Despite the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, it might be months before many businesses return to the types of pre-pandemic, large-scale in-person events we once did. In the meantime, many are opting for virtual or hybrid conferences.
In order for hybrid events to be successful, planners must create engagement opportunities and value for in-person attendees, as well as those tuning in virtually. Luckily, speakers can help in both departments — if selected carefully.
Several considerations must be made to help ensure that the talent booked exceeds expectations for your entire audience, whether they are participating online, in person or both. Below are some of the top things planners should consider when selecting speakers or other entertainment for an event.
1. Do Some Research
A critical first step is to do a quick search of any speaker you are considering on Google. Make sure to look through the news tab to see if there is any negative press, as you want to make sure they will reflect well on your company.
It is also important to select a speaker or entertainer who is engaging to your audience. View clips of their previous presentations or performances to see how well it would relate to the demographic of your attendees.
2. Examine the Event Goals
Consider how the potential speakers would help you to achieve the goals of the meeting. For example, are you looking for a motivational speaker who will help your team overcome the obstacles of a difficult sales year? Or, would it be better to bring in a futurist or influencer to discuss emerging trends and how your company should move forward? Whichever speaker you select, make sure they set aside some time in their presentation for an interactive Q&A with both virtual and in-person attendees.
3. Make Sure It's Memorable
Entertainment makes meetings more memorable. Select a powerful meeting opener to set the tone of the conference. The opener should suit the theme of the meeting but is also an opportunity to have some fun. A nice touch might be to have your general session opener "magically" appear via smoke or some sort of other illusion. This adds excitement for both those watching online and in person.
4. Tie in a Theme
For maximum impact, consider coordinating the entertainment to the event theme. The theme can often be tied to the in-person location of a hybrid event, or wherever the virtual was originally scheduled to be held. For example, if you are planning a special dinner at a beach resort in a warm climate, a beach band might be a nice touch. Virtual attendees can watch from home and have an appropriately themed meal delivered to them. Virtual and in-person giveaways should also be themed, such as sunglasses and beach bags, which could be handed out to in-person attendees and mailed to those joining remotely.
5. Consider the Audience
If you are hiring a celebrity to perform or organizing a meet and greet at your event, review the person's name recognition. Make sure they carry the weight you are hoping for with your intended audience (e.g. a social media influencer might carry a great deal of weight with a Millennial or Generation Z audience, but not so much with an older crowd).
6. Review the Content
Be sure to discuss your presenter's speech or performance prior to the event to ensure there is nothing controversial included. You can also have a moderator field questions from the audience before they are read aloud to the entire group to avoid any issues.
7. Prioritize Engagement
Regardless of whether your meeting is held in a hybrid or entirely virtual format, you'll want to have your speakers engage with attendees via polls, quizzes, the chat section and more. A good rule of thumb is to have some type of engagement for every 10-15 minutes of presentation time.
8. Create Extra Rewards
Work with the speaker on possible rewards for attendees. For example, if you hire a celebrity entertainer for your wining sales team, you might be able to offer up an autographed item or one-on-one time as an incentive for the top employee. Items can be handed out in person or mailed. If the top employee chooses a private meeting with the celebrity guest, this can easily be scheduled during a session break or over Zoom.
9. Prepare a Plan B
Having a back-up plan and extra speakers ready is crucial for any event, but even more so during Covid-19. If your live speaker falls ill or your virtual entertainer has a bad connection, you'll want to have someone else ready to step in. It's also important to have extra staff members on-hand behind the scenes to keep everything running smoothly and ensure that the event is enjoyed by everyone involved — whether it is in person, livestreamed online or pre-recorded.
Joanne Brooks is president of full-service production company and talent agency, Creative Impact Group. For more than 40 years, she and her production team have helped companies with staging, scripting, providing talent and more for trade shows and corporate events.