Ever been ahead or your time? Five years ago Eliz Greene and I launched a product called “The Conference Talk Show“. With all the talk about online streamed events, we realized most lacked any connection with the audience. What was needed to make them more engaging was a virtual conference host. But it had to be people with good facilitation skills, master of ceremonies experience, interviewing expertise, and the ability to mix upfront preparation with onsite spontaneity.
But our efforts to be virtual conference hosts was too early. Few associations are companies were really committed to the hybrid conference, and when they did it, they simply showed the general session speakers. If there was a coffee break they suspended the broadcast until the next keynote. Little real attention was given to the at home audience. The successful virtual conference was not as much of a priority as the in-person live sessions.
Fast forward to March 2020 and the Coronavirus. Social distancing and work from home are suddenly mandatory and hosting a physical event is impossible. Many companies and associations are looking to host a virtual event with little time to prepare. Suddenly the need to engage audiences with a high quality virtual conferences are a real time priority. Those who are deciding to host online are doing so without enough case studies and are having to make decisions on the fly. The best ones will look at adding a virtual conference host to help keep people tuning in for the whole conference.
Why Hire A Virtual Conference Host?
A virtual conference host is more than just letting any team member be the emcee. Live conferences often go with a board member or employee to welcome the crowd and talk about locations of rest rooms. If this person is not great on stage, they rationalize it as a cost savings (over hiring a professional master of ceremonies). But the audience is already in chairs, so they seem captive. A virtual audience is a different story. They have all sorts of distractions happening at home, including work responsibilities, spouses and children in the same room, and things like a fridge stocked with 14 days of snacks.
To keep people paying attention to an online event there needs to be engagement, interactivity, and some level of fun. A professional virtual conference host can provide that, plus is there if you have technology snafus and speakers who run short or long. They are the thread continuity, and the eyes and ears of the at home viewers.
Everyone Is Suddenly A Virtual Conference Expert
I spoke with two meeting planners today who were surprised how every professional speaker in the world was filling their inbox offering webinars. Most have not done this before. I have hosted many events (live and online). The Conference Talk Show, while ahead of its time, was designed to get people watching a remote event to lean in. Plus I have hosted over 100 live events as an EmCee (some of those were hybrid simulcast conferences). And,… I have interviewed over 500 people on my two podcasts (Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do and The Digital Enterprise Society Podcast).
The interview experience is key for a good virtual conference host. A successful online event should have more live interviews than you would have in a live meeting. The talking-head keynote does not translate as well to virtual.
Many Choices for Virtual Conference Hosts
If you are seeking a virtual conference host, there are lots of options. A Google search will bring up many choices. I may or may not be the right fit for your audience, but I am willing to brainstorm ideas with your and help you get some ideas on how to handle the sharing of data in this new medium. None of us (meeting organizer or speakers) can blow it in this crazy time of Coronavirus and work from home. We get one shot at doing virtual events. If audiences are bored they will tune out and not come back.
As for the costs, this is still the wild west and I am working with clients on a case by case basis. There are too many variable to the length of time, the amount of data and content. How many interviews, etc…. Thus my statement on fees is “Let’s figure out what is fair”. I am about the mission, not the money, during this crisis. Planners and speakers must work together as we are all reinventing how to do events in this era.
Social Tightening while Social Distancing
Associations and companies are going to play a key role in keeping the social fabric of our organizations alive. I have been known as “The Conference Catalyst” for 15 years in how I work to get people to engage more at live events. Now we all need to find ways to stay connected while working from home. Good virtual conferences can be a key to helping people feel connected. There is going to be a lot of people feeling lost and alone, and our connections to organizations will be very important to keep the connections to other people alive. “Social Tightening” is a series of simple, but intentional steps we can all take to cultivate our relationship during this time. I think our a good virtual conference host is one part in letting these online events fill in the gaps in our society while we are quarantined.
Thom Singer www.ThomSinger.com