After close to twenty years of business in the entertainment industry, this year has been nothing short of transformative for us. As the founder and CEO of a talent booking agency coordinating in-person speaking engagements and celebrity appearances in the US and around the world, I’m very proud that we have enjoyed steady double-digit growth annually.
Less than one percent of the events we booked speakers and celebrities for in 2019 was virtual. Since the middle of March this year, this percentage of virtual event bookings has soared to 86%. We have booked or converted 650 (and counting) in-person events to virtual formats. These are all paid engagements with speaker fees ranging from $1,000 on the low end to $250,000 on the high end.
Having worked hand-in-hand with clients of all sizes and across many industries, we have gained great insight into virtual event planning, including the decision-making process, challenges, solutions, and overall experience. Based on the hundreds of virtual events we worked on this year, here are our main takeaways.
1. Speaker selection is even more important when it comes to virtual events.
Location. Location. Location. Think about that annual conference you usually attend in Las Vegas or San Diego, including warm weather, lots of planned activities, networking, and great sessions from thought leaders speaking on topics that are trending in your industry. You look forward to it all year. You know that there will be one or more high-profile keynote speakers or special guests because there are every year, but your decision to attend is not based primarily on who the speaker or entertainer will be. You can’t wait for the experience of visiting that prime destination to attend an in-person event.
In 2020, you can now take “visiting that prime destination” out of the event-planning equation. When it comes to virtual events, the playing field has been leveled and the landscape has gotten crowded very quickly. Virtual events are not only being planned by companies that were forced to pivot from their in-person event, but also by organizations who have never considered putting on a virtual event before. The barriers of entry and risks are low, and the competition for attention is greater than ever before.
Our clients tell us that speaker selection is even more important to them for virtual events. Event planners who can no longer rely on the appeal of a sunny destination are instead relying on booking a well-known celebrity or experienced virtual keynote speaker to draw people’s attention. Hiring a high-profile virtual speaker can drive increased event registration, define the event tone and content, and create a memorable experience for your attendees. Finding a talented speaker who can hold the audience’s attention in a virtual setting can help your remote attendees feel connected to your virtual event.
2. You really can get a high-profile virtual speaker at a more reasonable rate.
It has never been easier to attract high-profile speakers or celebrities at more reasonable rates, many of whom would not consider an in-person event because of schedule restrictions and travel. In addition, the money saved on first-class travel (in some cases private jets), hotels, meals, and car services allows the sponsor to allocate more money towards the speaker’s honorarium.
Celebrities and speakers who have never considered accepting an in-person speaking engagement before have been much more open to considering a virtual event – especially if it is formatted as a moderated conversation versus a 45-minute keynote speech, or if they are given the option to pre-record their professional keynote ahead of the event. On average, we’re seeing virtual speaking fees that are about 70% of in-person fees. That said, speaking fees can still vary greatly in this new virtualscape. Combined with the overall lower fees associated with virtual speaking events, clients are able to attract a higher caliber speaker or celebrity (who they may not have been able to afford for a live event) and get more bang for their buck.
3. Virtual events take less time to plan and book talent.
For in-person events, a typical booking lead time runs anywhere from 4-6 months in advance, sometimes even longer. Larger companies with annual events typically start planning immediately following the conclusion of the current event.
For virtual events, we’re seeing bookings within as short as 2-4 weeks before holding a virtual event. Why is this happening? With travel removed from the equation for both speakers and attendees, many event planners are finding they need less advance notice to book and present their chosen speaker, celebrity, or entertainer.
It should be noted, however, that there are still important planning and preparation steps for virtual events. We don’t recommend waiting to start the booking process because you might find your preferred speaker is not available for your upcoming event. Top virtual talent is in high demand right now, so plan ahead. Check out this virtual timeline for event planners for more information.
4. Practice makes perfect.
If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail. Regardless of whether your event is in person, live virtual, or pre-recorded, you need to have a plan. That plan needs to include practice walk-throughs with the event organizers, hosts, talent, and technology. Rehearsing all sessions and testing technology won’t guarantee a seamless event, but it will greatly decrease your chances of experiencing event panic when something goes wrong.
Partnering with an experienced and DES-certified team that has worked with hundreds of virtual events this year alone is also a great step in the right direction. Most planners we work with are still pretty new to the virtual event planning and execution process. There’s a lot to know, and I am proud of our team’s ability to work through many different event formats with our clients.
When events are live, whether virtual or in-person, having a live walkthrough can put nerves at ease and identify any potential issues before they happen during the event. For virtual events, we have tips to help unify an event that includes both pre-recorded sessions and live elements into a single, cohesive event in the eyes of attendees.
If you’re still undecided, click here for more on choosing which event format is right for you.
5. There has been incredible innovation and rapid improvement in technology.
You only have one chance to make a good first impression. I am not going to sugar coat this – those early 2020 virtual events (way back in March and April) were rough. Not only were people inexperienced in using virtual meeting technology, but the platforms themselves were not prepared for the surge in bandwidth and necessary security.
Thankfully, platforms and technologies have come a long way this year. Platforms can now handle large volumes of attendees and long streaming sessions much better than before. Similarly, presenters know the importance of proper camera positioning and lighting, and that an ethernet connection will always be stronger than Wi-Fi. Event planners are becoming more comfortable, experienced, and tech-savvy. As a result, virtual events are becoming more engaging, polished, and valuable for attendees, sponsors, and presenters alike.
This is great news for event planners who can now find a virtual event platform to fit most budgets and audiences. This improvement in technology elevates the brands we work with by providing a great experience for their virtual event audience.
What do we expect for 2021 events?
When it comes to virtual events, we’ve come a really long way. In a Fall 2020 survey, over 95% of our clients told us that their most recent virtual event met or exceeded their expectations. We believe that virtual events will be here to stay for the long-term, and that’s why we’ve invested in DES certifications for our team so that we can help others in our industry.
Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that live events are going to bounce back in a very big way once it is safe. Virtual events will never replace in-person connections, attending live events, seeing concerts, and traveling to new places. But, virtual events won’t be going away entirely. Instead, we think events will become more hybrid, combining the best of both worlds for an attendee-driven experience.
The pandemic has fundamentally changed people’s behavior in several ways. Attending multi-day in-person events may not be possible for a multitude of reasons, but that doesn’t make the content any less valuable. Whether events are virtual or in person, there is nothing more valuable than a person’s time.
The organizations that have embraced virtual and hybrid events have been able to pivot and adapt to today’s circumstances. They have identified new opportunities and demand for event content that they previously didn’t know existed. As a result, these forward-thinking companies will be poised to capitalize on the rising demand for event content and experiences, no matter what format the event is in, for some time to come.
Want to make your upcoming 2021 events exceptional? Contact us or find a great speaker, celebrity, or entertainer here.