As a corporate emcee with a 25-year background in comedy, I can attest that there was nothing funny about having to adapt my live-presentation skills to the virtual format. Nerve-wracking was more like it.
The transition required a ton of effort: diving into an unknown technical world, creating new partnerships, learning to connect with an inanimate camera instead of the energy of a live audience. Further, it meant a big shift in how I worked with event clients. But from this alien landscape came a new process for how I operate during events and how I partner with meeting planners.
No matter whether an emcee is working with a live audience or a virtual audience, it’s all about connecting well. Making that happen starts long before the event. From the start, the planner and the emcee must agree on a vision and what will make the journey successful. From there, an emcee can figure out a script and flow that touches the audience with the same energy they would experience at an in-person show.
There are familiar elements that a planner should provide to the host: tight content and direction; information on the event platform, other technologies to be used, and equipment needs; and sufficient technical-check and rehearsal time. But there are other critically important issues around finding and working with a virtual emcee. Here they are:
• Select a host based on the ability to draw in an audience and keep them riveted. For virtual events, that would be someone who is naturally comfortable in a studio. Someone who knows how to figuratively reach through the lens to capture audience attention. It’s often the likeable and entertaining host that seems to work best in this medium. Look at each candidate’s previous on-camera work and envision how his or her charisma could translate to your project.
• Understand the reasons for using a particular professional host. Knowing how and why a specific host works well in the virtual and hybrid environment (i.e., sets the meeting tone, drives the event forward, and maintains audience interest through their unique personality and delivery) will assure that planner and emcee are on the same page from the outset. This provides a smooth path to building a script and flow that resonates with the audience.
• Choose a quick study. Pick a host who has shown in previous work (or in an audition) that he or she can embrace your industry—someone willing to learn about and navigate your world. Also, the host should take the time to chat with and learn about your executive team and the audience. This kind of familiarity goes a long way toward making the audience feel comfortable and prepared to settle in and watch what can often be a multi-hour program.
• Make sure your emcee is nimble. This will ensure you can solve on-air problems quickly and jump into a Plan B seamlessly if needed. It should be someone with prior expertise in fluid situations, who can quickly produce workarounds and still deliver clever banter as changes are happening around them at that moment.
• Push the host to be creative, working with you to find unique ways of engaging the audience. As an example, a clever host might ask an audience to connect with him or her on LinkedIn during the meeting; in return, those attendees are promised a shout-out on air. But not just a basic shout-out—one that has been personalized quickly behind the scenes based on each attendee’s LinkedIn profile. Audiences love the recognition and the surprise that comes from this. It’s an easy way to make the virtual medium immediate and real. A host that can connect in ways that break the “fourth wall” of a virtual broadcast will make a strong impact.
Scott Bloom is a former stand-up comedian and television host who transformed his persona to become a comedic speaker, host, and master of ceremonies for hundreds of corporate events.