2 Years On From The Pandemic: What We've Learnt About Virtual Events

Nick Gold 7 March 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic threw the speaking and events industry into turmoil. Events worldwide were postponed and ultimately cancelled. Our once-thriving sector was suddenly in serious trouble — and we didn’t know if it would survive the pandemic.

Speaker bureaus and events organisers had to adapt — and we did.

Virtual events quickly became the industry’s go-to format. Businesses were keen to motivate their newly-remote employees with virtual meetings and social events. Speakers were in-demand again, and we saw an opportunity to rebuild our industry.

It should be said at this point that virtual events weren't new. Webinars had been a popular marketing channel for marketers during the previous decade, especially as B2B print media was converging into digital media.

But this was change on a whole another level, and there were a lot of challenges to overcome. Initially, many speakers simply replicated their in-person content for virtual events. 

We soon realised that speaking to a virtual audience is a whole different ball game. Suddenly speakers didn’t have a captive audience — they were competing with 19 open tabs and a bunch of kids running around in the next room.

The world has come a long way since the start of the pandemic — and so has the speaking and events industry. Here’s what we’ve learnt about running a successful virtual event over the last 2 years.

The difference between in-person and online events

Now that nearly all UK restrictions have been lifted, many event organisers are keen to move back to in-person events. This trend is understandable — but there’s still genuine value in running virtual events, even as we move to a post-pandemic world.

Virtual events are the most incredible way to talk about current issues and reach a global audience. It’s a dynamic, fast-paced way to deliver information — and speakers have now adapted to the format so attendees can learn as much as possible from the session.

Pre-pandemic, I believed the speaker was the most important thing about an event — but now I’m not sure that’s true. Speakers should be facilitators, guiding attendees through the event programme and encouraging debate to achieve the client’s objective.

These differences are key. Before rushing to book a venue and arrange catering, event organisers need to know what they want to achieve at their event. With an objective in mind, organisers, bureaus and other suppliers can establish the right platform for the event.

How speakers connect with a virtual audience

The difference between speaking at in-person and online events is like the difference between being a TV presenter and a theatre actor. Unlike theatre audiences, who have little choice but to sit through the performance, audiences who don’t like what they’re watching on TV can simply change the channel.

For speakers, this has meant finding a whole new way of communicating. They needed to connect with people through a screen, delivering those same key messages in a completely new way.

Gone are the days of sprawling 45 minute speeches followed by a quick 10 minute Q&A. The virtual format encourages speakers to keep their monologues short and snappy, weaving breakout discussions and audience questions into the session to keep attendees engaged.

Virtual production value has also come a long way since the start of the pandemic. As a speaker, it’s no longer impressive to know how to unmute yourself. As virtual events become more established, speakers are beginning to put camera operators and chat moderators in place to ensure both clients and audiences get the quality they’re paying for.

Engaging audiences and sparking debate

The simple chat function shows the true value of virtual events. Where audiences used to be passive recipients of information, they can now be active participants in debate. They can guide the content of the session by commenting and asking questions, helping the speaker offer genuinely valuable insights.

That means speakers can’t just rely on great anecdotes to coast through the session any more. They need to be flexible, knowledgeable, and encouraging as they engage the audience while also fulfilling the client brief.

The best speakers are those who take an interest in their audience members. Some prepare for the session by interviewing attendees beforehand, then referencing their opinions throughout the event. Others make sure to name their audience members as they respond to questions throughout, ensuring each attendee feels heard and understood.

Breakout rooms have also become a go-to strategy for engaging attendees. It gives them the chance to meet other people, share ideas, and spark debate, leading to greater collaboration and inspiration.

How to book the best speaker for your virtual event

Booking the right speaker becomes much easier if you know the objective of your event. When you know what you want to achieve, speaker bureaus like Speakers Corner can help you find the right person to deliver your message.

It’s also important that clients trust their speaker to get the job done. What works in-person doesn’t always work in a virtual setting, so event organisers should book a speaker with the understanding that the speaker knows how best to deliver the session. 

Ask to consult with the speaker multiple times before the event takes place, so you have full confidence that the speaker will get the results you’re looking for without being too prescriptive.

The future of virtual events

The beauty of virtual events is that they don’t require months of advance planning or a huge budget. That means people in a broader range of roles can plan virtual events, such as middle management and team leaders. We expect to see clients from a more diverse range of backgrounds booking speakers as they arrange small-scale virtual events for their teams.

More people will also begin to recognise the key differences between in-person and virtual events. In-person events will become more networking-focused, while virtual events will become the go-to format for training and learning experiences.

At Speakers Corner, our list of speakers is growing as more people develop their approach specifically for virtual events. We’re also making sure clients choose the right format as well as the right speaker, based on their event objectives.

We’re still at the beginning of the journey into the potential for virtual events — so we’re excited to see what the future holds. Our values prove that we have the expertise to build an event around client goals and content, as well as the strengths of our speakers. We pledge to help all our clients deliver brilliant virtual events that achieve their goals.

For further information or to book a virtual keynote speaker , call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email  info@speakerscorner.co.uk .

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