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As Published for Meeting Planners International: Link to Blog



As hybrid meetings emerge in 2021 and 2022, organizers should proceed with caution into the new normal.


In a recent presentation to the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, predicted that theaters, concert halls, convention centers and public facilities will begin operating with larger audiences in the fall of 2021. With the promise of herd immunity achieved through vaccines, planners will have more confidence booking events into late 2021 and 2022.


Despite this good news, the pandemic has changed the meeting industry for the foreseeable future. Consumers, in general, have become more comfortable working from home, and many prefer to not only work in that space but also shift other activities to home, from fitness routines to cooking classes to continued education.


What we can’t duplicate virtually: social events with physical interactions and mutual enjoyment of music, art, comedy, theater and dance in a gathered space. Networking and stress-reducing entertainment interactions foster collaboration, healing and hope. While considered in 2020 as “nonessential,” they are the therapeutic elements that will help provide planners with more engaging programming as well as incentives for attendance.


“With the promise of herd immunity achieved through vaccines, planners will have more confidence booking events into late 2021 and 2022.”

As was recently witnessed at U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration, both live and virtual use of a variety of diverse artists (pop, Latin, country and poetry) can provide inspiration and greatly enhance overall programming.


While there will undoubtedly be pent-up demand to network in person, there will also be emotional obstacles that will require a new kind of motivation to get people to return to larger gatherings. Because of unemployment in many industries, there will also be barriers for many individuals, sponsors and organizations taking on financial commitments necessary to return to live trade shows and events, especially those that involve air travel to a destination city.


In transition, hybrid, hyperlocal events will take center stage. Events that are local with a virtual component will offer local attendees lower risk experiences without the added cost of travel. Vaccinated attendees in older age groups and healthcare workers will return in small, socially distanced settings as will workers in other industries. Compromised industry workers and ethnic groups that have suffered the most from illness, isolation and stress during COVID-19 will be seeking programming that offers an opportunity to socialize in a safe environment and tell their stories to a wider audience than just family and close friends.


Millennials and Generation Z workers who are most comfortable with virtual technology and conducting business online will still have a strong desire to attend social programs with live bands, comedy and networking opportunities. The best planners will provide a combination of offerings that will appeal to diverse groups, needs and interests, post-pandemic.


“Events that are local with a virtual component will offer local attendees lower risk experiences without the added cost of travel.”

Multipurposing talent makes economic sense to appeal to varying tastes and to maximize ROI. When booking talent, it is important to contract a “package deal” to cover both live and virtual components of your hybrid program. Choosing the right talent booking partner that has proven abilities working in both mediums will produce the best results.


Thinking “outside of the box” for hyperlocal live programming does not mean breaking the budget. Smaller live events allow more personal interaction than virtual gatherings. For those willing to pay the price for a live experience, enhance value by incorporating premium food, a memorable venue and a “wow factor” entertainment offering to create an incentive worth your attendees’ investment. Select your venue with maximum delight and surprise in mind. Consider unique spaces that cannot be duplicated in traditional convention centers and hotel ballrooms.


Strong incentives must be in place to make the agenda as engaging as possible, through the wise use of keynote speakers and talent, both local and national. If booking a live celebrity is not in the budget, consider adding one or more as an attraction on your virtual platform who can also interact on large screens with those attending the meeting in person.


One of the main complaints of convention attendees and sponsors in the years before the pandemic was spending too many hours in the ballroom or on the trade show floor and never really experiencing the destination city. With that in mind, bring the destination city to your participants by supporting fantastic local restaurants, local theater groups and city landmarks they likely will not experience otherwise. Take attendees on a journey within their own city to an undiscovered gem or uniquely themed experience. Add in a virtual element to this local programing to expand your audience even further.


Once attendees build comfort levels through incentives to attend hyperlocal programming, they will be much more likely to take the next step to return to larger hybrid programs and national and international conventions.



About the author: Nancy Hays is the president of Nancy Hays Entertainment & Speakers, Inc., VirtualCelebrityTalent.com and DanceWithNancy.com. Nancy specializes in producing celebrity talent and speakers for meetings and events and dance programs for virtual participants. In addition, Nancy works through NancyHaysSpeaks.com 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 nancyhaysentertainment@gmail.com

As Published for Meeting Planners International: Link to Blog



The U.S. presidential inaugural ceremonies that appeared on all major networks on Jan. 20 were a stellar example of hybrid programming. The afternoon and evening productions highlighted the importance of the arts and showed us how celebrity cameos can serve to communicate powerful messaging.


The inauguration events included seamless transitions between speeches and presentations, moving performances by a diverse group of musical artists and the introduction of a powerful young African American poet whose words moved many to tears. The emotions that come from witnessing a one time “live” production—with others gathered to observe—cannot be matched. The virtual audience was vicariously feeling what it must have been like to be there in person while watching from the safety of their homes. The inauguration was a near-perfect example of a successful hybrid event.


Later in the evening, without commercial interruptions, millions were also invited to watch while everyday people including healthcare workers, teachers, kids with lemonade stands and great charitable projects and other Americans were introduced by celebrity emcee Tom Hanks. Three former presidents, in one common voice, offered support, hope and counsel for the newly elected president. All of this messaging was edited together with pre-taped and live streaming musical performances that kept the program moving along and exposed viewers to a diversity of musical styles as a graphic of the U.S. map united them visually. All artists were carefully produced, and production elements were seamlessly woven together and included fireworks and a live celebrity singing to a full orchestra track while cameras panned over to the new president enjoying the live spectacle. The costuming was coordinated and the audio track well mixed, and no part of the presentation lasted long enough for anyone to get bored. The celebrity cameos were also effective, especially when seen interacting with everyday heroes.


“Planners should study this event because it demonstrates the effective combination of familiar elements: a moderator, a common theme and keynote speeches from senior executives.”

Planners should study this event because it demonstrates the effective combination of familiar elements: a moderator, a common theme and keynote speeches from senior executives, packaged along with powerful celebrity segments. It also reminds us of the importance of proper advance planning for production elements (whether live or pre-taped) and how backgrounds such as landmarks, cultural attractions and other “scenery” reinforce overall perceptions. As we begin to go forward into the coming year and restrictions are lifted and vaccines become more widely available, programming like what was seen at the inaugural should serve as a guide.


Celebrities are less expensive for virtual performances than they have ever been. They have never been more accessible. Lesser-known performers can still add value to programming and make the difference between a boring virtual experience where most attendees “tune out” and active engagement that leaves attendees motivated to do their best work with a new sense of collaboration, optimism and purpose.


We are no doubt facing a tough year ahead in the meeting and event industry, but we can plan our hybrid events to be successful and effective in a way that will bring value to clients as they try to motivate employees to achieve their goals. We will do well if we plan our hybrid events for corporations, associations and charitable groups using the inauguration as an example of the best in hybrid programming.


Photo by Quick PS on Unsplash




About the author: Nancy Hays is the president of Nancy Hays Entertainment & Speakers, Inc., VirtualCelebrityTalent.com and DanceWithNancy.com. Nancy specializes in producing celebrity talent and speakers for meetings and events and dance programs for virtual participants. In addition, Nancy works through NancyHaysSpeaks.com 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 nancyhaysentertainment@gmail.com

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!


Photo by Glenn van de Wiel on Unsplash




About the author: Nancy Hays is the president of Nancy Hays Entertainment & Speakers, Inc., VirtualCelebrityTalent.com and DanceWithNancy.com. Nancy specializes in producing celebrity talent and speakers for meetings and events and dance programs for virtual participants. In addition, Nancy works through NancyHaysSpeaks.com 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 nancyhaysentertainment@gmail.com

© 2021 Nancy Hays Entertainment, Inc.