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  • Writer's pictureNancy Hays

Leverage Talent and Speakers to Maximize Engagement and Success

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!

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

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