A few months ago, I wrote about my experience hosting the July Atlas Corps ‘People Power Hour’ session here. The People Power Hour session is an Atlas Corps program that allows fellows and alumni to share their thoughts on global social issues from a variety of perspectives. I was fortunate to moderate the session which consisted of a panel of three Atlas Corps alumni who were doing excellent social works in their home countries. In this blogpost, I will discuss how I was able to successfully moderate this panel session with people I had never met in my life as these fellows had returned back home after their one-year fellowship.

Engage with the audience. A good way to do this is to ask participants questions. Examples of such questions could be:

# Where they are joining the virtual meeting from?

# What are your participants’ views on the topic to be discussed?

Try to build connection with the panelists before the event. My rule of thumb is to host a mock meeting a few days to the main event. This allows both the moderator and the panelists to see where they have a shortfall and make amends before the event itself.

Ensure you have a good internet connection. I had to have a backup connection as the internet connection in my country is not reliable. Also, ensure you have sufficient data and that your devices are well charged or connected to power supply. It will be helpful to suggest this to your panelists, especially if they come from countries where internet connections are presumed to be unreliable. You do not want to have a panelist frozen while answering a question or sharing a thought.

Prepare questions that you want to ask the panelists in advance and share the same with them so they can effectively prepare to answer these questions. It will be unfair to spring a surprise on your panelists.

More importantly, direct the questions of your audience to the panelists. You may have to use your discretion to know who amongst your panelists will answer what question. Sometimes, the person asking the question would direct the question to a particular panelist. Pointing to these questions gives the audience a sense of belonging and it encourages those who have questions to post their questions. If the virtual meeting software allows, you can have the audience unmute and ask their question verbally. All of these improves audience engagements.

It is also important to build a reputation for your panelists. This can be done during their introduction. While introducing your panelists, speak about their achievements. Mention if they have written a publication, article or a book. if their book had been adapted into a movie, you want to mention that. You also want to mention awards and recognition they have to their names. All of these can encourage the audience to want to listen toi the panelists.

You also want to keep time. It is important to have your panelists in the virtual meeting room 15 minutes before the meeting starts and you want to start at the nick of time. Also, try to ensure the meeting does not exceed one hour. While there is no hard rule to the timing of virtual meetings, you do not want your participants to leave while the meeting is still ongoing, or have them doing something else.

Finally, you want to follow-up after the meeting. A thank you email to the panelists will leave an excellent impression of you.

As we end this year and move to our acclaimed new normal, 2021 will be a year of blended engagements. Most in-person conferences will have a virtual option which people will clinch either for safety reasons or financial reasons. This means virtual meetings are here to stay. The earlier we embrace this fact, the better for us.

Till then, stay safe and keep impacting your world.

Kayode Yussuf is a Class 39 Atlas Corps fellow. He serves as ‘Global IT Fellow’ at Evidence Action, Washington DC.