Femi Oke and Leslie Shampaine, co-founders of Moderate the Panel, in a video chat
With the cancellation of in-person events this year, Moderate the Panel co-founders Femi Oke and Leslie Shampaine pivoted their business and moved events online. — Moderate the Panel

When stay-at-home orders and social-distancing guidelines went into effect in early 2020, in-person conferences and panels, including some of the world's largest industry trade shows, were postponed or canceled entirely.

Television presenter, journalist and entrepreneur Femi Oke and her co-founder Leslie Shampaine launched Moderate the Panel in 2018 and had seen great success building a diverse, women-led network of professional communicators and moderators, particularly for in-person events. As these event industry trends unfolded and the pandemic worsened, Oke and Shampaine feared for the future of their business.

"All of our upcoming events in the U.S. and overseas were canceled and we anticipated a downturn in business and a very quiet year," Shampaine said.

A few months later, Oke and Shampaine noticed businesses and event organizers moving their scheduled in-person events online and hosting fully virtual panels. The trailblazers at Moderate the Panel followed suit.

[When] moderating online, you have to be prepared for anything to happen, while keeping the viewers hooked and entertained.

Leslie Shampaine, co-founder, Moderate the Panel

The virtual path forward for professional panel moderators during COVID-19

Moderate the Panel was born to address the lack of presenter diversity Oke had seen in her 30-plus years of moderating events. Now that events were moving online, there seemed to be more of a need—and opportunity—to promote excellent, engaging, diverse moderators.

"Moderating is often seen as a job anybody can do, and a lot of people who do it are terrible at it," Oke told CO—. "I wanted to transform the industry, create opportunities for talented women and people of color and to show how moderating when done well can make every event memorable. We are … led by women, we are from all over the world and we're REALLY good at what we do."

With a strong network of speakers and moderators behind them, Oke and Shampaine had to strategize how they would moderate virtual seminars and events. Since many of them had a background in TV, they looked at these webinars the same way they did live television broadcasts.

"[When] moderating online, you have to be prepared for anything to happen, while keeping the viewers hooked and entertained," Shampaine said. "We've been able to guide our clients as they step into the virtual world for the first time."

[Read: Event Companies Pivoting Through the Pandemic]

Following the boom in online events this past summer, Moderate the Panel began to see their bookings pick up and are now at the same rate of business as there were last year.

Shampaine sees online meetings, conferences and seminars as the future of the industry because they are more accessible and allow people to spread their message to a wider audience.

"Once [COVID-19] is over and people are able to gather together again, there is still going to be a market for virtual events," Shampaine added. "They are more inclusive, easy to attend and don't require a travel budget to participate."

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