With virtual events quickly becoming the norm throughout the past year, event professionals have had to find creative ways to better connect with their audiences in online spaces. This huge strategic shift in the speaking industry has introduced new and exciting event formats to choose from and made it clear that virtual events will continue to be a popular option in the future. It’s also elevated the role of event emcees.

Whether you’re a virtual event pro or planning your first, choosing the right platform, familiarizing yourself with changing technology, and booking a topical keynote speaker are all important elements in hosting a successful virtual event. But what can really make your event stand out and ensure your message stays top of mind long after your attendees log off? Or rather, who?

Event hosts and moderators are not new in the speaking world, but they’ve been game changers in the virtual event space. So, what exactly can a virtual emcee do for your event, and how do you choose someone that best suits your needs? To answer that, we asked corporate presenter, emcee, and event host, Amy McWhirter. As a long-time expert in emceeing on screen and on stage, Amy shares some of her thoughts on the industry and how the dynamic role of an emcee can benefit your next virtual event.

Shifting to Virtual

Before the major pivot to virtual events in 2020, Amy already had many years of on-camera experience and had hosted numerous virtual events, including a series of livestreams shot in a studio for a major corporation. “This experience was extremely valuable leading up to this transition,” Amy says, as it put her in a unique position to leverage herself as a virtual emcee during a time where everyone was still figuring things out.

Amy McWhirter
One of Amy McWhirter’s virtual emcee setups.

“At first it was cancel, cancel, cancel, all live events are off the schedule,” Amy recalls. But, with the help of her husband’s video production company, she used this period of uncertainty to transform an extra room into a webcasting studio and focused on going virtual. “I created a virtual emcee webpage, first and foremost, and people started finding me.”

Like Amy, event professionals quickly understood the need to adapt their live events to virtual, but for many this was new and unexplored territory. Online platforms and technology became an initial concern, but as people realized they could reach wider audiences online, their priorities soon shifted towards audience engagement. Amy had similar conversations with clients last year, saying, “Everyone was wondering ‘what am I going to do’ and they started to see the value of hiring a virtual emcee.”

The Value of a Virtual Emcee

Virtual events have only gotten bigger and better throughout the past year. Event professionals have settled on their favorite platforms, hosts and keynote speakers are more tech savvy, and online spaces are becoming more creative and interactive. All these innovations in the virtual event space have, in some way, aspired to increase engagement, foster connection, and provide a more interesting experience for attendees. According to Amy, this is where an emcee really shines.

“I think it was fairly common for the folks I was working with last year to have never used an emcee for any type of event, but they realized that they needed that energy, consistency, and cohesion. They needed someone to create excitement with the attendees, to engage people, keep them chatting and staying put and not running off to their distractions,” Amy explains. “Those were some of the benefits that people realized kind of intuitively.”

“The emcee is the bridge between the audience and the messaging, as well as the audience and the speaker.”

“The emcee is the bridge between the audience and the messaging, as well as the audience and the speaker,” she adds. Whether it’s monitoring the chat, facilitating questions between the audience and the speaker, or between multiple speakers, an emcee can foster a sense of human connection that is so often lost behind the screen. “The emcee really encourages attendees to participate by setting the stage for the day’s activities, calling out people’s names and what they’re saying, even if it’s small talk. Even mentioning something as small as the weather or location that attendees are chatting about upfront in the event can help draw people in.”

Amy goes on to note that an emcee is not only a great addition for the audience, but can create a more engaging and comfortable atmosphere for the speaker as well. “The speaker, usually, doesn’t have the bandwidth. They’re so busy advancing their own slides or focusing on their presentation. Most speakers, honestly, don’t even know where the questions are, so they want the emcee to facilitate that. The emcee is targeted on all those comments and questions coming in, taking notes, monitoring the chat very closely, because that’s usually the way the audience is connecting.”

“Building excitement is also part of the role of an emcee, and that can be done with some pre-event hype videos and teasers. That has been a common ask that I’ve done many times,” Amy says. Pre-event promotion and collaboration can help set the tone of the event and allows the emcee to become a familiar face for attendees to focus on and interact with.

A Memorable Virtual Experience

As Amy outlined, there are several benefits to hiring a virtual emcee. They help to create a more cohesive event and foster an engaging dialogue that makes both the attendees and the speaker feel seen and heard. But why is this so important? At the crux of it, people go to events for the experience – whether the goal is to learn something new, to be uplifted by a motivating speech, or to network with like-minded people. It’s easy to feel disconnected and distracted during virtual events, but a great emcee, collaborating with the event hosts and keynote speakers, can recreate that human experience in new and interesting ways. The person who takes on the role of an emcee also often represents your brand, so you want to make that experience positive.

Nothing makes an attendee lose focus faster than having someone just talking through the screen. Even if attendees can’t see each other in a virtual setting, they’re looking at speakers’ facial expressions, body language, and emotions to better connect with what they’re saying. “The human connection – the humanity, the energy, the heart, and the soul – I think those are very important,” Amy says. “I use the analogy of watching excellent acting – a moving film, a play, a song that tugs on your heartstrings, or a beautiful piece of art – I think it’s all related. People want to feel something when participating in an event.”

“I use the analogy of watching excellent acting – a moving film, a play, a song that tugs on your heartstrings, or a beautiful piece of art – I think it’s all related. People want to feel something when participating in an event.”

Many attendees are more likely to remember feeling inspired or moved by an event rather than exactly what was said – they will remember the moments where they laughed, or felt empathy, or were motivated to start something new. Whether they’re using humor and enthusiasm to create excitement, or expressing sincerity and compassion during more serious topics, an emcee can match the tone and energy of an event, highlight the themes and messaging of the featured speakers, and build better rapport between the speakers and their audience.

What to Look for in a Virtual Emcee

Including an emcee in your next virtual event lineup might sound appealing, but how can you make sure that you’re choosing someone that’s right for your event? Emcees and moderators are versatile speakers, but some may suit different types of events more than others. Some emcees focus on comedy, performances, or interviews, while others are better suited for corporate or big pharma settings. While it’s important to keep the type of event in mind, Amy lists some general best practices and qualities that any great emcee should be able to offer.

Experience and Talent

“Being soulful, inspiring audiences to connect and take action, creating continuity and cohesion, driving deeper audience engagement, maintaining focus, amplifying messaging, and the ability to make people feel comfortable,” Amy says, all goes hand in hand with experience and talent. She emphasizes how her years of experience as a host and emcee really strengthened these on-camera qualities and her personable presence on the screen.

While talent is a little harder to define and overlaps with the skills and qualities an emcee gains from experience, a natural flair can make one person stand out over another. “What is it that draws someone in, that makes someone engaging and that you want to listen to and watch?” Amy continues. “Is it the voice? Is it the look? Is it the way that they’re speaking or the way that they’re transparently human?” Talent can be subjective, but whatever you judge as the “It Factor,” it’s hard to miss when an emcee has it.

Improvisation Skills

“The ability to improvise is key. You must be able to absolutely be in the moment as an emcee, listening to everything that’s being said, reacting – but not overreacting – with facial expressions and eye contact,” Amy explains. Having good improvisation skills and being able to react appropriately without missing a beat helps the event flow smoothly, and also helps the emcee to better adapt to the mood of the event. “The other part about being in the moment is that if anything goes wrong, or a speaker drops off, you have to step in at a moment’s notice,” she adds.

Tech Savviness and Attentiveness

“Being tech savvy is super important,” Amy says. Having the right equipment and space makes a huge difference in a virtual event, and can give the emcee the resources they need to create professional and polished setups for corporate and conference settings, or inviting and homey backgrounds in a more casual setting. Amy adds that she’s found a teleprompter essential in scripting and improvising.

Being attentive and able to multitask, keeping attendees and speakers informed, and staying on track with the event schedule is another important skill an emcee needs to have. “The emcee is the timekeeper. They have to be tracking things and staying diligent about that,” Amy emphasizes.

Emcees are versatile and collaborative speakers that can benefit any type of event, but have proven to be especially effective and adaptive in our growing online world. A virtual emcee also represents your brand, which makes selecting the right candidate that much more important.

After talking with Amy and seeing her passion for the work she does, it’s clear that finding a great emcee can really set a virtual event apart in the minds of attendees. “So many people are realizing that they can reach more people with virtual and hybrid events,” Amy notes, and as we continue to expand the virtual event space, now is a good time to check out the talented virtual emcees who are eager to connect with your audience.