Conference Going Virtual

CONFERENCE GOING VIRTUAL – A great idea for associations looking to pivot their live meeting into a virtual event or hybrid conference.

For eleven years I have been an active member of the National Speakers Association.  I am really proud to share how they took on the association virtual meeting pivot and have created massive value for members. A conference going virtual can be difficult, but NSA took a fresh idea and are making it a win / win for the organization and their members.

The virtual format is currently being re-invented by companies and associations.  Since March 1, 2020 we have seen all live events canceled and the topic of conferences going virtual has become the hottest discussion in the meetings world. But there is not blueprint to pivot a conference to virtual, and some organizations are working at reinventing the whole concept of how and why they host meetings.

The above video is an interview from “The Webinar Talk Show”, which is an interview style format for webinars that I created with my friend Eliz Greene.  Eliz and I began hosting the broadcast for hybrid meetings six years ago. The idea was that the needs of a remote audience were not the same as that of the live crowd at the conference. As some groups began looking at hybrid events, we realized that a successful hybrid meeting needed more than just a live stream broadcast of their main stage speakers.  We created a talk show format that combined broadcast speeches with fun and in-depth interviews.  The results were great, but at that time meeting planners did not see much value in the at home viewers, and did not want to pay for hosts.

As soon as COVID hit and everyone was doing webinars, we again saw a hole in the medium. Too many webinars looked the same: Talking heads over PowerPoint. Again we realized our interviewing skills could make for more fun and better learning.  To showcase the format we created “The Webinar Talk Show” and have begun regular sessions with short interviews of people to get their ideas and content out to the world, while making it like a fun morning talk show (Think LIVE with Kelly and Ryan).

The interview I am sharing is with Mary Lue Peck, the CEO of the National Speakers Association. Their annual INFLUENCE 2020 conference is scheduled for August 2020, and the odds of it happening are probably about 50% as of the time of this blog post. The in-person event is usually has about 2000 people, but the leaders at NSA realized that if it happens, it will be much smaller.  They also know their members are being badly hurt by the cancellation of live meetings, and they need ideas and information now (not in August).  Thus their unique and cutting edge idea of their conference going virtual moving all 22 breakout sessions to virtual, and beginning the delivery in May is amazing.

If the live event happens, it will be all in one room.  So the breakout speakers have been asked to reformat their talks and take them to one of five virtual formats and share a combination of evergreen information as well as ideas that will help during the current crisis.  The five formats are a standard presentation, short talk with a deep dive dissection of the delivery, and interview, a panel, and a recorded presentation with the speaker participating live in the chat.  All 22 breakouts will be aired on Mondays and Thursdays for 11 weeks leading up to the live event.

The National Speakers Association also decided that these sessions needed continuity and an element of fun and energy.  Having a virtual emcee is more important that a live master of ceremonies. A conference going virtual cannot leave the vibe of the event to change Too many webinars and virtual conferences are missing the element of connection to the at home audience. A virtual emcee brings continuity and reliability. Enter Eliz Greene and myself with our “Webinar Talk Show” format.  We will be hosting these breakouts and working with all the speakers in advance to ensure they are prepared to go deep with the most useful content while having fun and being as open and real as possible.

Check out this video as Mary Lue shares what was the thought process on the NSA conference going virtual and how they are hoping it will change the way they do meetings in the future.


Thom Singer is a keynote speaker and professional master of ceremonies /EmCee for live and virtual meetings.  If you are looking at ideas for a conference going virtual or are looking at a hybrid event, Thom Singer and Eliz Greene would like to share their ideas with you. Check them out a The Webinar Talk Show or The Conference Talk Show websites.

For a no cost brainstorming session on ideas for a conference going virtual, email thom (at) to set up a call.