Webinars have been a mainstay of the business world since the advent of the internet. They have proven to be an excellent way to engage with prospects, leads, and customers.
But there is one problem with webinars that is limiting organizations’ success — there are too many of them. Due to their own success, webinars are losing their potency. As a result, marketers have been looking for new, innovative ways to achieve the same connectivity.
What are virtual roundtables?
Enter virtual roundtables. Think of these as web-based discussion forums hosted by a moderator, and where participants can ask questions and provide feedback. Unlike the one-to-many style seen in webinars, group sizes are far smaller, allowing each participant to share their inputs live, bounce ideas off each other, all with far greater depth.
Conducting virtual roundtables has become increasingly popular as a more immersive way to engage your audiences as opposed to webinars. For marketing teams in particular, early adopters of the innovative service are achieving significant benefits, especially in nurturing stronger brand-customer relationships, mining insights, and generating high-quality leads.
Leverage targeted webinars to fill your pipeline
The aim of a webinar is to generate brand awareness, educate a specific audience, or generate interest in your product or service.
Leverage virtual roundtable best practices
To hold the most productive virtual roundtable meetings possible, we’ve created a list of best practices that you can easily apply.
1—Learn how virtual roundtable platforms work
It’s no surprise that sound research is the first step. If you’ve never used the technology before, a great starting point is to spend time studying the concept. Find out what’s worked well and what isn’t working for other businesses.
It can be helpful to view a roundtable discussion example. Modeling your discussion after another successful meeting can help ensure adherence to best practices and help keep everyone engaged. While learning the ropes, start formulating a plan for how the service might work best for your company.
2—Define your overall mission or objective
To give your virtual roundtable a meaningful focus, ask yourself these questions:
- Why are we hosting a virtual roundtable discussion?
- What is the purpose of our discussion?
- What problems are we hoping to solve for the attendees?
- What do we hope to have accomplished by the end of the meeting?
One of the most common uses of virtual roundtables is for brainstorming sessions. They can be used for both strategic and tactical planning, with both internal and external stakeholders. For example, prior to launching a product, hosting a virtual roundtable with prospective customers can help product teams crystalize what pain points to solve, what features to optimize, and so on.
Consider how virtual roundtables can boost lead generation as well. Marketers or sales professionals can bring together prospects who fit their buyer persona to discuss a topic related to the products or services the team can offer. While doing so, moderators get to share their expertise and build trust around the topic. Unlike typical top-of-funnel marketing strategies, virtual roundtables offer a personal touch in a low-effort way that is perfect to add into your marketing mix.
3—Choose an interesting and meaningful discussion topic
Your topic will be critical to the success of your virtual roundtable meeting, including invitee attendance and participation. To choose the right discussion topic that best matches your objectives, consider these questions:
- What topics will be most useful for either conveying or learning new information?
- Hot topics will be the most interesting for the participants and inspire them to engage in the dialogue?
- What topics will best encourage participants to take the next step, like opting in to a list, downloading assets, or arranging a call?.
See this blog post with ideas on how to select the most engaging and meaningful topics for your virtual roundtable discussions.
4—Choose your virtual roundtable format
There are many ways to structure your roundtable discussions. For example, you can plan a detailed agenda and how much time to allocate to each individual topic. If you’re able to do some background research on your participants, you can even decide in advance who’s going to speak and when, and nominate them to share their thoughts during the event.
Alternatively, you can use a more freeform participation approach that is more democratic in nature, such as a Virtual Networking Forum which uses a tool where users can vote for and rate topics. Experiment with different strategies to find the approach that works best.
As for length, our best advice is to keep meetings around one to two hours. If they are any longer, you risk losing your participants’ focus and attention.
5—Choose a moderator
One of the most important parts of planning is moderation. Having the right moderator can make or break a virtual roundtable. Common options for virtual roundtable discussion moderators are product managers and marketing managers. But they can also be anyone who has moderation skills.
Depending on the topic of the discussion and desired outcome, in some cases, it may be helpful to have an outside moderator oversee the discussion to help ensure an impartial, professional experience for everyone.
6—Invite your guests to the discussion
Getting the right participants is likely the most important task in nailing a successful virtual event. Typically, the virtual roundtable host invites the participants, usually by sourcing contacts from an existing database and reaching out through email. This can be tricky however, especially if your existing contact list has been over-saturated with information about your brand or product, or simply doesn’t qualify as the right persona or demographic.
To acquire net-new names, the best strategy is to work with a lead generation vendor. There are many companies who can provide target account lists — but a top tip in evaluating your options is to consider the quality of contacts the vendor can offer, since such virtual events are much smaller and engagement-centric in nature.
Depending on your virtual roundtable objectives, choose an agency that can offer:
- Attendees who best fit your ideal target audience or buyer persona
- Attendees who are are experts in the field or are actively seeking solutions
- A group with diverse enough backgrounds for a meaningful conversation
A typical attendee count is 15 to 20 people. This number provides enough of a critical mass to keep the conversation going and gain a diverse range of input and opinions, but low enough to ensure all attendees have a chance to speak up.
Because getting so many high-quality participants is crucial, consider a lead generation vendor like ViB which aggregates a community of millions of in-market professionals, which can help boost engagement and conversion rates from your event.
7—Keep all participants engaged
An important part of the moderator’s job will be to ensure that all participants have an equal opportunity to let their voices be heard. It’s all too easy to let the most outgoing and outspoken participants dominate the discussion. The goal should be to have a thorough discussion with a lot of input from all the guests.
Keeping everyone engaged requires skilled moderation techniques to ensure fair and equal virtual roundtable participation, so make sure to select an experienced team member, or source for an external industry professional. Remember to also do your homework on your attendees, so you know exactly their pain points, experience, background and so on to guide the conversation smoothly.
8—Choose a virtual roundtable platform
Setting up a virtual roundtable discussion can be a challenge. If you lack the resources to host a virtual conference on your own, you can choose a platform that specializes in providing virtual roundtable tools and software. Zoom and Crowdcast are two of the most popular platforms for holding virtual roundtable discussions. Other platforms include 6Connex, Adobe Connect, AltspaceVR, BigMarker, and Cisco Webex.
ViB is another great option. Where other companies provide the platforms on which to host virtual roundtable meetings, ViB goes a step beyond, by helping encourage active participation and engagement through live commenting functionality. Users can control the conversation flow, vote on topics of interest, and capture valuable feedback. This two-way dialogue and interaction can be a great way to liven up the conversation and achieve exactly what you set out to achieve.
Plan a fool-proof virtual roundtable
Virtual roundtables are the future of digital meetings, and they’re here for good. Whether you are new to virtual roundtables or an experienced user, follow these eight virtual roundtable best practices, and get all the support you need from lead generation experts, to ensure your investment delivers the optimal outcome.