In case you haven’t noticed, virtual events aren’t merely a flash in the pan.
Here’s why: they’re cheaper to run than in-person gatherings and there’s no cap on attendees, making it easier than ever to welcome in a global audience. Plus, experts predict the virtual events industry will grow by an average 21% annually over the next eight years.
One popular virtual event that is here to stay is the virtual roundtable, which brings experts together to discuss a popular topic. The best roundtables also invite the audience to take part in the conversation, making the event interactive, engaging, and memorable.
So, how do you put together a buzz-building roundtable discussion?
Whether you’re new to hosting a roundtable or you’re simply looking to up your event game, we’ll walk you through how to host an impactful virtual roundtable discussion.
Everything you’ll learn
What’s the purpose of a roundtable discussion?
A roundtable is the perfect setting to bring experts together to lend their perspectives to a discussion.
Sometimes these experts will all come from a similar field; for instance, a group of video marketers might host a roundtable on how to film a captivating ad. In other instances, the experts will come from different fields; for example, a roundtable might bring together leaders of diverse industries to discuss promoting sustainability in business.
Often, roundtables will also allow for audience engagement, leaving time for questions from audience members.
Roundtables offer companies a chance to stand out as thought leaders, connectors, and community builders. It also gives them a chance to build brand awareness and learn what’s on their customers’ minds.
12 tips for structuring a virtual roundtable discussion
While your actual roundtable discussion may only last 60 to 90 minutes, there’s a lot of work that needs to happen behind the scenes — before, during, and after the discussion — to make those minutes impactful for your brand.
1. Nurture relationships with your speakers.
Many participants will only join an event because they’re drawn by the speakers — so you’ll want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to invite informed and engaging participants to your roundtable.
Of course, that will generally require more work than simply emailing the speaker out of the blue and asking them to join your roundtable. Long before you plan to invite a speaker, work to develop a relationship with them. This might mean:
- Interacting with their posts on LinkedIn or Twitter
- Sending them an email complimenting a piece of their work
- Asking to meet for a virtual coffee
Once you’ve landed them as your speaker, don’t stop there. Ian Helms, Director of Growth Marketing at Q.Digital, recommends that you keep them in the loop as you plan the event.
2. Market your event.
You’ll want to promote your virtual roundtable as much as you would an in-person event. Ahead of the roundtable, generate hype by creating an engaging landing page, sharing the event on social media, and sending out email marketing ahead of the event. Consider recording short videos that introduce the speakers or the topic to use across social media, your website, and within emails.
“The best way you can market your event is to provide value,” says Anna Tumanova, Senior Event Marketing Manager at Gorgias. “Present that value through your copy, show real examples of what they can learn, or record some teaser videos with your speakers.”
3. Plan a run of show.
While 90 minutes may feel like a long time, it can go by in a snap if you don’t put guardrails around your roundtable discussion. This is why a run of show document is essential: it lets you plan, item by item, what your roundtable discussion will look like — from how long the intro will last to how much time participants will have to answer different questions.
Not sure how your roundtable discussion should be formatted? Follow the steps below to help you segment your time:
- Start with a 2- to 5-minute introduction that welcomes the audience, thanks any sponsors involved, and introduces both the moderator and the roundtable members.
- Spend about 5 minutes introducing the topic for the roundtable. Think of this as your roundtable “hook,” where you explain why this topic is worth discussing and why it matters to your audience.
- Divide the remaining time — depending on how long your roundtable will be — by the number of questions the moderator plans to ask. Make sure your roundtable speakers know how much time is allotted to each question, so that they can share the time and keep their answers concise.
- If you plan to have audience participation, consider leaving room for a handful of questions from participants near the end of the discussion or in between moderator questions.
- Wrap up the roundtable by thanking participants and your audience for attending. This is a great time to mention your call-to-action post-event: do you want participants to sign up for your newsletter, follow the roundtable speakers on social media, or sign up for your next event? Let them know in your 1- to 2-minute wrap-up.
4. Schedule a tech check.
If you’ve ever joined a virtual meeting, then you’ve seen someone struggle with tech issues (or experienced them yourself). Sidestep live troubleshooting during the event by having a tech check just before your roundtable, so you can ensure everyone’s WiFi, cameras, and audio are working.
Wondering how long to schedule for your tech check? “Joining the event 15 minutes ahead to clear up any last-minute items and do a tech check is ideal,” recommends Ian.
Make sure your speakers and crew are all invited!
5. Plan some thoughtful questions.
While you’ll want to leave room in your agenda for unexpected and follow-up questions, you should have a prepared list of questions ready for your speakers. When brainstorming questions, think through the topic at hand, the unique points of view your speakers bring to the table, and what your audiences’ burning questions might be.
Anna recommends keeping your questions topical and tightly related to the audience. “Relate to current events, and tailor the conversation to meet your audience’s needs,” she advises. “It’s very important to stay fresh and up-to-date.”
Jasmine Jenkins, Senior Customer Marketing Manager at Crossbeam, also recommends involving speakers in brainstorming questions.
During the event
6. Stay on schedule.
As the event host, it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re respecting your audience and your speakers’ time. Whether you’re moderating the roundtable yourself or bringing someone in to moderate, it’s your responsibility to keep the speakers on schedule and the conversation flowing.
“Having planned discussion points or core topics helps here, because we’re very realistic about how much we can get through in the one hour we have together,” says Diana Kolesarova, Content Marketing Manager at Superside. “We naturally move from core topic to core topic and get through a lot while staying on schedule.”
7. Leave time for an attendee Q&A.
For many of your attendees, getting to interact with your speakers will be a highlight of the event. Make sure that you leave 10-15 minutes at the end of the roundtable to answer attendees’ questions — which you can pre-select from an ongoing chat or have attendees ask live.
To keep your audience engaged, Anna also recommends splitting up the roundtable with small intermissions for audience questions.
“You don’t always have to do the Q&A at the end of the roundtable,” Anna says. “For example, you can ask the roundtable a question, have the participants answer it, then take a moment for an audience question. That way, people stay engaged and keep their attention on the discussion.”
8. Encourage participation with a giveaway.
To encourage audience attendance and participation during the roundtable, it can help to provide attendees with an incentive. “It might be obvious, but a giveaway works really well,” says Anna.
If you announce a giveaway before the roundtable, it can be used to draw additional attendees to the event. To encourage additional audience participation, you may even decide to limit the giveaway draw to audience members who ask a question in the virtual event’s chat.
9. Send over a thank you email or survey.
Once your event wraps up, stay top-of-mind by sending your attendees a follow-up email. This is the perfect opportunity to:
- Thank them for their participation
- Send them a survey to gauge how things went
- Send them content they might find useful — whether that’s an event recap, a link to rewatch or share the recorded session, or other content they’ll find valuable
Jasmine stresses the importance of sending a survey soon after the event wraps — preferably within the next 24 hours.
“It’s really important because you want people’s responses while the event is still fresh in their minds,” she says. “A lot of that feedback will be critical to planning next year’s event.”
As for what to ask in your survey, Jasmine recommends:
- Understanding where they learned about the roundtable
- If they’d recommend the event to colleagues
- Any praise for speakers or sessions (this can serve as marketing for your next event!)
- Any issues they ran into
- Any critical feedback they have
10. Create a LinkedIn group for attendees to connect after the fact.
For many professionals, attending virtual events is the perfect way to network with others in their field. Make this even easier for participants by creating a LinkedIn group where attendees can connect with each other after the fact.
Diana at Superside highly recommends this approach.
“Hosts, speakers, and attendees share their LinkedIn profiles after the session and it’s a huge community-building opportunity,” she explains. “This has also resulted in us asking for speakers and attendees to join panel discussions at other planned events, like webinars and virtual summits.”
11. Encourage continued engagement with your brand.
As you wrap up the event, let attendees know how they can stay in touch with your brand — whether that means following you on social media, joining your next event, or taking advantage of a special attendee discount on your product.
12. Repurpose your content (and data!).
Your roundtable might be over, but the content you’ve gotten from the event should live on. Repurpose your content into blog posts, newsletters, sales material, and social media soundbites that you can share.
Jasmine also recommends sharing data from the event across teams: “We arm our customer success managers, account executives, and sales development reps with email messaging and outreach that they can use to engage contacts and prospects who attended the event, or even missed the event.”
How to be a better virtual roundtable moderator
Whether you’re moderating the virtual roundtable yourself or you’re bringing in a moderator, there are a few suggestions you’ll want to keep in mind to make the event go smoothly.
Direct the speakers.
During a roundtable, you can think of the moderator as the conductor of an orchestra.
Even if you’ve prepped the roundtable participants before the roundtable, the moderator needs to actively direct the conversation. That might mean directing certain questions at specific speakers, or cutting in if a speaker is going on too long.
Do your homework.
Even if the moderator themselves aren’t preparing the initial questions for the roundtable, they need to be well-versed on the topic at hand and the speakers participating. That way, they can ask topical follow-up questions and direct audience questions to the right speaker during the Q&A.
Select questions from the audience.
While it would be wonderful if your roundtable could answer all of the audience’s questions, there’s usually only time for a few questions during the audience Q&A — so it’s important for the moderator (or someone on their team) to pick the questions that are the most topical, relevant, and valuable to the audience.
“We send out the discussion points to attendees in advance so they can think about them and prepare to contribute,” Diana says. “Our roundtables introduce a topic, but the speaker is not positioned as the ‘expert who will solve everything’ — rather, they’re someone who can relate and emphasize and chat through these things with all attendees. This has really helped with our engagement.”
Make instructions clear.
If you expect the audience to join virtual breakout rooms, ask questions in the chat, or share key takeaways on LinkedIn, it’s the moderator’s job to communicate that clearly.
What to look for in a virtual roundtable platform
To ensure your event runs smoothly, you’ll want to use a platform that’s up to the task. Here are three features you’ll want to look out for:
Easy registration for attendees
Your platform should make it as easy as possible for attendees to register for and join your event.
“It’s important to use a platform that makes it really easy to RSVP,” says Anna. “We’ve noticed that we lose registrants if you need to create an account to register for the event.”
Opt for software that makes it easy to build simple registration forms and allows registrants to join from right within their browser (rather than requiring them to download additional software).
The more you can involve the audience in your roundtable, the more engaged they’ll be. Make your attendees participants by allowing them to join the conversation using polls, Q&As, and a live audience chat.
Integration with your marketing tools
After the event is over, make sure that you’re able to nurture and convert your new leads by integrating your video platform with your marketing tools. Advanced video analytics can also help you understand who your most engaged audience members are, helping you fine-tune your marketing efforts.
For Jasmine, gathering data is a crucial part of running events.
“Events cost money, energy, time, and resources,” she says. She continues:
“It’s important to dig into the hard ROI of your events: how many deals did this event source? How much revenue did we influence by launching this event? How many leads did you gain? As event marketers, we can get caught up in the minutiae of the details of running an event, but we need to keep top of mind that this is our ‘why.’”
Ready to host your own virtual roundtable?
At Vimeo, we make it easy to host interactive, engaging, and beautifully branded virtual events. Our software lets you pre-build your roundtable, send automated reminders to boost attendance, and make the most of your leads.