5 Things to Consider Before Hiring a Speaker for Your Virtual Event

May 13, 2020

With many events pivoting to virtual right now, event planners and marketers are working overtime to make sure their digital event programming is packed with premium educational content. But what about those valuable extras that attendees come to an event to experience, such as high-profile speakers and entertainers? As with live events, quality keynote presentations can help transform virtual events into unforgettable experiences, too. However, working with speakers for a digital event is, in some ways, different than a live talk on stage. 

We talked with two speakers bureau executives – Corey Shapoff, president of SME Entertainment Group, a Live Nation Company; and John Truran, senior vice president of Keppler Speakers – to fill us in on what you need to know about working with speakers for virtual events. 

Put as much thought into selecting a virtual speaker as you would a live one.

To save money and time while trying to make up for a cancelled event, you may be tempted to just get something out there via an ad-hoc virtual conference filled with educational content. But challenging times mean that people are hungry for engagement, support and inspiration, so don’t make that mistake, Truran warns. 

“Much like they do at a live event, keynote speakers frequently provide a 30,000-foot perspective on the challenges facing an organization or industry,” Truran says. “In many cases, they also provide much-needed thought-leadership or inspiration for attendees to face their business or personal challenges. Given the challenges the entire world is facing right now, the message of a keynote speaker is needed now more than ever.”

Consider the experience.

While it might seem difficult to duplicate the kind of attendee engagement that live event experiences produce, experienced speakers bureaus can help with ways to keep attendees’ attention.

“Whether the production is relatively traditional or involves immersive technologies such as augmented reality or holograms, virtual and digitally streamed events can easily deliver the wow factor clients are looking for,” says Shapoff.

For example, virtual settings can provide interactive features, such as Q&A sessions and virtual meet-and-greets. Shapoff says they can also help to bring in emcees and moderators to facilitate transitions between program elements and fill any content gaps.

Know how virtual speakers will impact your budget.

Production costs drop when hosting a virtual versus a live event, and the cost for speakers does, too, in many cases. In general, speaker fees for virtual appearances are 25 to 50 percent lower, says Truran. “However, some speakers are choosing not to reduce their fees at all, so this is not an across-the-board change,” he adds.

In addition to reduced performance fees, you can save on various expenses that live presenters typically incur, including production, airfare, meals and hotel room.

A number of variables can have an impact on a speaker’s overall price tag, says Truran. For example, if you want to hire a speaker for a Q&A or a fireside chat (i.e., an informal interview), the price is going to be lower than if you’re asking for a highly customized keynote on how COVID-19 is impacting your industry.

“As each speaker or entertainer is unique, it’s difficult to pinpoint a uniformed percentage of savings,” Shapoff says. “Although exact pricing has not been established yet for virtual events, the agency should have a good understanding of what speakers, musicians, comedians and emcees might accept [for] a virtual event.”

Decide how you’ll deliver the speaker’s content.

Depending on your event’s needs and production budget, speaker presentations can be delivered to a virtual platform via live streaming, pre-recorded performances or a combination of the two. Both formats have their own set of pros and cons.

“Pre-recorded performances take away the risk of production glitches or service interruptions, while live events provide more opportunity for audience interaction and a more authentic feel,” says Shapoff. Depending on the flow of your program, a mix of pre-recorded and live-streamed segments can work well, and also be easier in accommodating schedules: For example, having a speaker present via live stream and then having a pre-recorded artist perform later in the program.

According to Truran, many clients are opting for pre-recorded keynotes and having the speaker join the event live for a Q&A portion. 

Partner with a qualified speakers bureau.

You don’t want to hire a talking head that your audience will tune out from within the first few minutes, so be sure to talk with your speakers bureau to learn which speakers are good in this environment and which are creating content specifically for virtual. “[Bureaus] work with speakers on their content and how they’re delivering it, as events typically want more than a speaker looking at a webcam,” says Shapoff.

A knowledgeable bureau should also be able to offer their virtual expertise by having an understanding of what technology platforms are available and being able to guide less experienced planners toward the right option for their audience.

The key to a successful partnership is providing as much information as possible on the front-end of your virtual talent selection process. Truran suggests planners come prepared with answers to the following questions:

  • How many appearances will the speaker be making throughout the length of the event? 
  • What will the format be — a highly customized message or more of a “fireside chat?”
  • What type of production quality do you want the speaker to incorporate? 

“The [final question] is becoming a big differentiation factor with speakers,” Truran says. “While some speakers will excel in a relatively simple webcam Q&A, others are able to raise the bar by incorporating more video and making the virtual keynote experience more cinematic in nature.”

Pulling off a successful virtual event with engaging speakers and talent doesn’t have to be a daunting or confusing experience. Simplify the process by choosing an experienced speakers bureau that can help you navigate this uncharted territory while guiding you toward the right digital speakers for your online event.


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Submitted by Ishtiaq Ahmed (not verified) on Sat, 05/23/2020 - 18:40

Good and very realistic approach .
However , the selection is also dependent on topic and subject matter expert as well as audience. If an event is purely technical then few criteria will be not applicable mentioned by you .


Submitted by Betty Garrett (not verified) on Mon, 06/01/2020 - 17:02

Good article around working with a professional speaker bureau who understands cinematic vs theatrical settings.

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