This is a post by Pilar Orti of the Spain Uncovered Podcast on her experience of hosting podcast roundtables.
I love bringing people together and a podcast seems a good place as any to do so. In trying to think of a way of having multiple guests on my podcast, I came across Podcaster’s Roundtable. The show has become one of my favourite podcasts and I really enjoy hearing the guests and host bounce ideas off each other, looking at a topic from different angles.
So, after listening to a few of their shows and dissecting how they were being run, I decided to host a couple of roundtables myself.
Roundtables Transported Online
Before I share some of the best practices I’ve picked up when experimenting with this format, let me take a step back to describe what I mean by a roundtable. This is a chaired discussion, where all participants discuss and debate a specific topic. The face-to-face equivalent takes place over a roundtable, and encourages equal participation.
However, the roundtable I’m referring to takes place online, over a medium like Google Hangouts, where (although not in a circle) participants can still see each other’s faces all the time.
This is the main reason I prefer to hold these events on Google Hangouts, whether they are live or not. Google “edits” the visuals as you progress through the hangout: whenever the system picks up speech (or coughs!) from someone, the screen shows the person talking, while the rest of the participants are still visible as thumbnails on the bottom of the screen.
In other webinar-style platforms you can only see one person at a time, or you have to consciously switch webcams between speakers – Google does this for you.
Once you’ve run the event on a Google hangout, you can easily rip the sound off for your audio podcast.
I’m still playing around with this format for my own podcasts (see episode 36 of the Spain Uncovered Podcast: Spanish Stereotypes) but I’d like to share with you some of the best practices I’ve picked up, in case you are thinking of incorporating one of these discussions into your schedule.
Hopefully these tips I’ve picked up by experimenting and observing others will help you to create the best possible experience for your listeners or viewers.
The Technical Stuff
Even if you’re not going to advertise the roundtable as a live event, it’s worth treating it as such. It will raise the stakes and minimise the amount of editing you need to do later.
Pretty much like with any live event, you need to rehearse beforehand especially if you haven’t used the technology before. Or even if YOU have used it before, test it with your guests. You only need ten minutes to do so, but it’s well worth it. (Don’t forget to test your back channels of communication too – more on these later.)
If you can’t find a time with your guest before the day of the event, then make sure they’re in front of their equipment at least 15 minutes before the air time. If everything is working properly, they can just make themselves a cup of tea before the event starts. (In fact, I would recommend that everyone involved signs onto the platform 15 minutes before the start time.)
If you decide to release the roundtable as a video podcast or as a live, open hangout, make sure you look directly at your camera most of the time and not at the people on your screen. And make sure that your camera is at a level that picks up your eye line even if you’re looking down – you don’t want your audience to be thinking “Look at the camera, look at the camera!”. (I’ve learned this one the hard way…)
During the discussion, ask everyone to mute their microphones when they’re not talking. This might take away some of the spontaneity of live discussion, but it will make for a better listening experience for your audience.
It will also make editing easier, if you need to clean up the sound later. This is particularly important with Hangouts as the platform will pick up small sounds like a cough or a “Hmmm….” and the person talking on the screen, will be replaced by someone who is just agreeing or coughing. This is distracting for both guests and audiences.
Unless you are hosting the roundtable with people who are very experienced at this or with a group of people who regularly hang out together, it’s a good idea to have a roadmap of the discussion, just a couple of points on how the discussion might unfold.
I would even go as far as deciding how you’re going to make your introductions. Will you, the host and chair, introduce everyone? Or will everyone introduce themselves?
Something I used in the last discussion I chaired was to set an order of introductions and ask everyone to say something like, “Over to Paul now,” at the end of their own introduction. This meant that I didn’t have to intervene between speakers and the introductions went by quite swiftly.
Make sure you have a back channel for communicating with each other that does not involve speaking into the microphone. This is a really good way of knowing who wants to speak next or of warning everyone that you’re going to wrap up a topic/question. (Hangouts has a chat function that you can use where only those on the roundtable can see the conversation.)
You can also use it to warn someone that you’re going to pass the microphone to them next.
On top of this, it’s worth having a second channel of communication open like email or a Facebook group, where your guests can let you know if they’re having problems logging onto the platform.
To make sure your guests are ready to speak when you ask an open question or start a new topic, let them know you’re going to hand over the microphone to them.
For example, instead of saying, “So, on the topic of how to make a cup of tea, why do the experts suggest that you wait a bit after the kettle has boiled? Claire, what do you think?”, you could warn Claire that she’s up next: “So, Claire, do you want to start us off on this one: On the topic of making a cup of tea, the experts say etc.”.
This will give people time to think a bit about what they want to say and get rid of fillers while people try to formulate their answers.
It’s worth thinking about how you’re going to wrap up the discussion. Will you summarise the key aspects/ conclusions/learning points? Or will the different guests share their thoughts one by one?
I would even go as far as to suggest that you and your guests try to stay away from phrases that add little to the discussion like, “Well, before I share my thoughts, can I just thank you for such a great time on the call…” If repeated by five different people, it really loses its value and people might start to log off. But this is a personal preference…
Above all, pick a topic that you enjoy discussing, invite guests whose opinions you admire and remember, you can always edit later!
Pilar is also the author of Thriving through Change at Work, The A to Z of Spanish Culture and Your Handy Companion to Devising and Physical Theatre.