How To Add Entertainment to Your Company's Next Virtual Meeting!
A lot has changed for corporate events and meetings since the pandemic hit last March. A major component for many corporate functions is how to add extra elements to break up the monotony of meetings, seminars and break-out groups. This would include live entertainment, virtual mixologists, comedians and interactive events like mentalists, magicians and even quiz shows.
This article on virtual event entertainment is to help focus attention on how to run your virtual meeting and how to incorporate entertainment into the meeting. I'll be focusing on participatory entertainment like mentalists or magicians. But this information will apply to all types of virtual entertainment. It has been almost a year since virtual performances really started to appear in the corporate world. Since then, I personally have performed over one hundred virtual events for companies all over the world. All from the comfort of my studio here in Boston. These events have had as little as five people from a board of directors, to a few dozen employees and in some cases over 5,000 people. Or an entire companies workforce.
Sitting in Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting all day can be a tiresome and quickly boring work task. Especially when working from home or from an office with a fraction of the normal number of employees present. By adding some unique, and interactive elements - you will be able to refresh your employees, break up that monotony and give them something to look forward to, because let's be honest here, meetings can and will likely always be boring.
How to successfully add entertainment
to your next virtual meeting:
The Entertainment: Make sure when you book a virtual entertainer you set up a virtual talk before you confirm the booking. Even if they have a great video, tons of reviews, etc. Set up a meeting yourself ahead of booking! Not a performance, (do not ask for a free or abbreviated performance - let the performer offer to do something quick for you - they most likely will do something quick to give you a taste of his or her material) but just a talk to see if you are a good match. Additionally, this will allow you to get a good understanding of the set-up the performer is working with - this would include camera and sound quality, the ability to run the basic virtual meeting software. (Zoom, Google, Microsoft, etc.) Please do not disregard this point - doing so may put you in a position where you're booked, scheduled and paid for performer doesn't know what they are doing. Or maybe they have connection issues due to not paying attention to the details we often miss when setting up something virtual. (like hard-wired internet, charged or plugged in cameras, faulty external mics, bad lighting, etc.)
2. The Length: A virtual show can (almost always) be very flexible. With the majority of performers working from home, scheduling is usually very easy. However, just as if you were planning an in-person meeting or seminar, schedule everything out as much as possible. Do not hire a performer to sit in a waiting room for the entire meeting until you're ready to bring them in at a random break. Make sure your entertainment knows exactly what time they will be Starting and ending their performance. (if you're located in different parts of the country, or world - be sure to send them the start time for THEIR location - not yours - this will prevent a lot of problems!) I've seen other performer's events get completely ruined due to poor communication about something as simple as time zones.
3. Be Open Minded: A virtual show? How is that the same as a show in person? Well, it isn't and won't be the same. Nothing will be the same as watching live entertainment.. well... live! Although virtual shows are indeed live they do lack that feeling you get from a show performed in the same room as you. But do not let this sway you away from booking virtual entertainment. A virtual performance is just as, if not more interactive as an in-person show. Literally every element of my own performances is interactive, meaning people are getting involved throughout the entire show! There is even elements where literally everyone in attendance (no matter how many) are participating at the same time. The point is, don't knock it until you try it. You'll be very surprised how much fun it actually is and can be. Watch the video below to see what I'm talking about.
4. Trust the Performer: That being said, only trust them AFTER you've confirmed they know what they're doing, are a good fit for your group and you've spent time communicating with them. Many times performers will want to host their own meetings. This is often crucially important on their end as it allows them to control the meeting from the behind the scenes "technical" side. I personally use a technical director who is responsible for spotlighting, muting and enabling certain visual components in my shows. This saves me a ton of time so I can focus on the performance and the audience.
If your entertainment requests they host the meeting - let them! If you don't want it recorded (which is often a default in many platforms such as Zoom) then tell them you'd prefer it was not recorded.
I would strongly urge against having a performer join a meeting already in progress. They will need to be made a co-host, given some control over the ability to spotlight and mute attendees. Enabling these elements after the performer has joined a meeting is similar to stage curtain going up and only Then turning on the lights, putting on a mic and adding some stage makeup. To ensure a great performance, follow what the professional recommends.
5. But How Much Will It Cost?: You may think because you're booking a virtual performance that the fees associated will be less or far less than an in-person show. Well in some cases they may be, don't be surprised if the performer's fees stay the same as standard in-person rates. They may fluctuate a little, but remember that putting these virtual shows on is not as easy as you may think.
Many performers do not have a professional studio space, proper lighting, microphones or better than webcam quality cameras available at their disposal. More often than not, performers are spending hundreds, if not thousands or dollars just to be able to do virtual shows and stay in business during a time when artists and entertainment is considered a non-essential service. Please keep this in mind when receiving quotes. If it is out of your budget, be open about it and tell the performer. We want to work with you and are (most of the time) perfectly willing to negotiate.
That being said, if you feel like the price is too low. Trust your instincts and move on to someone else. Chances are it's too low for a reason. Caveat emptor.
6. How Should I book: There are basically two (maybe 2.5) ways to book a performer for a virtual (or really any) performance. The first is direct - meaning you contact the performer, through their website, social media page or by phone or email. You get in touch directly and negotiate the price, details, etc. For both parties, this is the most efficient way to hire live entertainment. The second way is to go through a booking agent. While this is a classic and usually trusted way to go, the downside to the performer is that a portion of their fee goes to the booking agent. Or you are charged an extra fee on top of the fee for the performer. (usually 15-20% on average)
Finally, the other way to book a performer is through an online booking platform like Gigmasters or GigSalad. While you can find a lot of performers on these platforms, literally anyone can sign up here and try to get work as an entertainer. It is Highly recommended to do your research and find someone to book directly through their own websites or at least through a booking agent. This is especially important if you are a corporate client!
Bear in mind these three ways to book entertainment do not include the absolute best way. That would through direct referral. If your friend or colleague recommends someone you will likely get a much more honest opinion.
Now that we've gone over how to get the most from booking virtual entertainment. Remember the following:
Do your research and do not settle for a low-priced performer (there is usually a reason why they're so cheap)
That being said, never try to low-ball a performer simply because it's a virtual show. We can see this coming a mile away. It's very insulting to say "well.. this is online so you don't charge the same as in person right?" or "can I get a discount since it'll be virtual?" I assume you personally would not want to get paid less because you're working virtually right? Remember, performers spend years and years (most of us spend our whole lives) perfecting our crafts, investing thousands upon thousands of dollars into training, various types of schooling (business management, marketing, web design, accounting, etc.) just to be able to run our businesses efficiently. And most of us (like myself) employ a staff of other professionals to assist in our performances and make sure everything is running smoothly so you don't notice a thing out of sorts. I once had a show where my wifi was acting a little wonky. We didn't want it to go down during the show obviously. So, because we were set up ahead of time, my technical director was able to change over to our hardwired connection seamlessly and nobody noticed a thing. (we usually run off of wifi to take advantage of certain technical features that are not possible with a hard wired connection.) So just remember, you're not paying for a single show but for a professional with the knowledge to make your event a success.
Get someone who fits your company's style and vibe. Use your best judgement. If they don't feel like the right fit, move on. Your first instinct is almost always the right one.
Confirm the length of the show, the fee and parameters well before the event date. Don't let yourself get set up for unexpected surprises. Even though it's not a traditional in-person event, double check with the performer to see if he/she needs anything. I normally have a few audience members join me prior to the show to do a few special things that will take place during the show. This is communicated well in advance and those individuals are already set up and ready in the virtual waiting room before the show begins.
Trust the performer - and do not try to micromanage the show. One of the worst things a client can do is try to control how a show is formed, structured and presented. This does not mean you can't recommend things ahead of time. For example; if the show is for a group of very intelligent engineers - they may like more technical or complex demonstrations. Perhaps demonstrations or routines having to do with math, memory or problem solving. It is absolutely fine to ask if a performer can tailor the show in certain ways - but do not demand anything! I am constantly customizing my show for my clients and honestly I really enjoy doing it! It allows me to be extra creative, do things I maybe have not done very much and develop routines around certain company messages, products or even specific members of the company.
That said, don't be afraid to ask for certain (reasonable) things. Like if you have specific people you think would be great volunteers, please let us know. Also, if there are those who you would think would Not be good volunteers, definitely let us know! The worst thing is to have someone who is uncomfortable and does not want to be included in the show, and is suddenly spotlit in front of 500 co-workers. When it comes to top level executives, the obvious thought would be to immediately exclude them from any participatory elements of the performance. I would say that 99 times out of 100, this is completely untrue! I have had billionaire hedge fund owners participate in my virtual mind reading shows and be as giddy as a teenager when their mind is read in front of the entire company. Do not automatically assume they don't want to be included. If you're concerned, ask them. You'll be surprised how many are totally fine with being called on and participating.
Try very hard to book an entertainer directly. At the very least go through a booking agent. (a real person - not a virtual one like Gigmasters or GigSalad) While there is nothing inherently wrong with these virtual options, remember that anyone who can pay the membership fee can sign up and try to get work as an entertainer - when they have zero real world experience. Or as professionals call it, "Flight Time."
Have fun! Yes it may be obvious, but remember we're all in this together and the more you enjoy yourself, the more your guests will and you'll be able to add something unique to your otherwise routine meetings. As an employee, its awkward seeing your boss or the event organizer not having a good time.
With everything going on in the world today, adding a little break to your workday will really brighten the moods and increase the moral of your team. With the right performer or entertainment, you will absolutely see a change with your staff, your management and even with new and current clients.
Now let's get to the obligatory, self-promotion part. Since March of 2020, I have presented over 100 unique virtual corporate performances. For companies like Amazon, Google, GE, NASA and Ernst & Young just to name a few. Each has been unique to the client with personalized material geared around certain messages, products features for customers and even general smoozing of potential new clients. Prior to the pandemic my calendar is normally filled with around 150-200 in-person corporate events each year. For the last twenty years I have done thousands of events all over the world. Keep me in mind when you are planning activities and unique experiences to add to your next virtual meeting, seminar, employee appreciation event or new client acquisition.
Stay healthy, happy and safe!