When it comes to event speakers, there’s not a huge difference between booking one for an in-person event versus booking one for a virtual event. But in terms of the speakers themselves, there’s actually a world of difference between a great live speaker and a great virtual speaker. Booking someone who’s experienced at live speaking won’t necessarily ensure a stellar virtual performance. So how do you make sure your speaker can captivate an online audience?
Why Virtual Speaking Isn’t the Same as Live-Event Speaking
There’s one simple thing that differentiates virtual speaking and live speaking, but that one thing makes all the difference. It is, of course, the audience. When a live speaker delivers their presentation, they have what amounts to a captive audience: a room full of people sitting in chairs, with few distractions, who are there specifically to hear the speaker.
But what about the virtual audience? With an online presentation, the audience environment is completely different. Attendees are at home, or perhaps at work. They’re in environments where they can get up and move to different rooms or multitask or answer the phone or attend to a child or… you get the picture. When attending an online event, the audience is free to do anything else that feels more urgent or more interesting. Therefore, the presentation they’re watching has to feel more interesting and more important and more enjoyable than anything else they could be doing.
And what about the speaker? Used to speaking to a large audience, they tend to miss the obvious: They’re no longer speaking to an audience—they’re speaking to one person. To each online audience member, the presentation they’re watching feels like a one-on-one interaction. An online presentation needs to feel warmer and more intimate, even though it’s as much a group event as any live presentation. That means the speaker, who’s used to projecting to an entire room, needs to tone down their delivery to make it feel more personal.
For all these reasons, it’s not enough for a virtual speaker to simply copy and paste their standard live presentation. The speaker must play to the audience and the audience’s specific environment.
There’s No Substitute for Experience
No matter what kind of virtual speaker you’re looking for, this is one situation where there’s no substitute for specific experience. Live and virtual speaking are very different things. Even if your speaker has plenty of live experience, that’s no guarantee they’ll be a good virtual speaker.
If possible, choose a speaker that has online experience. And if that’s not possible, make sure your speaker understands that virtual speaking is a different situation—and that they need to adjust both their speaking style and their expectations in order to make it work.
How to Find and Book Virtual Speakers
1. What Are You Looking for?
Start your search by figuring out a few basic things. These will help you focus on what kind of virtual speaker you’re looking for. And some of this is information you’ll need to have on hand to discuss with potential speakers.
- Event goals—yours and your attendees – What do you want to get out of this event? And what are your attendees hoping to get out of it?
- Speaker options – What kind of speaker do you need? For instance, are you looking for a keynote speaker or a session speaker? Depending on the event, you may want more than one kind of speaker. Many events have session speakers as well as a keynote speaker. Some large events even have multiple keynote speakers.
- Scheduling information – The date and time you want the speaker to present and the length of their time slot
- Your budget – How much you can afford to pay the speaker
- Technical information – Details about your virtual event platform and what kinds of presentation formats the speaker can use. For instance, can they use PowerPoint and other software, audio, or video clips?
Having this information on hand before you start your search will help save time as you go. You won’t have to scramble for information, and it will be easier to eliminate people who aren’t a good fit.
2. Where Should You Look?
With these details sorted out, you’re ready to start hunting for virtual speakers for your event. You have several options for finding speakers, and there’s no reason you can’t use multiple methods for finding possible speakers. The more options you have, the better your chances of finding the perfect fit, so don’t rule anything out.
If you have an online audience—for instance, followers on Twitter or Instagram—reach out and ask them who they’d love to hear from. This can be a great way to generate interest in your event by getting people excited about your content, as well as a way to find potential speakers.
These websites are, more or less, lists or catalogs of speakers. Sites such as BigSpeak and the National Speakers Bureau provide information about the speakers they represent, including the topics they speak on. Rather than talking directly with the speaker, you contact the agency to discuss availability and fees.
Depending on what industry you’re in, there may be some great options in the form of podcasters and others in the digital media industry. By going this route, you can take advantage of the fact that these are people who understand online speaking in a way most people don’t.
Are there dynamic, charismatic experts at your own company, or at partner companies? Maybe these aren’t right as keynote speakers, but they may very well be qualified to present at smaller breakout or education sessions.
If none of these methods produce any prospects, turn to Google. Search for keynote speakers in your industry, and you’re likely to come up with at least a handful of possibilities. Most professional speakers have their own dedicated websites with essential information, including topics they cover, fees, and availability.
3. How Do You Actually Book a Virtual Speaker?
Once you’ve found the perfect speaker, your next step is to book them. This will typically entail agreeing on a fee and signing a contract. Even for an online speaking engagement, a contract is still important. It ensures there’s no ambiguity about each party’s obligations and commitments. At the very least, the contract should include details on the fee and the schedule, including date, time, and length of the speaker’s presentation.
Other important matters to iron out might include:
- Applicable deadlines – For instance, if the speaker needs to provide a bio or other information for your event website
- Event promotion – Do you want your speaker to help with promotion? Most speakers are willing to at least mention the event on social media, even if they prefer not to do any actual event promotion. Some may be willing to do extra promotion for an additional fee.
- Any other guidelines and expectations – For instance, if there’s a rehearsal or practice session before the main event, your speaker should be made aware if they’re expected to be present.
The Right Speaker Can Make Your Virtual Event Sizzle
For any event—whether virtual or in-person—a great speaker can help it go off with a bang. But when your event is online, your choice of speaker is particularly crucial. The online environment is unique. To get the best results, you need a speaker who understands this.