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As Published for Meeting Planners International: Link to Blog

Regardless of what happens with a COVID-19 vaccine in 2021, hybrid events will be an overwhelming trend in the meeting industry for the foreseeable future.

In planning, budgeting and producing a successful hybrid program, planners must understand how to employ the right mix of talent for two very different types of events happening simultaneously. In addition to creating compelling live programs, there is an even greater urgency to engage attendees who are unlikely to attend in person but remain a critical part of an organization’s membership and revenue stream. 

At face-to-face events in the past, talent and speakers were used to motivate, inspire and entertain. Engaging opening sessions gave attendees a compelling reason to return to the ballroom or rush back to the trade show floor after a break. Keynote speakers effectively tied-in messages and themes that reinforced business initiatives, while name talent, great bands and other performers enhanced networking experiences where attendees could connect, relax and recharge for the next day’s agenda. All of the above will still be necessary for live meetings in the future, but it will be more important than ever for planners to incentivize and inspire attendees to travel to their events.

Multi-purposing your talent for both live and virtual adds tremendous opportunities to build engagement.

The most successful planners in 2021 will be strategic thinkers who will continually look for multiple ways to capitalize on onsite talent and speakers by multi-purposing their appearances to enhance both live and virtual event components. For example, if your organization previously hired a celebrity speaker, seek out a “package deal” that includes having the talent show up at a small reception or social event for a photo op/meet and greet with your VIPs, or in a virtual room where the talent can take part in a short “fireside chat” with your online audience.

With the talent already onsite and travel expenses covered, these add-ons can come at a very reasonable cost. In 2020, almost all talent have been working from home and charging far less than normal fees for virtual events, so they will be thrilled to make a modest amount of extra income to add a virtual component onto an otherwise live experience next year. This will also allow you, the planner, to monetize the virtual portion of your event. 

Planners should also maximize talent engagement for social events and networking opportunities. For example, if you hire a live band for your event, inquire about other modest add-ons that they could do for your virtual component, such as a small solo concert or a trio of songs. Once the talent is onsite, you can produce them using quality sound and lights in a controlled atmosphere where your production supplier can easily edit the content quickly and efficiently for your online audience.


MPI On Demand Education: Future Forward - Trust & Transparency

Sponsors tend to be generous when contributing to social events and entertainment, so planners should capitalize on that. In the past, sponsors were thanked at dinners and in written programs, but now you can offer them so much more. For example, your sponsor’s logo could flash on the screen before the virtual talent offering, be added to the corner of the screen or placed in any number of places virtually to provide important placement for their brand. While performers must approve of this, in most cases they will agree willingly, as they realize that sponsorship dollars are what pay for talent in the first place. 

After several months in quarantine, most of us are craving a little joy and in-person contact, so consider hiring talent that can also engage attendees in a fun, light-hearted way. After a long day of content and training, it’s enjoyable for attendees to unwind with a personable celebrity who can look them in the eye, talk to them directly and remind them to put aside life’s worries and live in the moment, even if it’s just for a little while. 

To ensure active participation and sponsorship for your hybrid event programs, maximizing attendee engagement is key! Multi-purposing your talent for both live and virtual not only adds tremendous opportunities to build online engagement, but also helps the performer’s bottom line in terms of income and opportunity. There are many quality speakers bureaus and entertainment firms that will be delighted to help you find the perfect balance to help your hybrid event succeed—all you have to do is ask!

About the author: Nancy Hays is the president of Nancy Hays Entertainment & Speakers, Inc., and Nancy specializes in producing celebrity talent and speakers for meetings and events and dance programs for virtual participants. In addition, Nancy works through as a virtual moderator, professional dance instructor and musical entertainer. Nancy's products and services have received critical acclaim in major publications including LA Times, Washington Post, Variety and others, and she has made appearances on major network news and talk shows. Reach out to her at

As Published for Meeting Planners International: Link to Blog

Have you always wanted to hire a celebrity to speak at your meeting or event but thought it was way out of your price range? Think again! The rise of virtual events has presented a unique opportunity for event planners that they may never be able to take advantage of again (or at least, until the next pandemic)—the affordability of celebrity talent.

In the past, booking a celebrity was expensive and didn’t necessarily result in positive ROI. Budgeting for high-end talent not only included artist and agency fees, but also entourage travel expenses, hotel rooms and catering, along with the additional expenses necessary to provide quality sound, lights, staging, labor and other elements specified in the artist’s contract rider. It was also difficult to confirm availability because of tours, films, TV shows or other obligations. And God forbid you plan for all the above and lock in the perfect talent, only to find out that their cancellation clause enables them to back out of your event without advance notice.

A successful virtual celebrity performance must take advantage of the intimacy that the virtual medium provides.

In other words, everything that was a deterrent has gone away, so why not take advantage of it?

If you have experienced all of the above challenges in booking celebrities in the past, virtual events have presented you with a golden opportunity. During the COVID-19 pandemic and for the foreseeable future, celebrities and their representatives are willing to entertain almost any reasonable offer. As a result, never before has this level of talent been more accessible or affordable than it is now.

But before you decide to set aside money in your virtual event budget to book a star, it’s important to carefully consider how to harness their unique skill set in order to present them in the most engaging way possible. Remember, what worked in the past for a live concert or keynote won’t necessarily work online.

This is where enlisting the help of a reputable production company that has experience working with celebrity talent in the virtual space will be key to your success. What is the point of booking a major musical star (who knows nothing about your company, association or charity) to perform a second-rate version of their normal concert in a poor-sounding home studio, looking depressed and sounding less than stellar? There are many seasoned production companies eager to help you, so don’t hesitate to seek one out.

A successful virtual celebrity performance must be compelling and surprising. It must take advantage of the intimacy that the virtual medium provides, and attention must be given to making the performance as customizable as possible.

Here are a few examples of how to successfully incorporate celebrity talent into your next virtual event.

1.     Have your star make emcee-style intros for your educational speakers or make surprise entrances and exits to keep your viewers engaged throughout your event programming.

2. Engage your star during virtual breaks in one-on-one conversations with participants around a fun subject (such as sports, cooking, favorite vacation spots, pets, humor, etc.), staying away from controversial topics, negative news and politics.

3. Allow participants to send in questions for the celebrity with the goal of including the maximum number of short interactions. Have your moderator pre-select questions to assure a diverse group of ethnicities, accents, regions and perspectives on a topic, and allow the person asking the question to share the screen with your celebrity.

4.     Engage the celebrity in a “fireside chat” led by your moderator that includes your company’s executives and features customized content.

5.     Gain insight from an expert celebrity speaker on a topic (leadership, teamwork, overcoming adversity, etc.) via an intimate discussion that will allow him or her to provide an outside consultative opinion on a topic customized to your organization.

If you decide to have an artist perform musically, you need to give special consideration to the content. Less is more in terms of musical numbers. Selections should complement your messaging, and they should be inspirational, positive and motivational. I strongly recommend pre-recording all talent segments to allow for the best possible production in terms of sound, lighting and overall presentation, followed by one-on-one chat sessions that can be improvised and live streamed during the event.

Most importantly, consider hiring a small, flexible and socially distanced film crew to capture the footage with your celebrity and showcase them in the best possible light while staying consistent with your meeting theme and messaging.

Interacting with a celebrity in a virtual medium can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for event attendees. There is nothing quite as thrilling as looking a famous person in the eye and speaking directly to them, whether on Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms. So if you’re looking to add a truly engaging experience to your virtual event, now is the time to maximize this opportunity while controlling the deliverables. And in doing so, watch your virtual event transform into an unforgettable experience that your attendees will be talking about for the rest of their lives!

Photo by Nathan DeFiesta on Unsplash

As Published for Meeting Planners International: Link to Blog

Is it just me, or does it seem like every event under the sun is pivoting to virtual right now? While this is an important survival tactic to keep the industry strong and connected until it’s safe to meet face-to-face again, virtual events come with their fair share of challenges for planners. With people spending more time on video calls and online meetings (did you know that Zoom fatigue is actually a thing?), keeping attendees focused on virtual content can be trickier than face-to-face.

To combat waning attention spans and keep people engaged, it’s important to provide your virtual attendees with time to clear their minds, get energized and reset their focus. That’s where entertainment and wellness breaks between sessions can play a key role in enhancing the overall virtual experience. Fun, lively and interactive activities help people stay focused and pumped up for your next round of programming. They also help participants stay motivated to return to your virtual event rather than check out on their phones. In other words, you must give your participants a compelling reason to tune back in or risk losing them altogether. 

A good rule of thumb to follow is that for every hour of a live presentation that holds an attendee’s attention, only about half that time will work in a virtual setting. For example, a typical one-hour keynote should be condensed to 30 minutes, while the other 30 can include a virtual break activity and a timed intermission to allow people to make important phone calls, use the bathroom or grab refreshments.

But before you start brainstorming tons of creative ideas, consider one of the most essential elements of your online event: a virtual moderator. Besides helping to establish an upbeat tone and convey your event message with finesse, an experienced moderator can also create smooth transitions between speakers, panelists and educational sessions, field responses or questions from the audience and yes, lead your break activities! Make sure you select the right person by enlisting the help of a reputable talent and speakers bureau or agency.

Let’s look at some fun break ideas to help energize and inspire your virtual audience. First and foremost, these activities should be interactive and encourage participation. Here are some examples:

  • Fitness, sports or yoga sessions led by experienced instructors who can get attendees moving, stretching and practicing skills such as putt-putt golfing or other virtual gaming moves.

  • Dance lessons with professional dance teachers who can lead simple, easy-to-follow dance steps to fun music.

  • Karaoke-style sing-a-longs to popular or patriotic tunes such as the National Anthem, led by a bandleader or singer.

  • CSR activities such as hygiene kit building, school backpack stuffing or water filter building to benefit well-vetted charities (with components sent to attendees in advance).

  • Virtual reality trips to a concert, a scenic destination or another unique experience using a VR mobile app that attendees can access on their phones.

  • Interactive mentalist or magic tricks performed by professional talent.

  • Chef-led cooking competitions where attendees create a tasty dish simultaneously from the same recipe and vote on whose came out the best.

  • Home talent shows (organized and pre-screened by the event planner) that allow participants to show off their skills or hobbies, from playing an instrument to sharing a fun TikTok home video, to posting beautiful photos from a pre-pandemic vacation.

  • Fireside chats with celebrities who attendees can engage in conversations and ask questions. These can be inspiring, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and with many celebrities and entertainers stuck at home, they are more accessible and reasonably priced than ever!

Whatever you choose, make sure your break activity translates well in the virtual space. Consider turning to a seasoned event entertainment company or speakers bureau that not only offers a range of ideas in a variety of price ranges, but one that also works with talented performers with a proven track record in the virtual space. Request sample tapes in advance to select the best-produced, most engaging performers you can find. Sometimes the most affordable act will surprise you with their creativity and the high production values they can offer from their home studio locations!

Humans are not machines. To stay alert and engaged while absorbing information online, our brains need time to decompress and reset, just as they would at any face-to-face meeting or conference. That’s why your virtual break offerings should be just as important as your education and speaker content. Plus, weaving in fun and entertaining activities into your virtual programming also shows that you care and appreciate your audience’s needs – and that can go a long way in transforming your virtual event from valuable to unforgettable!

What about you? What kinds of break activities are you trying out with your virtual events? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below or reach out to me on my LinkedIn or Twitter pages!

About the author: Nancy Hays is the president of Nancy Hays Entertainment & Speakers, Inc., and Nancy specializes in producing celebrity talent and speakers for meetings and events and dance programs for virtual participants. In addition, Nancy works through as a virtual moderator, professional dance instructor and musical entertainer. Nancy's products and services have received critical acclaim in major publications including LA Times, Washington Post, Variety and others, and she has made appearances on major network news and talk shows. Reach out to her at

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