In today’s world, virtual events are becoming the new normal. They work similarly to live events, though you don’t have to worry about booking a physical event space. However, just like a live event, you still need the right speakers to set the tone and drive engagement. Hiring a virtual keynote speaker isn’t the same as hiring an in-person keynoter, so it’s important to have a strategy.
While it’s true many keynote speakers transitioned their live performances to the virtual “stage,” that doesn’t mean every speaker is the right fit for you. Unfortunately, some speakers who totally rock their audience in person fall flat on digital platforms. Because keynote speakers have the power to set the entire tone for the event, this isn’t a decision you should take lightly.
Whether your event is in person or online, you need a keynote speaker who can cater to your audience. Beyond this, they should be skilled at bringing out engagement within your audience, especially in a digital setting. Since there are other tech concerns and setups involved with hosting a virtual event, you want someone prepared to hit the ground running.
As the 21st century continues to go virtual, event planners should recognize the best way to hire a virtual keynote speaker now. To make a mundane digital event into a memorable experience, you need a targeted, knowledgeable approach to hiring speakers. Luckily, you’re in the right place. Keep reading for the ultimate guide to hiring a virtual keynote speaker that’s perfect for your next digital event.
Benefits of Hiring A Virtual Keynote Speaker
First, why consider a virtual keynote speaker in the first place? There are some unique advantages to choosing a virtual keynote speaker vs. an in-person speaker. Virtual events, for example, are popular because they’re more affordable and scalable.
It’s much easier to set up a virtual event rather than take care of logistics for a physical event. There are much lower entry barriers compared to other events, and it’s easier for guests to attend from the comfort of their homes. These time and cost savings can be used to source top talent and speakers, hence these benefits of hiring a virtual keynote speaker.
Connections With Speakers Across The World
To begin, you’re not limited to a specific geographic region when it comes to hiring a virtual keynote speaker. Travel expenses, in addition to speaker costs, can be expensive. This is especially true for smaller events working with limited budgets. Having access to the best speakers across the globe without worrying about costly airfare, overnight accommodations, and transportation costs results in huge savings.
Though it’s common to source speakers from other parts of the state or country, why limit yourself? You could look even wider, perhaps even abroad. This type of global focus adds a lot of dimension to your event. It can also attract a wider audience of attendees. By connecting with speakers across the globe, you strengthen your existing community and create greater networking opportunities.
Keynote speakers set the tone for events by providing a football-field-sized perspective on the state of your industry or topic area. An outside, global perspective can be a welcome addition. Consider the conversation you’d like to start with your virtual keynote and let that be your guide.
Reduced Production & Speaker Costs
Of course, with in-person events, there’s a long list of speaker costs and production expenses to consider. Things like setting up the keynote stage, arranging travel, and preparing for a large event all add up to an impressive price tag. Keep your speaker costs down without compromising on speaker fees with a virtual keynote speaker.
With more speakers making the transition to virtual, they come prepared with their own equipment and tools. You typically don’t have to worry about camera equipment, microphones, connectivity, or software beyond what you’re already using for your event. Believe it or not, some virtual speakers even partner with local video production companies to have professional sound stages for events. This can save you quite a pretty penny overall, and it also saves setup time.
Everything adds up when it comes to production and speaker costs. Some speakers also offer flexible speaking packages and rates for virtual events vs. in-person. Speakers themselves often have to hire emcees, video producers, and assistants to handle travel arrangements. Going fully virtual is a weight off their budget as well. Overall, it’s a win/win for everyone.
Accessibility For Audience Members
Additionally, virtual keynote speakers offer greater accessibility for audience members. This is true for both those with disabilities (like hearing impairment or use of a wheelchair) as well as the ability to have their voices heard. Many of today’s virtual event software comes equipped with features like transcripts, interpreters, and keyboard shortcuts. Instead of having a large space where not everyone gets a clear view, everyone sees the same virtual event screen.
When hosting interactive keynote sessions, a virtual platform makes a difference. Event attendees can easily send messages, leave feedback, and share thoughts with breakout groups. This isn’t usually as easy to organize with in-person events, and it adds an approachable dynamic to digital events that are hard to beat.
It’s not always reasonable to expect attendees to travel far for events, conferences, and so on. Not only are there travel costs, but spending time away from one’s family isn’t always possible. Ultimately, a virtual keynote speaker levels the playing field in terms of accessibility for all. This is one of the many ways virtual events shine over physical events.
Accessibility After The Event Is Over
Next, don’t forget the importance of accessibility even after the event is over. Yes, it’s possible to record in-person keynotes, but this doesn’t always deliver the same level of experience. Recordings of virtual events are always the same as the actual premier, ensuring everyone has the same high-level experience no matter when they watch it back.
Not only can people share the recording later as part of additional events or marketing materials, but it increases the life cycle. In-person keynotes are powerful but short-lived. Once guests leave the room, they don’t usually remember more than a handful of important takeaways. On the other hand, a virtual event can be rewatched later in its entirety. This is a very valuable asset, and one of the many reasons it’s becoming the norm to hire a virtual keynote speaker.
Again, not everyone has the flexibility to watch a session live. Life, travel, and work often get in the way. When you offer the option to watch the entire keynote speech at a later time, it’s much more likely to drive more engagement. Why not be as flexible as possible for your audience?
Ease Of Post-Event Marketing & Lead Capture
Speaking of marketing materials, when you hire a virtual keynote speaker, you have access to a lot of important information. When audience members sign up, they share their email, name, and interests as a way to engage with the event. This is all data you can use to market to them afterward, possibly promoting a future event.
A virtual keynote speaker is a way to begin this conversation. While it’s not a sales pitch, each keynote is an opportunity to introduce an idea that leads to a greater engagement and audience interaction. In other words, as a lead capture tool, virtual events are highly effective.
Not only do you have a chance to encourage action, but you have the details to act on that action quickly. Post-event marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought. It should be part of your strategy from the beginning, and, by choosing a keynote speaker that understands that strategy, you can ensure every aspect of the event builds towards your goals.
Summarily, though you’re liking reading this with an upcoming virtual event in mind, it’s almost guaranteed that this won’t be your last one. As you continue to reap these advantages above, you’ll recognize ways to improve the overall experience. The more post-event marketing opportunities you have, the stronger your event platform becomes.
Traits Of An Exceptional Virtual Keynote Speaker
No matter what your needs are, there are specific traits you can always find in exceptional virtual keynote speakers. With more than 65% of today’s virtual events bringing in external speakers, you have a lot to look for.
However, just because a speaker is great on the physical stage doesn’t mean this translates to a digital medium. When in doubt, look for these qualities below. While there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all, the right speaker is skilled when it comes to sharing a key message to a digital audience.
1. They focus on the needs of your audience and the goals of your event.
To begin, a virtual keynote speaker has to be the same as a traditional speaker in that they take the time to understand your audience. If they don’t know (or care) who they’re speaking to, their message will never hit home. As the event organizer, you already know your audience and what matters to them. It’s your job to communicate this to potential keynote speakers to determine if they’re the right fit.
Though there can be overlap between niches, the right speaker will be familiar with your target demographic. They have likely spoken to this type of audience before, and they already know what to expect. More importantly, they take the time to recognize the goals of your event and the needs of your audience, specifically. That way, they can use them as a structure for their virtual keynote.
In short, keynote speakers – virtual or in-person – don’t choose this job because it’s easy. If anything, it’s one of the most challenging industries, especially for those going fully virtually. The right virtual speaker loves what they do, and they’re passionate about serving others. This enthusiasm should shine through every interaction, from pre-planning to post-event feedback.
2. Their virtual capabilities are evident in your first conversation.
Second, the last thing you want is to hire a virtual speaker who isn’t confident with technology. Virtual events are dependent on digital platforms, some of which can be complex, and that means a good deal of tech skills are necessary to succeed. While you might need to provide some training, the keyword here is some. If the speaker isn’t confident in setting up their own at-home speaking studio, they’re not the right speaker for you.
It should be clear when meeting with your speaker virtually that they know how to comfortably run a video call. It shouldn’t be their first time navigating Zoom, and they should understand how to present through a digital platform. While tech issues do happen, the way the speaker handles them makes all the difference. If they’re not comfortable with you in initial virtual meetings, odds are they’ll be uncomfortable on a larger digital stage as well.
How can you determine if a speaker is capable of delivering a strong virtual event? Consider how you walk away from virtual interactions with them. Do you feel energized, excited, and ready to tackle the next challenge? Or do you feel a bit bored and ready to move on? The way you feel mirrors how your own audience will feel, so take this seriously.
3. Their virtual office or stage is top-notch.
Speaking of comfortable on screen, how does their virtual office stack up? With speakers going virtual, many have had to invest in what’s called a “virtual stage.” This isn’t a physical stage. Rather, it’s a combination of the aesthetic that appears in their on-screen background. The virtual stage includes things like lighting, backdrops, and office area.
Even during initial conversation calls, the virtual stage should be top notch. The speaker’s goal, with their virtual stage, is to send a professional, clean message and narrow the viewer’s attention to them and the messages they’re sharing. Consequently, things like clutter, messiness, and poor lighting are distractions. Most importantly, they send a bad message to viewers. After all, if someone’s paying to attend an event, they want each speaker to take care of even the smallest details. That includes the effort they put into setting up their presentation and the experience they provide through it.
If you’re unsure what a speaker will use for their keynote, it’s always okay to ask what type of equipment they’re working with. Most are excited to share the steps they take to ensure top-notch video and audio quality, so be afraid to ask.
Additionally, don’t just take their word for it. Consider checking past video stream examples and webinars to make sure they know how to nail a digital performance.
4. They have evidence of their past successes ready to go.
Speaking of checking examples, this should be a standard part of your hiring process. The right virtual keynote speaker has real-world examples of their work, including past clients, testimonials, and more. Ideally, you would find these things on their website, speaker bio, or other marketing materials before you even meet them virtually.
Ultimately, you want to validate the impact of their past work. Do they have a proven track record of success? Have they worked with similar companies and audiences in the past? If they’ve repeatedly worked with the same clients or obtained word-of-mouth referrals, this is a positive sign. Additionally, ask whether these experiences were virtual or in-person since that can make a difference as well.
Past success comes in all shapes and sizes. In our digital world, many virtual speakers are building experiences in untraditional ways. Whether they’re a frequent podcast guest, webinar host, or virtual entertainer, make sure they have the skills you’re looking for in a virtual professional. Even if they don’t have years of virtual speaking experience, look for evidence of their virtual prowess. Sometimes, it’s the speakers that operate virtually on a regular basis – and so have mastered virtual communication – that are the best on a virtual stage.
5. They make time for pre-event tech testing.
Next, as all event organizers know, you don’t just show up the day of the keynote and hit “go live.” Instead, there’s rigorous testing that takes place weeks or even months in advance. All of this might sound tedious, but it ensures that things work perfectly on the day of the event.
Though much of this is done behind the scenes, there are times when your speaker will need to be present. When you hold run-throughs with virtual speakers, make sure they’re confident with their own tech set-up. Troubleshoot potential problems, make adjustments, and provide live feedback as they’re rehearsing. The right virtual keynote speaker understands the value of these pre-event testing steps, and they make themselves readily available for them.
In addition to pre-event tech troubleshooting, keep an eye on your communication channels with virtual speakers. How long does it take for your speaker to follow up with emails and calls, for example? Are you always playing phone tag, or are they proactive about meetings? Everyone should be fully on the same page, regardless of their role in the event planning process. The last thing you want is any confusion – or bad surprises – leading up to the live event or publish date.
6. They’re flexible when their tech acts up mid-event.
With that in mind, even with pre-event tech testing, things happen. Anyone who works in the digital event space has experienced his or her fair share of tech problems. It just comes with the territory, and it’s an opportunity to understand how your speaker responds when things don’t go according to plan. Connectivity, sound clarity, and quality are just the reality of taking part in a virtual event, and, sometimes, they’re interrupted despite everyone’s best efforts.
Skilled virtual speakers, however, understand that maintaining command of a virtual “room” takes practice and experience. This is where stand-out virtual keynote speakers set themselves apart from more traditional speakers. They don’t merely prepare beforehand in order to minimize issues. They also “back up” their presentation plans, so they can stay flexible when things happen.
For example, if a speaker’s video diasconnects, they might have a backup of their slide deck for you. That way, you can share it with the virtual audience while they continue to talk. Another example swapping in a Q&A session where a pre-recorded video was supposed to be or having additional microphones, just in case one stops working.
Long story short, while event organizers can – and should – have tech support on stand-by, speakers can also do their part by being a source of calm and leadership for mid-event quips. Talk through potential backup plans with your speaker so that, when something comes up, you can tackle it in unison.
7. They’re high-energy and go out of their way to engage the audience.
Moreover, even when tech is cooperating, it’s still a challenge to engage the audience virtually. A reported 49% of marketers say audience engagement is the biggest factor in determining whether a virtual event is successful. Still, this is easier said than done. Most people aren’t very compelled to interact through a computer screen, so it takes the right virtual keynote speaker to really draw people into the activities.
SpeakerFlow podcast guest and virtual event expert Rob Ferre understands the value of engagement digitally. He says, “The most important thing for engagement is knowing your audience and knowing how to actually do something that’s relevant to them.” Whether that means encouraging users to leave questions or ideas in the chat, respond to a poll, or play a game, it all has to be personalized towards your goals and audience.
Simply put, keynote speaking is an art form. While it’s about delivering a key idea, it’s also about connecting with the audience on their existing journey. We live in a world full of distractions. When delivering a keynote to people in their own homes, these distractions are tenfold. No matter how your speaker decides to engage the audience, this should be something they’re prepared to tackle with confidence.
To learn more about audience engagement for virtual events, check out Rob’s episode on SpeakerFlow’s Technically Speaking podcast. 🎙
8. They provide post-event resources for audience members.
Furthermore, engagement doesn’t end once the keynote is over. Post-event resources are a chance for audience members to continue engaging with the content of the speech in the future. Not only is this an opportunity to drive more leads, but it also adds greater value for event guests. As we explained above, the lifespan of a virtual event is much longer. This is especially true when the virtual keynote speaker provides post-event resources.
What types of resources are the right fit for you? There’s a lot to choose from including ebooks, physical books, courses, coaching sessions, and Q&A opportunities, to name a few. Whatever resource(s) you choose to share, the goal is always to extend the impact of your event while providing additional support. Many speakers today have built-in resources they provide events, so always look for ways to create more value.
Though it’s easy to look at the limitations of virtual keynotes, there are also many benefits when it comes to add-ons. If your keynote speaker has past experience, they’re a great resource for finding new ways to provide post-event resources for members of the audience. Don’t hesitate to ask them what they recommend and trust their judgment.
9. They offer post-event recordings for you and your team.
Speaking of value, you might also look for a virtual keynote speaker who can provide a post-event recording. Though this is usually available for an added fee to account for production time and costs, it might be included in their existing speaking package. Either way, a post-event recording can be used for marketing future events, recaps, and sharing success, making it well worth the added cost. You want to gain as much value from this speaking engagement as possible.
In other words, event recordings last much longer than the event itself. You can repurpose them for blog posts, guides, social media shares, advertisements, podcast episodes, and so much more. When your speaker can produce a post-event recording on your behalf, this saves you time and money. Stretch your event dollars even further by thinking ahead.
Your keynote speaker typically uses these recordings themselves as part of their marketing materials, so it’s not a hassle for them to pass them your way. Many also allow you to incorporate your own branding to make these recorded sessions your own. Not only is this a platform for them, but it also builds your own brand authority.
Plus, when you host your next virtual event, a recording allows you to refresh your memory about the speaker you chose last time. From there, you can judge whether to hire them again and save the time of having to find a new speaker.
10. They’re open to feedback (good and bad) and suggestions.
Last but not least, when hiring a virtual keynote speaker, they must be open to good and bad feedback. All event organizers know that feedback is a two-way street. While you should be open to feedback yourself, you also want a strong speaker who’s always looking for ways to improve. In a perfect world, all feedback would be positive, but, in reality, there are times when you have to share both good and bad feedback.
This is an opportunity to strengthen the virtual speakers’ own skills. An open-minded, proactive speaker recognizes the value of honest feedback. More importantly, they’ll be excited to work with you again in the future to create an even better experience. Every speaking opportunity is a chance for a fresh perspective for both speakers and event managers.
The foundation of your working relationship should be trust. With that comes an openness when discussing strengths and weaknesses. You shouldn’t be afraid to share what you liked (and disliked) about working with your speaker, especially if you plan to work with them in the future. What can they do better? Most importantly, how can you improve your own event planning strategy?
Virtual Keynote Speaker Examples
Now that you know how to hire a virtual keynote speaker, let’s look at some real-world examples. These virtual keynote speakers below are skilled in the physical and virtual stages, and they each bring something unique to the digital table. The more familiar you are with the specific skills of virtual speakers, the easier it is to find the right fit for your event.
First, Cassandra Worthy is the founder and CEO of Change Enthusiasm. After surviving a huge business transition herself, she recognized the importance of flexibility when facing challenges. Today, she helps organizations of all shapes and sizes respond positively to change day in and day out through virtual keynotes and workshops.
Unlike other speakers, Cassandra thrives on the screen. Her high energy lights up the virtual platform, and she focuses on what she calls the “perfect-fit” customization to suit the event’s specific goals. Her packages include takeaway content, gamification, and session moderation. Ultimately, she’s an all-in-one virtual keynote professional.
Second, Dan Thurmon was quick to pivot when teams began going online full-time. He understands that gathering physically isn’t always possible, but this doesn’t have to mean compromising on a sense of community. With offerings like personal and group coaching, leadership meetings, and breakthrough sessions, Dan sets himself apart as a keynote speaker to remember.
Unlike traditional virtual meetings, Dan focuses on production value and experience. His events are elevated, professionally produced, and engagement-based. He works in partnership with each brand’s leadership team to customize the results to specific goals. His dedication to high-quality video, tech tools, and solutions that work drive real results.
Next, James Taylor has over 20 years of experience as an award-winning speaker. A host of his own podcast and TV show, he’s very familiar with the virtual big screen. Specializing in business creativity and innovation, he takes his real-world experience to customize virtual keynotes that fit today’s world. He breaks down his offerings into 3 speaking packages, immersive, classic, and tactical. Each uses visual technology and tools to drive engagement without sacrificing quality.
James even takes things a step further by using multiple cameras for his virtual keynotes. His tactical presentations, for example, use 5 cameras to deliver an action-oriented message. With past clients like Visa, Apple, and Sony, he adjusts his virtual keynote to each specific audience.
Similarly, Jason Dorsey has already virtually spoken to over 400k guests throughout his career, so he’s no stranger to virtual keynotes. Focused on challenging inter-generational problems, he’s known as a research guru who brings his passion to life virtually for all different types of events.
Unlike many virtual speakers, Jason Dorsey produces all of his virtual keynotes in a professional film studio. This ensures optimum quality all around, creating something picture-perfect for guests. Needless to say, he goes the extra mile. Aside from virtual keynotes, he also delivers engaging webinars as a thought leader in his field. He’s the perfect example of a virtual keynote speaker who stays flexible for his audience.
Though Jeff Civillico isn’t a virtual keynote speaker, he still earns a place on this list. He’s known as a virtual emcee. Like a traditional emcee, his role is to keep energy levels high at virtual events. He fills gaps and lulls in the discussion, transitions between presenters, and adds additional value to any virtual event. Anyone who’s been to a virtual event knows they often fall into awkward pauses and gaps. Jeff’s specialty is easing this friction, ensuring an engaging presentation from start to finish.
Since 2020, Jeff has hosted over 250 virtual events on platforms like Zoom, Teams, Skype, and more. He draws from untraditional experience: his years of experience as an award-winning Las Vegas comedy headline show. Agile on his feet and ready for anything thrown his way, he tackles challenges effortlessly. Better yet, he comes prepared with his own studio and production team based in Las Vegas. He can handle pre-recorded sessions, live streams, interviews, and everything in between.
Meridith Elliott Powell
Next, Meridith Powell is a pioneer in the virtual event space. She’s been presenting virtual events since the early days of her business in 2004. Though they’ve come far since then, she’s used her decades of digital experience to grow her skills of engagement and education. While presenting live is her specialty, Meridith knows how to bring that same high energy into her virtual events and workshops with ease.
Better yet, her variety of bestselling books and online courses make it easy to package other high-value add-ons with her existing keynotes. Though these things might seem small, it’s all about finding ways to keep the conversation alive long after the virtual event ends. If you want to get results and drive real action, you need a post-event strategy with your end goals in mind. Meridith embodies this idea of a lasting, meaningful impression.
Another virtual keynote speaker who adjusted during the COVID19 pandemic to create virtual keynotes is Neen James. Known as a leadership and productivity expert in her field, she’s skilled at leading events with practical strategies for personal and professional success.
Neen understands that every event manager wants a full-blow virtual keynote presentation, and that’s why she’s broken her offerings into multiple packages. With pre-recorded sessions and options for interactive Q&As, she turns her home office in Tampa, Florida into a state-of-the-art production studio. Above all, she’s not afraid to try something new to meet the needs of her clients. This is the kind of go-getter attitude that speaks to audiences.
Next on the list is the aforementioned Rob Ferre. Contrary to other virtual speakers, Rob markets himself as an entertainer first and a speaker second. Nevertheless, with a career working as an NBA halftime host, he’s no stranger to entertaining event guests with his quick-thinking and witty personality, and, by gamifying each keynote to bring users into the action, he truly sets himself apart.
Whether he’s hosting a company game show, acting as emcee, or delivering a virtual keynote, Rob knows the power of showmanship and personality. Using the skills he learned while working for the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, he approaches each digital interaction as a way to build an outstanding experience for both brands and viewers.
Next, Shola Richards uses his real-world experience to deliver a practical playbook for workplace cultures across the globe. He markets his keynote as part of his Go Together system, This is a system of collective accountability, improved results, and strong leadership. Even virtually, Shola’s enthusiasm and passion speak for themsevles. Undaunted by the virtual stage, he’s built his business around meeting companies where they are and taking them where they want to go.
Like the ideal virtual speaker, Shola focuses on the entire experience from pre-event planning to post-event follow-up. He begins a conversation with event planners early on, making sure everyone’s on the same page about the solutions they’re looking for. From there, each virtual keynote is personalized to meet the ideal needs of the event, leading to real-world solutions attendees take with them even after the keynote ends.
Finally, Stephen Shapiro wraps his physical presence into a virtual program that packs even more value than a single live event. With both real-time and collaboration opportunities, this is more than a traditional keynote. It becomes a learning experience. Stephen is one of the speakers who thrives on the digital screen. He uses tech tools at his disposal like demonstrations, games, and surveys to keep viewers focused and interested.
Additionally, he ends each keynote with actionable reflections. The conversation doesn’t finish here. The content lives on even after the event, encouraging attendees to share their own thoughts and ideas in the future. Stephen calls this process “deep learning,” and it’s the best way to drive long-term business results. Ultimately, there are no limits to what your event can accomplish whether it’s on the virtual or traditional stage.
Go Virtual with Your Next Event
Now, you’re ready to hire a virtual keynote speaker with confidence. While the traits of exceptional virtual speakers might not be obvious right away, it’s important to learn what helps them stand out. Just because a speaker commands the physical stage doesn’t mean they’re ready for the small screen on Zoom or Teams. This takes a special type of charisma, flexibility, and skills that don’t always translate from traditional speakers.
While it might make sense to hire someone who’s an excellent speaker, don’t forget to ensure their personality shines virtually as well. As more events go digital in the coming years, this is an in-demand skill. The good news is more keynote speakers are identifying ways to build their own virtual speaking skills, as well as in-home studios. Soon, this will become the new normal.
Because digital, online content lives forever (virtually), it’s particularly important to pay close attention to every step of your event planning. From hiring to organizing speakers, this is something to take seriously. Like a gift that keeps on giving, your virtual event can be repurposed again and again.