3 Keys to Speaker Success at a Virtual Event

Author: Casey Gale       

Virtual Speaker

The founder of a speakers bureau recently shared with Convene what event organizers need to keep in mind when working with presenters at online events.

At an in-person event, you can feel the energy in the room when a speaker on stage is commanding the attention of the entire audience. That’s very different from how virtual event attendees are now experiencing speakers — via a small screen. Skills that speakers have honed for in-person audiences don’t necessarily translate well to the virtual environment.

“Virtual is up close and personal, and everyone has a front-row seat,” Betty Garrett, CMP, said. “Errors are more forgiving with a face-to-face, contrary to virtual, because facial features become more prominent on a virtual setting. You’ve got to use your body language. You’ve got to show emotion. You do all of this by using gestures that fit that small screen.”

Betty Garrett

Betty Garrett

Garrett founded the Garrett Speakers International bureau in 1993 after a stint in the airlines, planning events for organizations including the Young Presidents Organization, and working in Mary Kay Cosmetics’ business travel department. That combination of experience gives her a unique perspective on what both planners are looking for from their speakers, and what that means in the current digital events landscape. She recently spoke with Convene about how planners and speakers can work together to engage attendees who aren’t in the same room.

Don’t Skip This Important Call

Before signing a contract with a speaker, Garrett suggests holding a “discovery call” with the speaker. “With virtual meetings, it’s important to know how many others have they done?” Garrett said. Planners should ask for virtual reels from the speakers and if they do not have prior online experience, potential speakers should be prepared to give a short presentation on a video call. “You will have a feel of how they present,” she said, “and you’ll know whether or not they are a good fit.”

This is when, Garrett said, planners should ask how the speaker will engage the virtual audience — and at the same time, they should be prepared to share their meeting objectives and expectations.

“The more information the planner can give the speaker, the more they can customize their remarks,” Garrett said. “Tell what’s happening in the organization. Is it falling apart internally? What are the strengths? What are the weaknesses? Why are they having this particular meeting, or why do they want this particular speaker? Planners must orchestrate the conversation and not leave it up to the speaker.”

Be Deadline Driven

“Deadlines are more critical than ever before with virtual because of production,” Garrett said. “We can no longer wait until the last minute. The nuances with virtual require information ahead of time.” That means the virtual platform they’ll be using should be spelled out in speakers’ contracts and planners need to allow time for them to be trained, if necessary, in the program before the event.

Speakers also need to make themselves available for rehearsals. Let them know when you’re scheduling them, she said, “and that they’re mandatory.”

Shoot for ‘Cinematic’

Face-to-face events are “theatrical” in the sense that speakers use the stage to engage the audience, Garrett said, and in contrast, virtual events need to be “cinematic.”

Garrett said that storytelling has become even more critical for speakers to evoke emotion, articulate it, and paint a vivid picture in attendees’ minds in order to engage them during virtual events. “Let me be on the journey with you. Let me be on that roller coaster ride of you telling that story,” Garrett said.

And telling that story needs to take less time. “Speakers need to learn to cultivate one idea — shorter is sweeter,” Garrett said. “The 30-minute presentation is the new 60-minute presentation.”

In the same way that it is played before, during, and after an in-person event presentation — and during movies, as a way to advance the narrative — music also has a role to play at virtual events, Garrett said. Not only does it bring energy to their presentations, but when speakers use their preferred walk-on music from in-person events, it helps to reflect their personality and sets the tone for their session.

“Speakers are so used to face-to-face and being on stage. Now you’re putting them in a room by themselves and they have to perform and do … the same thing they would do on a stage. The only thing lacking is the energy from the audience,” Garrett said. That means that speakers need, she added, to create their “own energy.”

Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.