Make your virtual roundtable sessions worth people’s time
Moderating a virtual roundtable is never an easy feat. With the digital setup, distractions are just one click away. For instance, guests could easily open their email or work on a task in another tab. As a moderator, the challenge lies in making sure you keep your guests interested and engaged in the discussion.
Having learned only from the best moderators at The Ortus Club, we have gathered a few of the best tips to host a successful virtual roundtable session.
What is the role of a moderator?
The Ortus Club has been hosting executive roundtables and panel discussions worldwide for over five years. As such, we have had the privilege of working with brilliant, diverse, and reputable moderators who are also thought-leaders and subject matter experts.
We share our events’ success with moderators that skillfully guide the flow of our roundtable discussions in the best interest of our guests. As moderators, they help us orchestrate each discussion, set the tone of the conversation, and encourage guests to participate by making the circle an open and intimate space.
Best tips to moderate a successful virtual roundtable
Although each moderator has a different style and approach, one thing is certain: the most discerning qualities of our moderators bring out the best in our guests and make the session constructive and valuable.
While moderating may take a lot of skill and practice, it is not rocket science. You can learn to do it in time for your next virtual roundtable session by observing the following tips:
1. Get to know the participants
It is difficult to read the room when you have no idea who your guests are. Remember that making the event more about them than about you would make it more worthwhile. Going through the list of attendees and doing a quick background search before a knowledge-sharing event can go a long way.
Knowing the participants’ roles and responsibilities and the companies they joined throughout their careers can help you instigate a good conversation and ask more relevant questions. Guests often come from a diverse range of sectors and backgrounds, and it will be easier to find common themes for them to discuss if you are more familiar with their profiles.
Your pre-event research should also include learning about the event sponsor and their goals to guide the discussion flow better.
2. Study the topic
Moderating a roundtable discussion means you should be knowledgeable about the topic itself. Therefore, doing your homework is the most important preliminary step to ensure you are capable of following the conversation in-depth, not just at the surface level.
Senior executives will find it more interesting to discuss detailed aspects of specific themes when you are knowledgeable enough to guide the flow of the topic using relevant industry examples. You must imagine the event as an ensemble, with you as the conductor and the topic as the full score to effortlessly lead the orchestra. You must know the piece yourself to bring out the best in everyone.
3. Make it personal
One of our seasoned moderators, Sara Christine Chojnacki, says the best roundtable sessions are ‘safe spaces’. Discussions sometimes need a little push to get started. Participants may be a little stiff at the start and will refrain from being the first to share.
In these cases, it can help to break the ice by answering your questions first (e.g. Who do you think is doing customer experience well? In my opinion, it is this company because of this.’).
Prepare a list of experiences you can share with the participants. A few anecdotes and some exciting ideas you noticed other organisations implement would make the discussion more vibrant.
Be careful not to bombard your guests with thought-provoking questions. It is helpful to start the discussion with a question that targets actual experiences as these have very straightforward answers. In addition, it can help to have a few key participants in mind to kick off the conversation.
“It is helpful to start the discussion with a question that targets actual experiences as these have very straightforward answers. In addition, it can help to have a few key participants in mind to kick off the conversation.”
4. Prepare engaging questions
Once everyone is more comfortable sharing and has had time to think, you can then move on by asking them to share opinions on specific issues that will address the challenges in their organisations. This is your chance to fuel the conversation by tackling industry-relevant issues.
Try asking questions that inspire even more questions to help the conversation move through the program by itself. The more engaging your questions are, the more value there will be for your guests to take away from the event. Keep in mind as well that a well-formulated question can help the conversation flow naturally.
5. Keep an eye on who is online
It may be difficult to do while simultaneously guiding the discussion, but keeping track of your guests during a virtual roundtable is necessary. Ensuring everyone is present and participative during the discussion will maintain an intimate environment where everybody feels seen and heard.
Take note of when somebody suddenly drops off from the meeting due to poor connectivity. You can acknowledge them once they are back if you can. Keeping track of your guests is also important, so you do not accidentally spotlight participants who have fully lost connectivity.
6. Avoid long speeches
As a moderator, you understand the importance of keeping your statements concise. Always remember that the focus of the event is the discussion. Moderators are meant to facilitate, not dictate. They are tasked with orchestrating the conversation but should never take centre stage.
A great moderator knows when to pause and allow others to speak. More importantly, a great moderator is a great listener. Always take the time to listen and refer back to what participants mentioned throughout the event. Sharing personal anecdotes is encouraged, but not in the form of long speeches or self-promotional presentations.
7. Do not forget the program
It is very easy to get carried away while talking, especially when a topic is interesting and sparks various thoughts and memories. This can sometimes result in guests going on for too long, taking over the entire discussion, or going off-topic. Make sure to control these situations and steer the conversation back to the main theme. Keeping track of time is extremely important, especially with online events. To make the most of the hour dedicated to the roundtable, make sure you tap on all the agenda questions.
8. Summarise the discussion
At the end of the discussion, it is best for the moderator to briefly summarise the main themes discussed and share some learning points. A good discussion does not end at the event but carries on afterwards. Encourage participants to keep in touch and continue sharing their thoughts on the topic on other channels.
Ortus events are typically hosted over a three-course meal or a roundtable discussion online. If you are interested in moderating a discussion for The Ortus Club, please contact us at [email protected].