How to plan and host super engaging virtual roundtable events

Cassy Aite
September 28, 2021
How to plan and host super engaging virtual roundtable events | Hoppier

Roundtable events are a way to bring smart minds together to discuss an industry hot topic. Give this traditional event a contemporary twist by hosting a virtual roundtable discussion.

In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of what a virtual roundtable is and how to plan your way to success. We’ll also share our best tips on how to make your event engaging — so your guests not only show up, but take part in a meaningful way.

What is a virtual roundtable?

Like a more traditional, in-person roundtable discussion, a virtual roundtable is an opportunity to gather people together to talk about a topic or business challenge. There’s a set topic for the room, and everyone gets an equal opportunity to share their ideas, ask thoughtful questions, and provide valuable insights.

Roundtable discussions often feature senior leaders from one industry or CEOs from across different niches. The goal is to discuss or debate a topic, and come away with a better understanding of it than before. While many roundtables favor a debate style with opposing views, you can also have a more relaxed roundtable based around learning and sharing experiences.

Virtual roundtables allow you to support and foster community with other business leaders. They’re also a great way to build a relationship with people in the industry and become known as a trusted source or service provider to them.

Most virtual roundtables happen behind closed doors, as private discussions that help drive a business forward. That doesn’t mean they have to, though. Hosting a public virtual roundtable is an effective way to bring that experience and knowledge to more of your target audience. Plus, these marketing events can serve as a promotional opportunity for your panel too.

How to plan a successful virtual roundtable

A business woman shares secrets to planning a virtual roundtable

Like any event, the success of your virtual roundtable depends on the work you put in right from the start. Here’s how to plan your way to an effective, purpose-driven virtual roundtable discussion.

1. Set your goals

Before you can host the kind of virtual event your guests want to sign up for, you first need to set some goals. Your goal might be to eventually transition one or more of your discussion guests into clients. Or, you might want to position your brand as a go-to market leader within your niche.

Both of these are valid reasons to host a roundtable discussion, but you’d approach each goal differently. For the first, careful thought needs to go into who you invite and how you nurture that relationship before, during, and after the event. For the second, consider hosting a public virtual roundtable so you can attract a wider audience and create an impact with post-event materials like videos and podcasts.

The goal you choose heavily influences every event planning decision you'll make. Each aspect — from the format to the topic of conversation — should take you one step closer to achieving it. Get focused on your goal from the start, and you'll stand the best chance of hosting an impressive virtual roundtable.

2. Choose your topic of conversation

Once you know what your overall aim is, you can find a discussion topic that thoughtfully steers your participants in the right direction. This forms the backbone of your entire event, so it’s a detail you want to get just right.

Your topic needs to both help you achieve your goal and be enticing enough that people want to join in. Think about what matters most to your group of attendees at the moment, and find an engaging, debate-worthy, or educational take on it.

Take customer experience, for example. It’s a hot topic for most sales and marketing teams. Here are some potential roundtable discussion ideas within this theme:

  • What you can learn from customer experience experts
  • Does customer experience really make a difference to your bottom line?
  • How to deliver amazing customer experience virtually
  • What happens if we don’t improve customer experience?
  • What’s the future of customer experience?

Once you have an idea, check that it aligns with your goals, audience, and values. Even if you have an amazing idea for a discussion topic, it always makes sense to get a second opinion. Ask your team or check in with your network to see if your topic or theme is engaging enough.

3. Create your invite list

A virtual roundtable session is just like an in-person roundtable, only you can be way more flexible about who you invite. This means you can bring together a more talented, diverse, and exciting group of people to talk, debate, and learn.

Before you create a final guest list, first think about how many people you want on your panel. Roundtable discussions work best when there’s enough time and space for everyone to contribute, so keep the number of guests at the 4-8 mark.

When planning your guest list, aim to bring together a mix of people that’ll create healthy, engaging conversations. Look for people who have a passion for what they do, and can offer experience or insights that add value to the discussion.

Most roundtables feature senior decision makers, C-level executives, and people with similar job titles or roles. This can help you include people with experience and knowledge, but don’t discount someone because they’re not an executive. In fact, hosting roundtables with a cross-section of your employees can be an effective employee engagement strategy. It’s all about inviting the people that match your goal.

4. Finalize your format

Roundtables are known for their considered, respectful take on discussion. There’s space for everyone to have a say, and a moderator to make sure that happens. Keep this in mind as you plan your format and work out how to deliver your virtual roundtable discussion.

Most successful virtual roundtables feature an agenda, but it doesn’t have to be too prescribed. Allow 5-10 minutes for a welcome, 45-70 minutes for the discussion, and 10 minutes at the end to close and say goodbye. Keep your event to 60-90 minutes to maximize the chances of your target audience RSVPing with a yes.

During the discussion, have your moderator start with a question or set the scene for your topic to unfold. From there, let your guests take the lead — with the moderator there to keep things respectful and on track. Make sure everyone’s voice is heard, and encourage your guests to contribute thoughtful, considered, and helpful responses.

5. Choose the right tools

Before all this great conversation can happen, you need to figure out exactly how to bring your attendees together. Using the right event technology can make a huge difference — especially if you want to add interactive elements like polling to the mix.

For a simple roundtable discussion, a webinar tool like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or GoToMeeting can work well. You can all join a video chat, share screens, and take turns adding to the discussion.

If you’re looking for something more engaging, take a look at our guide to the best virtual event platforms. We’ve found some compelling options that give your attendees some of that in-person event experience in the digital space.

6. Host your virtual roundtable

Planning is key, but the way you deliver your roundtable discussion on the day is just as crucial. Create a virtual event that’s memorable, engaging, and rewarding for your participants by being a thoughtful host.

A few days before your virtual roundtable, send a reminder to your attendees. Include a copy of the agenda, so they feel prepared. Check in to make sure they’re still able to make it, and source another guest speaker if they can’t. This is also the perfect time to email over a Hoppier virtual card to your guests, if you want a fun way to buy them coffee for the event.

Technology doesn’t always work the way we want it to, so check that your event technology is up to the job. Test links, presentations, and audio beforehand to avoid any mishaps. If you can, host a mini run-through with your moderator so they feel at ease.

On the day, have your moderator welcome guests warmly. Create time for people to sign in and engage in a little conversation before the event itself starts. When it does start, have your moderator set the tone and then open up the floor for discussion.

Make engagement a key focus during your event. Encourage your guests to actively listen, then share their thoughts. Take notes or make a recording so you can share with your participants after, or transform it into post-event content if it’s a public event. And when it’s time to end the session, finish with a recap and a friendly goodbye.

7. Evaluate your event

Your virtual roundtable discussion may be over, but there’s still some work to do — especially if you’re planning future sessions. Take a moment to review and evaluate your event so you can identify opportunities and check whether it met your goals.

Ask your team to share their thoughts on how the virtual discussion went. Follow up with your attendees too, and collect feedback through a post-event survey or a casual call. For a public event, monitor conversations on social media to see what the general sentiment was.

With the right feedback and data, you can figure out whether your event was a success or not. Consider every element, and look for ways to create an even better experience next time. With every roundtable that you host you’ll learn something new so you can move forward with a better understanding of how to plan and host an impressive discussion.

5 ways to make your virtual roundtable more engaging

A man is engaged in a virtual roundtable

With virtual events, it’s often a struggle to get your guests to show up and stay engaged. With a virtual roundtable discussion you’re less at risk of no-shows because these events are small and high value, but they can still fall flat when it comes to engagement.

Here’s our best advice on how to make your virtual roundtable event engaging so your guests stay interested and active throughout.

1. Involve your attendees in the planning process

One way to get your guests more invested in what’s happening is to involve them throughout the process. From the conversation starter to the time of day, letting your roundtable guests have a say is a great way to get them engaged.

Be practical about your attendees’ involvement, and make sure you’re not delaying the planning process or taking up too much of their time. Send multiple choice polls to understand their thoughts on your topic options, date and time, and event catering options. It’s a simple and considerate way of making them feel more involved.

2. Choose an engaging moderator

Your moderator plays a crucial role in making your virtual roundtable a fun and rewarding place to be. Find someone who fills that role well, with all the right skills and attributes to get the best out of your panelists.

Look for a moderator who's warm, welcoming and friendly — but isn’t a pushover. They need to be able to confidently and swiftly deal with an overbearing talker. Experience moderating virtual events is always beneficial for a high level roundtable, but for a more casual event, an engaging team member is often a great fit.

3. Add an element of fun with your event catering

Catering for a virtual event can be tricky. You can’t invite a caterer along or do a coffee run for your guests. While you can send a personalized delivery to their door, the logistics of this can be challenging and time-consuming.

Make things easier, and give your guests the fun of choosing their own food and drink, by using Hoppier virtual cards. Simply email a card over, and your attendee can order a delivery from their favorite coffee shop or restaurant to enjoy during the discussion. It’s a sweet way to save them the trouble of making coffee, and it can make your event catering a little more engaging.

4. Add polls and other interactive elements

Even when the conversation is interesting, relying only on your guests talking for the full 45-60 minutes can become tiring at times. Bring in some interactive elements to liven up the conversation and give you some useful data to move forward.

Most great virtual event platforms allow you to use features like polling, whiteboards, and mini games to drive up engagement during your session. Not only are they fun, but you can use your whiteboard notes and poll responses as market research after the event. These tools can be a useful way to keep your attendees focused, but be careful not to overdo it.

5. Create excitement around the event

We think virtual roundtables offer some of the most exciting and captivating discussions around, but for others the word conjures up ideas of stuffy boardrooms and one-sided debates. Dispel those myths, and get your attendees fired up ahead of the event with some engaging pre-event communication.

Check in with your guests before the event and give them everything they need to feel prepared. Alongside the agenda and link to join the video chat, use upbeat copy to let them know that just because the event’s virtual doesn’t mean it’s just another Zoom call. Talk about why your roundtable is different from the rest, and create anticipation by promoting the reasons it’s not to be missed.

Hoppier: add hybrid engagement to your virtual roundtable

Virtual roundtables often feature high-level executives or some of your favorite, respected members of your community. This means you want to go all-out and make them feel like VIPs. While you can’t take them out to dinner afterwards, you can use Hoppier to add in-person catering to your virtual experience.

With Hoppier, you can bring delicious food and drink to your guests’ door — without the hassle of complicated event logistics or trying to find the perfect treats for everyone’s needs or preferences. Instead of mailing out gift baskets, switch to our virtual platform and embrace simplicity.

A virtual credit card to offer catering at a virtual roundtable

It’s easy to set up a program and send your virtual cards to your guests. Customize your virtual card with your company logo and brand colors, and set limits on your spending balance and the dates when the card can be redeemed. You can also narrow down the vendor list, which is ideal if you’re hosting a sponsored event with a catering partner.

Vendors guests can purchase from with a virtual roundtable

Once you’re done customizing your card, send it on its way to your guest with a personalized email. They can then redeem the balance at a local vendor of their choice, so they can enjoy their favorite specialty coffee, hot tea, or a tasty pastry without heading to the store or brewing a pot in the kitchen.

Plan the kind of virtual roundtable your guests won’t want to miss

Virtual roundtables are a powerful tool to strengthen relationships, hear new voices, and generate conversation around a key industry topic. If you want to become a trusted source or go-to name in your field, these events are worth considering as part of your overall marketing strategy.

There are so many ways to ramp up engagement before and during your virtual roundtable. Get creative with your catering, or set up an in-event quiz for your guests. For even more ideas and tips, tune in to our webinar on how to create memorable and engaging virtual events.

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