6 Guidelines for Successful Online Media Roundtables

September 2020
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With most in-person meetings suspended for the foreseeable future because of the coronavirus, it’s hard to imagine holding a traditional media roundtable anytime soon. 

However, thanks to the videoconferencing tools now available, there isn’t any reason to write off the roundtable as a media relations tool. In fact, a strategically executed virtual roundtable can reap significant and immediate media coverage for your organization, while also establishing your senior executives as reliable industry thought leaders and strengthening your connections with influential journalists. 

A virtual roundtable also frees you to invite media from multiple locations instead of limiting you to a single market, while removing the burdensome costs and coordination of bringing in panelists and booking a physical space.

Here are six guidelines to help make your next online media roundtable a success:

Promise them news, then deliver.

The reporters you invite won’t have to travel to your virtual roundtable, but they will need a compelling reason to attend. Anchor your event around a newsworthy development that promises information they will find valuable. In your invitation to the event, give reporters a hint of what to expect, and then keep the event itself focused on the news you intend to announce.

Limit attendance.

While webinars and certain other online meetings only show the speakers and let attendees stay hidden and muted, media roundtables are by their nature interactive. Limit attendance for your virtual event to a number that you can comfortably manage with everyone’s webcams activated — ideally no more than four panelists and 10 or fewer reporters. If you have more journalists on your target list, consider hosting two separate sessions.

Keep event to an hour.

Less is more, especially in a virtual environment. Studies have shown that Zoom fatigue is real, so keep your presentations streamlined and the Q&A focused and moving forward. A good moderator is crucial to maintain the flow of your virtual media roundtable and to keep everyone on schedule. It’s also important to have someone on-hand to manage any technical issues with minimal delays.

Rehearse your roundtable.

Videoconferencing platforms are simpler and more accessible than ever, but it just takes one panelist who has a bad Wi-Fi connection, poor audio, unflattering lighting or isn’t familiar with the conferencing tools to derail your best-laid plans. Rehearse your presentation with all panelists in their respective locations, using the same equipment they’ll use for the roundtable itself. That way, you can troubleshoot any quality-control issues ahead of time and confirm everyone’s comfort with the tools and process. Also provide talking points to your panelists based on key messages and anticipated media questions.

Choose video backgrounds.

Not everyone’s home office is ready for primetime viewing. Your panelists’ faces should be the central focus onscreen. If they blend into the wall or there’s distracting clutter behind them, hide those less-than-professional views with a virtual background such as a corporate logo. Make sure the background color contrasts with the panelists’ hair and clothing.

Establish protocols.

Besides hosting your online media roundtable, monitoring reporters’ questions and managing the flow of the conversation, your moderator should preface the event by explaining its format and laying out a protocol for asking questions. For example, you might give all participants camera access but still keep them muted until it’s their turn to ask a question, thus preventing people from talking over one another. 

Other protocol options for your online media roundtable include having participants use nonverbal cues such as Zoom’s “raise your hand” feature to get the moderator’s attention. You might also create a chatroom to handle overflow questions.

Whatever videoconferencing platform you choose for your roundtable — Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet — you’ll find a host of tools at your disposal to run your event smoothly and ensure a good experience for reporters and your panelists alike.

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