One Virtual Emcee to Another: 10 Lessons Learned in 18 Months

Hello to my fellow professional emcees, virtual emcees, keynote speakers, and corporate entertainers! It’s been a strange 18 months, to say the least, hasn’t it? There have been several moments where I wished there was a universal handbook to inform our next steps… something like “A Beginner’s Guide to Hosting Events During a Plague” or “Pandemic Event Do’s and Don’ts.”

Unfortunately, there are no golden rules for virtual emcees during a worldwide pandemic—or a shortcut to satisfying clients amid a digital shift. But as the youngest of three siblings, I know that sometimes, some brotherly advice is all you need to take the next steps forward. So, for the next few minutes, consider me the virtual emcee brother you never had! 

Virtual emcee to virtual emcee, I’m going to break down the 10 lessons I’ve learned from 200+ virtual events over the past 18 months to help you step up your game and crush your upcoming shows. Let’s get started!

1. Have Two Studio Options to Match Client Needs

Let me preface these next few tips with something I’ve quickly realized over the past several months: Client needs are much different now than they were in the past. 18 months ago, a performer with studio options was a bonus, not a requirement. However, with an emphasis on virtual events today, every virtual emcee should have studio options to meet potential client needs. 

Some clients are simply looking for a virtual emcee who is confident, has a nice stage presence, and can articulate with the help of a microphone and teleprompter. Other clients are looking for a virtual emcee who can offer all the flashy features, from branded backdrops to custom sets. After 18 months, I’ve learned that the ideal situation is to have both a home studio and a professional studio. 

Home Studio for Convenience and Simplicity 

Something I get asked a ton by both event producers and talent is, “What’s better, a home studio or professional studio?” The truth is, they’re both fantastic options for their own reasons! A home studio is perfect for convenience. It’s better suited for lower budget or simpler events, like hosting an internal webinar for a small company or pre-recording virtual entertainment

However, just because a home studio is simple does not mean you should skimp on the essentials. Always opt for a ring light, teleprompter, and microphone as your basics, and invest in some sound-proofing for your office or whichever room you’ll be using to host virtual events. If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out my virtual emcee home studio here

Professional Studio for All Bells and Whistles

Where a home studio is perfect for simple events, a professional studio is a must-have for virtual events that demand all the bells and whistles. For instance, I utilize Show Creators Studios in Las Vegas as my virtual event production company and go-to for professionally filmed content. A professional studio like this one offers all the flashy add-ons you could ask for, including:

  • Massive video wall for company branding
  • Multiple pre-constructed sets to swap between
  • More space to move around (important for those of us with physical entertainment!)
  • Access to photographers, videographers, audio, and lighting professionals 

If you’re a virtual emcee looking to secure bigger contracts with larger corporations, I urge you to look into potential professional studio connections near you to significantly enhance the quality of your virtual events. 

2. Customize Your Tech (Even the Little Things)

With a home studio and professional studio secured, one of the best things you can do to elevate yourself as a virtual emcee is to customize your tech. I direct any professional emcee, corporate entertainer, or keynote speaker in search of tech to check out the Amazon storefront of fellow speaker and podcaster Brian Fanzo

In his storefront, Brian has all the components of a Virtual Keynote Speaker Kit, Podcast Gear for a Home Studio, and even a Home Studio Upgrade Kit. He covers all the basics, from the technology he used starting out to the accessories he uses now. If you need to build your home studio or add to the tech you bring to a professional studio, Brian’s Amazon lists are an awesome place to start. 

Westone Audio In-Ear Monitors

Something else I recommend to every one of my performer friends is these customized in-ear monitors by Westone Audio. While a seemingly small detail, these custom in-ears have changed the game for me! As someone with a curved ear canal, other headphones simply do not stay put or even fit comfortably in my ear. With my customized tech, I can hear better and feel drastically more comfortable taking direction, especially during events that run for a few hours.

3. Build a Team You Can Trust

Over the past 18 months, I could not have served as a virtual emcee for more than 200 events if it had not been for the help of my team. No matter if you’ll be in a home studio or a professional studio, you should strive to build a team you can trust. Ideally, this team should include a videographer and engineer.

If you’re a seasoned virtual emcee, the videography side might be something you can handle or hire off the cuff. However, an engineer is someone you want to build a strong working relationship with. An engineer will guide you through your in-ear monitors to ensure you remain timely and inform you of what’s happening in the event chat, which is a massive component of virtual engagement. 

4. Clarify Expectations for the Event

An incredibly important lesson I’ve learned throughout the pandemic is that you must clarify expectations with potential clients. Remember, virtual events are new for all of us—which means there’s a decent bit of gray area for both event producers and talent to navigate. Rather than sit back and hope for the best, define a client’s expectations before ever touching a contract. 

Before moving forward, establish:

  • Who is pushing out the virtual event stream
  • Who is rolling the assets and canned footage
  • Who is spotlighting, muting, and unmuting speakers

Though you’d never be expected to manage B-roll and lighting when hosting an event on-site, these expectations can change while serving as a virtual emcee. 

This brings me to my next point, which is how the definition of “hosting” has shifted over the past 18 months for virtual emcees. When a company asks you to host their event, do they mean in front of the camera or behind the scenes? Before signing a contract, learn if a company expects you to produce the event, to more clearly anticipate the hours you’ll need to put in.

That brings me to my next pandemic lesson…  

5. Define Hours for Each Project

Once you know what role you’ll fulfill for a virtual event, always be sure to define the hours. Roughly how long will this event take for you to practice and perform? Will there be additional hours to shoot pre-recorded content or B-roll? Will you be utilizing a professional studio and need to work in hours of rehearsal time? If so, account for that time in your pricing! 

Speaking of rehearsal time, trust me when I say that you normally need way more than you think. Remember, rehearsal for virtual events isn’t just talking through lines but also working through all the technical elements of the show, like lighting and mic’ing. A one-hour event will need a minimum of two hours of rehearsal, and a two-hour event will likely require three or four hours of rehearsal.

Define the hours and charge accordingly, my friends!

6. Be Timely to Each Event

As a professional emcee, you likely pride yourself on your timeliness. Well, take that timeliness and kick it into overdrive for virtual events! Not to sound like the nagging big brother here, but you will definitely need more time than you think to prepare for virtual events compared to live events. Where you can show up right before doors open for a live event, that’s not the case for virtual. 

If a virtual event starts at 9 a.m. and attendees are admitted into the virtual waiting room by 8:30 a.m., you need to be good to go by 8:30—not 9! This is because if you get to your studio by 8:20 and your mic doesn’t work, they’ll need to reboot the entire system to troubleshoot. This can take a considerable amount of time and ultimately set the event back, all because the emcee wasn’t ready.

Talk about unprofessional, right? Well, that leads me right into another bit of wisdom…  

7. Maintain Professionalism (Even if You Think You’re Muted)

Virtual emcee to virtual emcee, I understand the urge to check your phone or let out the burp you’ve been holding for 25 minutes once the camera pans to somebody else. In the world of virtual events, never be so casual that you let your professionalism slip. Maintain an expert demeanor at all times, because a virtual emcee who lets one rip during the company tribute video is in big trouble

[Insert picture of you mic’d up here]

Trust me, I understand that it can be tough to remember to mute and unmute yourself for the duration of a virtual event. We’re never in control of our belt packs at a live event, so managing that element solo can take some getting used to while virtual. My advice? Always err on the side of caution and never say or do anything you wouldn’t want to be caught on camera. 

8. Remain Present and Actively Listen

In the same way you should remain professional for the entirety of a virtual event, always remain present. It takes a ton of energy to actively listen as a virtual emcee, but that’s why you were brought on board! Your whole job centers around actively taking in everything a speaker is saying and re-distilling that information to the audience.

In a virtual environment, it can be easy to get distracted by something in your home or professional studio. I urge you to find personal methods that help you lock in and focus on whatever is happening during a virtual event, from keynote speakers to panel discussions, to be able to find moments for engagement activation. 

That brings me to my next point… 

9. Build Moments for Engagement 

Engagement is always important for a professional emcee, but as a virtual emcee, engagement is paramount. When attendees don’t share the same physical space, it takes a lot more effort to find and build moments for engagement. This is where your professionalism and active listening will really come into play as a virtual emcee.

Make it a point to reinstate key points from speakers to your audience as you segue from one bit to the next. Rather than simply commenting on how much you loved what a speaker had to say, encourage the audience to share one thing they learned in the chat. Remember, the chat is your strongest tool as a virtual emcee, so always use it to your advantage to activate engagement! 

10. Always Make it Fun!

Last but certainly not least, always make your job as a virtual emcee fun! With more than 200 virtual events under my belt from the past 18 months, I can tell you this: People are tired. Zoom fatigue is real! Virtual attendees need to be jolted awake and drawn into your event, and that simply cannot happen without a little bit of fun.

Something I like to leverage as a virtual emcee is confetti cannons—because seriously, who doesn’t at least grin at some exploding confetti?! Of course, I also weave in juggling and balancing tricks, as well as some well-timed corporate humor. If you’re a comedian, ramp up the funny! If you’re a magician, wow the audience with tricks! Dive into your personal repertoire to always keep it fun. 

Firsthand Advice from a Pandemic-Certified Virtual Emcee 

By its very definition, a lesson is something learned by experience. However, the world has only been virtual for a year and a half… which is crazy when you think of how long we’ve been doing live events! So, it’s to be expected that it will take some time for all virtual emcees, keynote speakers, and corporate entertainers to gain the experience necessary to get into the swing of things.

On the bright side, some entertainers have been learning the ropes of pandemic events for the past 18 months—like me! And I’m always more than happy to share the lessons I’ve learned as a virtual emcee with other entertainers in the biz. If you’re looking to connect to learn more, or are on the hunt for a seasoned virtual emcee to host your next event, give me a shout today.