Wow the Crowd: Tips from Top Speakers to Bring Your Virtual Events to Life

November 17, 2020

Woman with headphones laughing at laptop

There’s a certain magic to witnessing something live and in-person. It’s why many people count the time they saw their favorite band in concert, or took in an epic sporting event from the stands, among their most cherished memories. 

It’s also why the best keynote speakers are must-see attractions when we attend events and conferences. They have the ability to connect with an audience and create an experience that sticks with us. 

Here in 2020, as many events shift online, the question becomes: how can we recapture that unique energy and engagement? What can organizers, brands, and speakers do to bring virtual events to life? At a time when so many companies and marketers are turning to this tactic, it’s critical to stand out from the pack — by wowing the crowd. 

To uncover some specific guidance on doing so, we went straight to the source, asking popular event speakers how they’re handling this transition and adapting to the new virtual environment.

Influencers Share their Tips for Making Virtual Events Stand Out

While missing out on the in-person aspect is unfortunate, there are comparative benefits to running a virtual event: it’s much less expensive and resource-intensive to organize, it’s easier to attend for people from all around the globe, and in some ways it enables a more interactive experience.

With an eye on that last strength, let’s take a look at how five accomplished speakers are adapting and taking advantage of this altered format to engage their audiences in new ways and deliver concrete value for those in attendance.

Shama Hyder Offers 4 Pointers for Pivoting Online

She’s a CEO, a best-selling author, and keynote speaker. Shama Hyder is also a millennial and digital native whose company, Zen Media, has a largely distributed workforce, so the transition to a virtual setting might be a bit more natural for her than many others. Based on her experience, she has four key pieces of advice for those who are putting on virtual events.

  1. Shorten your session lengths: Decrease the time slots you would use for a physical event by 15 or 30 minutes — e.g. a 60-minute breakout should be 45 or 30 minutes when done online. 
  2. Ask colleagues to be active in your chat: This helps to encourage more live interaction and networking amongst your event participants.
  3. Mic check: Sound matters! Use a quality mic or consider getting a headset microphone. I’d also highly recommend Krisp to mute any background noise.
  4. Rethink your event promotions: Email marketing and social media are great tools for helping to get the word out about your event. But be sure to think outside the box to find out where else your audience could be hanging out online. Maybe your industry colleagues are interacting heavily on Reddit. If so, you could hold a brief AMA (Ask Me Anything) before the event to get people talking and more intrigued about your event.

Brian Fanzo on Covering the 360 Degrees of Virtual

If you’ve ever seen Brian Fanzo speak live, you know that his keynote sessions exemplify the energy and engagement we mentioned earlier. He’s conversational and colorful. He loves to interact with the crowd. In making the pivot to online keynotes, Brian has quickly adapted by embracing what he calls “the 360 degrees of virtual” — a series of techniques he uses to ensure that attendees have a memorable experience, even if they can’t see him in person. 

I focus on educating the attendees for each event I speak at on what their expectations should be, and the important role they play in making my session truly immersive. (Usually a 60-90 second custom video for each event, sent out a week in advance.)

I’ve also reinvented each keynote program by stripping the mechanics out of the talk and designing a session that leverages the 360 degrees of virtual, which includes:

  • Changing perspective or interactivity every eight minutes within my talk. 
  • Leveraging five unique camera angles in my home office.
  • Using zero slides, and creating custom broadcast overlays and/or Prezi video graphics.
  • Moving from standing to sitting to using my stool, depending on the emotional connection I want to make with the audience.
  • Designing all talks to be virtual platform agnostic, and not requiring anything from event production staff other than my video feed. 
  • Switching between lav mic, boom mic and handheld microphone depending on style of that content section.
  • Starting off the talk by letting the audience know that whatever questions I don’t answer at the end I will do a personalized video sent to all attendees answering every question. (Inspires people to ask more questions since they know for sure it will be answered.) 
  • Working with the event team to assign my time slot for when is best for the audience, depending on the agenda and current attention already leveraged with attendees.
  • Creating a ‘choose your own adventure’ element for all full paid virtual keynotes where the audience gets to select from multiple choices on what stories and examples they want to hear.  
  • Allow audiences to vote on what color hat I wear for the talk to start off creating engagement and creating that conversational connection. 

Jay Baer on Centralizing Attention

Speaking of colorful speakers, Jay Baer is known for the bright and eccentric suits he wears on-stage — the kind of calling card that can grab a live audience’s attention. He says that in a virtual setting, where conflicting visuals are often at play, it can be more challenging for a speaker to hold that attention. Here’s his advice for overcoming this.

One of the challenges with most online event platforms is that they split the audience's attention visually. There is one window for slides, and a different window adjacent for video of the speaker. This is not the best way to make an impact! Wherever possible, I do not use slides in the classic sense, but instead use overlays of graphics that I can turn on or off on top of my video. This way, the audience only has to look in one place, and I'm making a lot more "eye contact" with attendees throughout.

Stephanie Liu Provides Practical Preparation Tips

Putting on a great virtual event starts with thinking ahead, setting speakers up for success, and getting the proper people and tools in place. So says Stephanie Liu, a live video strategist and veteran keynote speaker with plenty of experience in virtual and IRL settings. She recommends taking these four steps as you plan your event. 

  1. Tech rehearsal is an absolute MUST. Speakers that you know are great on-stage might not have the technical know-how to deliver a presentation virtually. Offer technical support. Give speakers a behind the scenes tour of the platform and make sure to cover key features such as how to mute his/her mic. 
  2. If budget allows, surprise and delight your speakers with a Welcome Gift that includes an external webcam like the Logitech Brio 4K and an external mic like the Samson G-Track Pro. Your speakers AND your attendees will appreciate your attention to detail in ensuring a quality event.  
  3. Hire a professional emcee to set the tone for your virtual event. A professional master of ceremonies will bring the energy and fun to keep audiences engaged. Hiring an emcee will help fill in gaps during your event if a speaker is experiencing tech issues. Tech issues happen, plan for them. 
  4. Create opportunities where attendees can network remotely (today, use Zoom Breakouts, Messenger Rooms, etc.; coming soon, do this within your LinkedIn Event!). If you have a virtual event platform that combines web and mobile, that's even better.

If you're looking for FUN ideas, I've heard of events where they hire professional improv actors or done an Escape Room exercise virtually.

Goldie Chan on Empowering Interaction from Anywhere

Goldie Chan knows how to engage and entertain an audience through the screen. She creates tons of high-performing video content on LinkedIn (check out some of her work under the #DailyGoldie hashtag) and has also spoken at many conferences, so she understands the key distinctions between in-person and virtual. When it comes to delivering a great experience online, she says it’s smart to emphasize audience interaction and let real-time questions direct the content.

As counter-intuitive as this sounds, it's much easier to coordinate across multiple time zones with a primarily online event. Having booked a time slot that speakers or participants can prepare weeks in advance for but do not need to travel to, helps. In addition, there's the fact that it is much easier to capture both the speaker and any questions that arise from any online event, especially if streamed over a simple program like Zoom or Switcher Studio. Text and chat allow real-time questions during a talk that a speaker can refer to and incorporate into their keynote, as well.

Capture the Magic of Virtual Events on LinkedIn

When making the transition to virtual events, with help from tools like LinkedIn Events and LinkedIn Live, you don’t need to sacrifice the elements that make in-person events memorable. You simply need to rethink them and optimize for a different style of delivery and interaction. Who better to look to for guidance than those speakers and experts who are showing how it’s done? Huge thanks to these five for generously sharing their insights.

To learn more about how to turn in-person events into virtual experiences, download our pocket guide. And to get more tips on throwing successful virtual events, subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Blog.