion, it’s important to think of the well-being of the virtual and in-person panelists and attendees from the perspective of equal participation. This may require more intentional planning, but ultimately opens the doors for a more inclusive and impactful event. Neolé is here to help make your hybrid panel a success – get started by booking a discovery call today!


By Teresa Gerner, Project Manager and Event Producer, Neolé Inc.

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