Blank Canvas Entertainment is one of London’s leading entertainment specialists. It was founded by performers with over 20 years of experience in the entertainment industry, with the aim of offering clients a personalised, tailored service.
Last year, as the pandemic hit, the team worked hard to switch up their offering to suit virtual events. As these social and business events started to take off, they created brilliant ways to engage guests and elevate a simple video call into something quite special.
In this extract from the Ultimate Guide to Virtual & Hybrid Events, Ed Harding, Entertainment Coordinator, discusses how to use entertainment to elevate your virtual event.
Selecting the right virtual entertainment
A helpful way to approach virtual entertainment options is to visualise a sliding scale:
At one end, there is a conference call, where guests can interact with each other freely, but with no structure, and no element of ‘show’. At the other end, there is a highly produced show, which guests will simply watch from home, with little to no input.
The extremes of this sliding scale present problems. On the one hand, virtual events with little structure and production value can struggle to separate themselves from the kind of conference calls that guests will have been having with colleagues, friends and family since last March. On the other hand, events which are highly produced but lack interactivity are likely to leave guests wondering: ‘why couldn’t I have just watched this on TV?’
The most successful virtual events, therefore, are typically those which acknowledge the risk of falling into one of these extremes and try to position themselves somewhere in the middle of the scale, balancing both interactivity and spectacle.
The challenge of scale vs interactivity
Something a booker must take into account is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to virtual entertainment. Rather, the same entertainment can and must be conducted differently depending on the number of guests.
Let us use the example of one of our most popular virtual entertainment options – the Live Music Quiz. This is a quiz hosted by professional musicians, in which participants must respond to musical clues played live for them.
The size of the groups participating in this quiz has ranged from under 10 to over 200. For a smaller event such as the former, the host would encourage guests to leave their microphones on, leading to a more intimate experience where guests can speak directly with each other and the host. But, as most will already know, once a conference call reaches a certain number of guests (generally around 20), allowing everyone to leave their microphone on over-saturates the audio and detracts from the experience. Thus, alternative means of guest participation and interaction must be used – such as posting in the chat or splitting guests into smaller groups using breakout rooms.
The management of idle time
As with physical events, larger virtual events will have transitional moments, the most notable being the initial period where guests are arriving, and between entertainment. For physical events, these periods are actively desirable – even crucial – it gives guests a chance to relax, pick up something to eat or drink and most importantly, to converse with each other.
This experience is not the same for virtual events, for the simple reason that it is difficult to have a private conversation in a conference call with a large number of guests. As a result, if left unmanaged, these idle times can break up the flow of a virtual event, and leave guests feeling unengaged and awkward. To avoid this, it is advisable to have entertainment planned.
Something we would recommend for any larger virtual event is for a musician or band to be playing while guests are joining the call. As well as filling time which would otherwise be empty, music is a great way to signal to guests that they are in the right place and to ease them into the unfamiliar territory of virtual entertainment.
It is also a great idea to book a host. While your event manager is able to announce the running order in a friendly and efficient manner, booking a professional host who can fill idle time with a short set (such as a magic trick or a stand-up routine) adds a real sense of slickness to proceedings.
While the feeling of being at a physical event may be challenging to replicate, there are nonetheless ways to facilitate more intimate conversation between guests at larger virtual events. Our recommendation would be to split guests into several sets of small, randomised breakout rooms at various points throughout the virtual event, and rotate these periodically. Feedback for this system has been overwhelmingly positive, noting that the virtual platform can be a catalyst for conversations between colleagues who may otherwise never have spoken.
For virtual entertainment to be a success, it is important to consider how it fits in its parent event.
For smaller events, the entertainment should be polished enough to elevate proceedings above a typical conference call. For more elaborate events, care must be taken to maintain audience engagement through interactivity and personalisation. Crucially, one must acknowledge that virtual events have different strengths and weaknesses from physical, and plan accordingly.
Looking for more? Download the Ultimate Guide to Virtual & Hybrid Events here