Organising a panel discussion event

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Over Summer, the University made Teams Live Events available for staff and students to use to broadcast live online events to up to 10,000 attendees.

Since then, the most popular event type has been panel discussions. This involves a panel of subject experts (which we’re in no short supply of at the University) answering pre-submitted or live questions from:

  • staff
  • students
  • the general public
  • all of the above

These events have proven to be well-attended and a great way to share information about a topic. In most cases, the panel members come from different background, have never met each other before, and can offer a fresh perspective to what could have been a traditional PowerPoint presentation. Recent examples include:

In light of this, we thought it best to share all our advice for arranging a successful panel discussion event.

Things to think about before you approach IT

What your event is called

The name of your event should be consistent across Teams, University events and social media. It helps your attendees find information about the event more easily.

Who will be on your panel

Teams Live Events can accommodate up to 250 presenters. However, the way Live Events work, the speaker must be selected from a list which only displays the last 10 people who have spoken. For this reason, we recommend a maximum of 10 on-camera speakers.

It’s worth only having one panel member to represent a particular sector or view point rather than several. For example, in ‘Units go live‘, which involved students asking Professional Services staff about what to expect at St Andrews, there was only one staff member per Unit and the event flowed smoothly.

Who will facilitate the event

Although the audience are drawn in by the topic or panel members, the success of the event can be down to the facilitator or moderator. This role:

  • welcomes the audience
  • introduces the panel
  • sets out the ground rules for the session (whether Q&A is available)
  • reads out pre-submitted and live questions to the panel
  • assigns questions to relevant panel members
  • ensures the event runs to schedule and moves discussions along if needed
  • provides general responses on behalf of the audience

If you have been asked to undertake this role and would like to watch an example of skilful facilitation, we recommend watching the first ‘Covid 19: Ask the experts‘ session, facilitated by Stephen Gethins.

Who will be backstage

If you’d like someone off-camera but part of the event, this is possible as well. For example, if you were hosting a high profile public event and someone from Corporate Communications was required to monitor incoming questions from a reputational point of view.

Similarly, if there is an advisory role required to provide quick references to University policies or services during the event for speakers to mention, they could be included.

Who will attend

Teams Live Events are more suitable for internal events but if you’d like to invite externals as well, specify this early on.

Who will organise the pre-submitted questions

We recommend using pre-submitted questions as it gets the discussion moving quickly, allowing for live questions to be asked as a follow-up. Use Microsoft Forms to do this – it’s easy to use and can be shared using a link. You can also share the ‘collaborate’ link with others so they can see the responses.

Set a closing date a few days before the event. Then export your questions to Excel and share a live link with your panel. Let panel members put their name beside the questions they wish to answer. Afterwards, group your questions by speaker and follow this structure for the first part of your event.

Who will manage the Q&A

This is usually the facilitator but backstage members can help too if there is a large number of incoming questions. Once a question is submitted, it can be:

  • published, for everyone to view (general questions)
  • dismissed, which no ones but those backstage can see (messages typed in error or irrelevant questions)
  • privately replied to, which only notifies the individual that asked the question (normally technical issues which someone from IT can answer)

Whether training is required

We’re more than happy to provide training and support to panel members, facilitators and anyone else involved in the event. Get an idea of how much support is required (for example, whether you’ll need two separate hour-long training sessions or whether a written guide and a quick chat will suffice).

Whether there will be an in-person audience too

You may require AV support for dual delivered events. If this is the case, please get in touch with IT a few weeks in advance.

Whether it will be a regular or out-of-hours event

IT Services can support your event in the background to ensure the right person appears on the screen at the right time. This is known as a ‘producer’ role. We can also train someone in your area to perform the producer role instead. This is worth doing if your event:

  • runs regularly and IT may not have the resource to support every event
  • is held out-of-hours as IT charge for support during these times

How to approach IT

Fill in the form on IT Self Service. More information is available on the IT website.

Once you provide us with all the information we need, we’ll set up the event for you and provide you with an attendee link which you can circulate to your intended audience.

Preparing for your event

Circulate your event link

Once you’ve got your attendee link, you can post it online or send it out by email or In The Loop. We recommend using a shortened link generator, like, as it makes the links more manageable.

If your event is intended for a large audience, it may be worth letting the IT Service Desk know and provide them with the link as well. This means if attendees aren’t sure where to find the event, they can ask the IT Service Desk.

Create a group chat

Add everyone involved in the event to a group chat. This can be in Teams or another platform if preferred. Some staff use WhatsApp so they can indicate to each other if they’re internet has dropped during the event.

If it’s on Teams, add the excel sheet with the event questions as a tab. Some presenters like to print these out ahead of time.

Draft an event schedule

Have a rough timeline you’d like to follow for the event. Give a copy to your event producer so they know what’s coming next.

This is also important if you’re sharing media. If a presenter wants to share their screen to play a video, demonstrate something or show PowerPoint slides, no other presenter should attempt to share their screen at the same time.

After the event

Publicise the recording

You may wish to put the recording on YouTube or Stream so it can be viewed afterwards. Live Events are automatically recorded and by default, the audience can follow the same attendee link from your event page to view the recording afterwards. This can be disabled if you’d rather it wasn’t available to watch afterwards.

Reports from IT

We can export a list of questions if you’d like to follow up with anyone. We can also export a list of attendees. The attendee list shows everyone that clicked the event link – including those that clicked it a week early to test it was working. Someone from IT Services will tidy this list up before sending it to you, condensing it to a single list of attendees that joined during the relevant time.

If you have experience in handling data in Excel and would prefer to analyse the raw data yourself, let us know and we can send you the exported file from Teams.

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