“Being able to communicate through a camera is an essential skill. It’s powerful. It’s immediate. It’s often necessary to reach global audiences.”
-Karin M. Reid, On-Camera Speaking Coach
Virtual meetings are here to stay. Whatever happens with Covid and other health concerns, we will never go back to an in-person-only meeting world.
If you are interested in becoming a great emcee (and I know you are because you’re reading this), you will want to master the world of online meetings.
See Related: Unexpected Situations – How To Be A Great Emcee
Three Types of Virtual Events
1. The online event
This is where the meeting happens completely online. Most participants will be in their home and/or office setting, not in an auditorium, hotel, ballroom, theater, et cetera.
For these types of meetings, it’s important that you structure everything you say and do toward the virtual environment.
2. The hybrid gathering
This format is becoming more and more popular. Some attendees are live and in-person at the physical venue, while other participants, speakers, and attendees are joining in online.
The key to effectively hosting an event like this is to remember that you’re speaking to two audiences. Chances are, you will be hosting at the in-person venue.
The temptation here is to address only those who are physically in the room with you and allow others to simply watch, as though they’re viewing a television show or YouTube video.
Don’t make this mistake. Keep in mind that you are really speaking to two sets of eyes and two sets of ears at all times. You want to welcome and address the in-person attendees while also welcoming and connecting with those online.
Your number one goal in this situation? To make these two groups feel like they’re part of one shared experience.
3. The tuned-in tribe
This is where an event is happening at a physical location and others are watching it by replay after the fact. In this context, it’s still important to address the audience viewing, but you can do this in a more casual manner and play to the crowd in the seats, knowing that others will be watching it later.
How Emceeing a Virtual Event is Different
Hosting an online meeting is different from hosting an in-person event in a number of ways. There’s a different energy. There’s a different level of engagement. There’s a different level of excitement.
These can sound like negatives, and they often are– but they don’t have to be. You simply have to be flexible and willing to make adjustments. With the right perspective and proper planning, you can make your virtual event just as exciting and engaging as an in-person meeting.
There are many positive things about virtual events as well. For example, you can involve a larger community than is possible at a strictly in-person event. Oftentimes, virtual meetings are a lot less expensive as well.
You may also find that you are more comfortable and relaxed on camera than on a stage with a live audience of hundreds of people. The point I’m trying to make here is that it will be whatever you make it. So, make it memorable!
How Emceeing a Virtual Event is the Same
Fortunately, there are some similarities between virtual events and in-person events. Firstly, you can still connect with people– you’re just doing it in a smaller space.
You can still communicate ideas and entertain your audience. You can still positively impact people and promote the company that hired you in a fun, entertaining way.
The most important thing to know for a virtual event in terms of working as a master of ceremonies is that your essential role is the same: keeping the train on the tracks and making sure everyone feels connected to you, the sponsoring organization, the theme of the event, and the content that is being delivered.
Five Factors for Maximizing Your MC Work in the Virtual Arena
1. Your virtual meeting platform
Just as an in-person event has a stage or physical platform, you also have a platform– it’s just a little different. Get to know how to use it if you don’t know already. Most likely, it will be Zoom, Google Meetup, or another virtual meeting application.
Don’t attempt to emcee an event on a platform you’re not already familiar with. If you’re newer to the virtual meeting medium (and chances are you’re not unless you’ve been born in the last year or two), do some research ahead of time and make sure to familiarize yourself with the virtual platform you will be using.
2. Your partners
There are some key people you want to stay connected with throughout a virtual meeting, as well as some important factors to consider. Will you be the one sharing the screen?
Will you be the one running the audio, or is someone within the organization doing that? Is there an online producer who will be connecting the platform to the various presenters?
Just as in an in-person event, it’s very important to have one or more talk-through meetings so you have clarity on who’s doing what, where they’re doing it from, and when they are participating.
3. Your program
This is the factor that is practically identical to an in-person event. Just like at an in-person event, you must operate from a written agenda.
The environment for virtual meetings has become much more casual than many in-person meetings, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t approach it in a professional manner.
You should still make use of a prewritten run of show (ROS) or meeting agenda. The advantages of this remain the same:
- It enables you to get everyone on the same page
- It allows everyone involved to work from a shared written document
- You can easily make changes without having to start from scratch
4. Your meeting participants
When you are emceeing a virtual event, you will still be introducing key leaders, guest speakers, and other presenters. Don’t forget the other participants who are super important: your audience. Look for ways to engage and re-engage with them, whether they are physically there with you or not.
Here’s a suggestion: encourage the sponsoring organization to send out an “experience box.”
This will allow everyone in the meeting to have a shared experience. Whether it’s opening a box full of surprise items, unwrapping a gift, or enjoying a book, the key is the together factor.
Though it may be harder to actively involve your audience members in a virtual event, it is not impossible. You’ll simply have to be a little more creative in finding ways to include the attendees.
5. Your power
Emceeing an online event is often more challenging than an in-person event because it’s harder to feel the reactions of attendees, and it can be hard to know whether they are truly connecting with you. But remember, you are still the orchestra leader.
Your power is in your ability to make everyone feel included. Generate as much engagement as possible and– just like in an in-person event– leave your audience wanting more.
Just like at in-person events, there are certain mistakes you want to avoid during your virtual meetings. To help you put on a smooth virtual event, let’s go over some things to stay away from.
10 Don’ts for Hosting Virtual Events
1. Don’t lose the energy.
You may be hosting the event from your own office or home studio, but it’s important to remember that you still need to set the tone for the event. Model the level of energy you want people to experience, and take the time to smile, raise your voice, and have fun! It will be contagious.
2. Don’t forget to engage.
Look for ways that you can invite participation from all the attendees. Again, this will involve a little bit (or maybe a lot) of creativity on your part, but the more you can get other people to talk and interact, the more enjoyable the experience will be. Of course, don’t forget to remind people to unmute themselves.
There are plenty of ways you can engage with attendees online. For example, you could create a trivia contest or play a quick game of Name That Tune. You could also have a raffle and randomly draw the name of one or more attendees to win a prize.
3. Don’t exclude anyone.
I have to make a confession: I hosted an important virtual meeting recently, and I blew it. I saw seven or eight key people on my screen and didn’t realize that there were another four or five people who were not showing up on my screen. So rather than including everyone, I only focused on the ones I could see.
I hope you will learn from my mistake and remember this valuable lesson: be sure you’re clear about who needs to be involved in the program and don’t move on until you’ve included everyone attached to the agenda.
4. Don’t embarrass.
While it may be tempting to poke fun at someone who forgot to turn off their video or unmute themselves, don’t. You want to create an environment that’s welcoming for everyone, not one in which people are afraid to make a mistake.
5. Don’t expect seamless.
Just like in-person events have their bumps, I’ve never been involved with an online event that didn’t have some surprise glitches or other challenges.
As we have said in other chapters, you just say “yes” and move on. To become a real pro, you learn how to work these bumps into your presentation and make them part of the fun.
6. Don’t forget your environment.
Make sure you look good, you sound good, and you feel good. If hosting the meeting from home, take the time to develop or create a home studio with adequate lighting– and if you must invest in one thing, invest in a professional microphone.
7. Don’t use elaborate slides.
If possible, have someone else operating slides or sharing screens so that you can focus on staying connected to the attendees.
Encourage other presenters to keep their slides to a minimum, and when the slides are used, to make them crystal clear. Extra points if no one uses an Excel sheet!
8. Don’t lose eye contact.
Think of the camera– whether a physical camera in your studio or the lens on your laptop– as your window to the heart of your attendees.
It’s tempting to look at the main part of your computer screen, but really you want to be looking directly into the camera and speaking in a conversational way.
You might also be tempted when other speakers are presenting to look away, take a stretch break, or grab a coffee, but don’t make this mistake if you can help it. Stay “on” even when it’s not your turn to speak.
9. Don’t make excuses.
What do I mean by this? I simply mean don’t give in to regret about the fact that your event isn’t an in-person one.
Instead, bring enthusiasm to your audience. Embrace the fact that you are meeting online in a way that gets the attendees excited to be a part of this unique experience. If you make the most of it, they will too!
As I mentioned earlier, one advantage of virtual meetings is that you can reach a wider audience than is otherwise possible. You can focus on this positive and say something like, “We are so delighted to be meeting as a team in this virtual world, and we’re glad that you’re here! Welcome to everyone around the world.”
10. Don’t fail to create an experience
Remember that your job as a master of ceremonies is to keep the train on the tracks and make it to your destination. The destination that everyone wants– the meeting planner, the head of the company, and especially the audience– is a shared experience.
Keep the focus on warmth, fun, and meaningful content, and you’ll have a successful event.
Many of the other sections in this work have tips that apply to virtual events, but this is also a new arena for the whole world, so stay familiar with the ever-changing technology, be you, and don’t forget to flash that smile.
Keep Reading: Welcome & Wrap-Up – How To Be A Great Emcee
This is an excerpt from Adam Christing‘s forthcoming book, “How To Be A Great Emcee: The A to Z Guide to Hosting Events” by America’s #1 Master of Ceremonies. Follow along as new chapters get posted to this blog category each week.