Tips for holding a roundtable over Zoom

Hi all,

OMERS Ventures recently hosted its first roundtable over Zoom. We focused on the Capital Markets Infrastructure stack alongside our Capital Markets colleagues and heard from smart, senior and opinionated people for 2 hours. I

It was so much better that we hoped (huge thanks to Will, Nicole, Dan, Gabbi and Harry), so I thought we’d share a few tips on how to hold a good roundtable event over Zoom. We’d really love to hear from others as well about what has worked for them, especially since we’re all figuring this out right now.

Live action shot of the event
  1. Curate the attendees

We had a great mix of experienced and knowledgeable people, from parts of the sector that might not necessarily interact (retail vs. wholesale, starups vs. banks, buy-side vs. sell-side) and it led to a richer discussion.

We also turned Zoom into a positive, with attendees from London, Cambridge, Toronto, New York and Amsterdam. If we’d been able to stick to our original plan to host breakfast for 20–30 people, we wouldn’t have been able have them over.

2. Prep Work!

We prepared a long list of questions ahead of time and people earmarked for them. It took a lot of work but was well worth it — (thanks for all the prep work Dan Childs). We didn’t necessarily use the Qs but it made us feel confident hosting and able to keep the conversation flowing.

3. Attendees vs. Panellists

We spent a a couple of hours playing with Zoom features ahead of time, figuring out how to 1) spotlight the speakers, 2) whether people should be panellists or attendees. We picked making everyone a panelist as it meant everyone (roughly 25 people) would be on video and able to speak without being “promoted”. This wouldn’t work for larger events but was perfect for what we wanted.

4. Have an agenda with times attached and refer back to it frequently

Thanks Harry Briggs for the suggestion here. We flashed the agenda up regularly so people knew how long we were going to be, and when they might expect to be called on. It meant that people stayed on and engaged all the way through.

5. Moderate the conversation.

The way to keep chaos (aka. smart curious and knowledgeable people with a LOT of opinions) under control was to make sure as hosts, we called on specific people and prepped the next response. e.g. “Jane, we know you have a tonne of experience on this from your work in X, so we’d love to get your thoughts on Y question, and then Peter, would be great to get your reaction as you’re in the same space” . We lost some spontaneity but it made sure that almost everyone spoke and we were able to cover all the topics we wanted.

6. Allow people to use the chat function to ask questions.

We found out midstream that the Zoom Q&A function only works for attendees, not panellists. We’d made the decision not to promote people during the talk but the chat function works really well here too as chat has public and private functionality.

7. Don’t use a virtual background unless you have to.

This might be just personal preference but there was more immediacy and connection without some of the novelty virtual backgrounds we’ve been seeing lately. It’s not always possible (I’ve been working from my bedroom for some of the time lately and it doesn’t look super professional so I have a great background for that, but overall, I prefer not to use one if not necessary).

It turns out that there’s some research that shows that people with virtual backgrounds come across as less trustworthy than those with real backgrounds (thanks @Nicole_kelly). Nicole, who does a tonne of OMERS Community work suggested the next level tip of uploading a photo of your room when it’s spotlessly tidy so you can use that as background at all times ;-)

8. Use a desk not your lap to balance your laptop.

Do not ask me how I know this… but trust me, it’s normal to fidget and it looks very distracting to others if the whole image box (rather than your head) is moving.

9. Keep a separate chat going for the hosting team.

Image for post

The OMERS crew used Whatsapp on our phones as we found that using Whatsapp Web or the internal chat tool on Zoom via laptop meant others could hear typing if you weren’t muted. Keeping it on a separate device meant it was quieter and less risk of attendees seeing something you’d prefer they didn’t.

10. Offer to make follow up intros upfront for those attending the event.

Many of the attendees have asked for intros to others which we’ve been happy to facilitate (with permission of course). It’s a nice way to keep the conversation going.

11. We’re sharing LinkedIn profiles of/to all the attendees in our thank you note.

It’s a nice way to put people in touch without sharing contact details and introduces that little bit of distance, braAnd of course, thank yous are important!

12. Please share your own suggestions!

While we all hope lockdown ends safely soon, we know virtual events are going to be a big part of doing business in the future. We’re still figuring this out and would love to hear your tips.

And if you’re building an awesome business in the capital markets infrastructure stack, please come talk to us :-)

Written by

VC @OMERSVentures. Co-founder @turo. Lover of all things London.

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