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a conversation with emilie barta ' The virtual hostess with the mostest' By kristi casey sanders

There’s a lot of buzz about hybrid and virtual events. But just sticking content online doesn’t mean people will click or pay attention. Engaging the audience, whether it’s faceto-face or virtual is something Emilie Barta is passionate about. Known in event circles as the “hostess with the mostest,” she’s one of the few speakers who seamlessly transitions between live, virtual and hybrid events. Plan Your Meetings had the pleasure of speaking with her just before an engagement she had at the Consumer Electronics Show.

How do you make webinars and other virtual components interactive? There are three ways to actively engage virtual attendees. One is tech tools, the second is social media and the third is through a virtual event host. When I talk about tech tools, I’m talking about tools built into the virtual event platform. The best are chat, question and polling [devices]. [Chat tools] allow virtual and face-to-face audience members to engage each other. Questions allow the virtual audience to directly ask the speaker a question. Polling is a great way for speakers and organizers to know the audience. If you’re virtual and you raise your hand, no one can see you. But if the speaker says, “Virtual audience, we’re going to poll you.” And then he says, “75 percent of the face-to-face audience has experienced this and 90 percent of the virtual audience has experienced this,” it lets the virtual audience feel more involved in the event, like the organizer and speakers actually care about them and what they think. What about social media and virtual event platforms? The most successful social media platforms I have found in terms of engaging the virtual audience before, during and after the event are Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and conference communities. Some groups might have more of a following on Facebook than they do on Twitter. Some may be extremely professional, corporate and serious, so LinkedIn is a better tool for them. It’s all about selecting the best tool or tools that best serves your audience.

There are a gazillion virtual event platforms out there and every platform serves a different audience, budget, methodology and look. I don’t feel qualified to say which one you should use; there’s a new one every day. What should Live speakers do differently when a virtual audience is present? There are more distractions [with] a virtual event than if one is sitting in the audience, so if speakers are dull, monotonous or do not make eye contact [with the camera], the virtual audience will give up easier and sooner than the face-to-face audience. Speakers must be able to think quickly on their feet and not get flustered. [And they] must be 100 percent comfortable, because the camera will amplify their discomfort. What is the best way for a speaker to bring the virtual audience in? Treat the camera as an audience member and make eye contact. Include the virtual audience by asking questions directly to [them] and asking for their responses ... and share their answers with the face-toface audience. What should planners bear in mind when they’re putting together a hybrid event? When an organization is building a program, they have to keep a virtual audience in their mind and not just force them to sit there

for two hours and watch TV. [Consider] time zones, too. If you’re holding an event in New York and attendees are in California, you can’t start at 7 a.m. Any other words of advice? Everything is about engaging, interacting and making people feel welcome. Events are intimidating; trade shows are intimidating. It doesn’t matter how much money you [spend]. If people don’t feel welcome and included, it’s a failure. It happens all the time ... at virtual events. You send people invitations, and they click on a link. Now it’s 2:05 p.m and it’s supposed to have started at 2 p.m., but there’s no video. What’s happening? Conversely, when you make those people feel comfortable, they want to know you better. And, eventually, they will want to do business with you. For more tips from Emilie Barta (@EmilieBarta), view "3 Ways to Give Your Virtual Audience a Voice” at

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