Global Geneva has been contacted by a number of groups and individuals for help on how to develop replacement options. We thought that the following piece would prove useful.

The World Health Organisation in Geneva has not yet declared the new coronavirus to be a pandemic, but to some of us who earn our living from moderating at events or training international teams, we are already suffering the drastic consequences. At the end of February, the Swiss Federal Council announced a ban on all gatherings of more than 1000 people until 15 March at least. This includes the highly-prestigious and expensive Geneva Motor Show, a major investment for numerous professionals worldwide involved with manufacturing, spare parts and marketing.  Other European countries have adopted similar precautions, including the closing of schools and universities in Italy.

It also looked to be curtains for the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights scheduled for the 6th to the 15th March. But the organizers then announced their “programme 2.0” in which a smaller number of discussions and interviews would be transmitted live over the Internet allowing the public to put questions to the speakers. Proof indeed that webcasting is a potential solution for event organizers as they navigate the uncharted territory of travel bans and cancelled conferences and panel discussions.

Webcasting, however, is just one option as I outline below based on my experience as a radio and video producer, presenter and panel moderator. There are others worth considering, but they will still require professional involvement if they are to be done well.

Audio or video

Audio, like radio, is much easier and less expensive than video. You can create a sense of intimacy and connection with the listener if you have a moderator with a well-modulated voice and who is skilled at animating a discussion. The speakers must also have good radio voices and have clear opinions and points to make.

With video, it is technically more complicated as you will need lights, camera and operators adding to the costs. However, people remember things best when presented visually. So video can be more powerful.

Pre-record or live

Live broadcasts get more viewers, as people love the sense that they are in real-time and capturing the moment. However, they come with the risk of technical glitches, challenging audiences and online trolls. If you have a well-developed social media strategy and significant followers, then broadcasting on Facebook or YouTube live is a good option as it is technically not complicated and relatively inexpensive. You have more control over a pre-recorded audio or video discussion and can also use the material in podcasts, online and on digital platforms to maximize audience engagement.

Whether you go live or pre-recorded, keep the panel discussion to no more than 30 minutes. Unlike traditional panel discussions, which can be from 45 minutes to 1 hour 15, broadcasts that are recorded and watched online need to be shorter so you manage people’s short attention span.

Logistics and “look and feel”

Whether you are pre-recording or going live with audio or video, you need to think about the look and feel of the discussion. Do you want people to be seated on sofas like on Breakfast TV or in high backed chairs as at the World Economic Forum in Davos? Or will everyone be on high chairs news presenter style? All this depends on the atmosphere you want to create.

Here are some other thoughts:

• Do seat the moderator and speakers so that everyone has eye contact. You don’t
want them to be placed in a line.
• Keep the number of participants to four, including the moderator.
• Check the sound quality. Tie mikes are best for video and audio, as people often
don’t hold microphones correctly.
• Dress so that tie mikes can be clipped onto a shirt or blouse with no cable
• Make sure the room or studio are sound proof. If you are recording in an office
space, turn off the air conditioners because they hum.
• Provide make up or at least powder for video as this evens out the skin tone and
under studio lights guests won’t transpire.
• Select a moderator who is used to taking instructions from a director in their
earpiece if you are webcasting. The moderator will need to pass instructions on
to the speakers such as which camera to look into.
• Have an autocue for the moderator’s opening and closing remarks and for the
questions coming in from the public.

Claire Doole is a former BBC journalist (Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, London), spokeswoman (UNHCR, IFRC, WWF International) who trains and coaches in the art of talking to the media, speaking in public, speechwriting and panel moderating. She is a sought after moderator and Master of Ceremonies for events and conferences around Europe. You can contact her on and

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