By Kari Hanley, President, Gather Central
Connecticut USA

Being a professional speaker is not for everyone, but for those of us who love it, the satisfaction of connecting with an audience is a gift that makes all the hard work worthwhile. However, the landscape of training and development has changed. Budgets are tight, HR departments less likely to set aside funds for staff development, and let’s face it: throwing on panty hose and a suit, running to catch a plane, juggling a projector, and feeling under-appreciated for the pay is pretty common these days.

Do you feel like you have excellent material, a great program, and wonderful skills as a presenter, yet cannot get booked? Maybe it is time to ditch the suit and projector, throw on your bathrobe and grab your phone instead. Welcome to virtual events!

Virtual education is a baby market – ready to explode, and as a speaker, it is money on the table. While many speakers out there are moving to internet radio talk shows, offering free info webinars, or podcasts – it is not the magic answer, and can cost you a lot of time and effort for little reward. Know why? Frankly, most of them are unintentionally BORING!

Here are a couple major problems with current virtual events:

  1. Limited interaction with the audience.

It is not a lack of technology, but a lack of creativity.  Think back to a fabulous conference, expo or workshop you attended recently. What made it fun? Most likely it was not just the content delivered, but the energy in the room, the bright faces you met, and the conversations that were sparked. We are kinesthetic creatures, and learn best when we are able to talk, share our stories and link our own situation to someone else’s experience.

Many webinars have simply forgotten this critical aspect of learning. No one likes to hear the “Charlie Brown” teacher droning in the background- and now it takes less than two seconds to move off a boring webinar and onto Facebook.

Two years ago, a colleague introduced me to an interactive platform that was created by trainers to lead virtual events. I knew this was different, and was instantly hooked! Instead of just having to speak into a black hole, now it was possible for speakers to gather in a “green room” to prepare, put participants into small break out groups, run spontaneous instant polls, silently roam small group chats to listen, and sound chimes to indicate the discussion is nearly over- it was as close to live as you can get. I got myself an account, and gave it a try….

It was here I ran into my second problem with virtual events:

2.     It is nearly impossible to be an engaging speaker and run the technical aspects of a virtual event at the same time.

Just like jumping rope and chewing gum, a truly effective speaker has to be able to focus on the material, feel the audience’s energy, be able to interact and engage with them and flow through their content with spontaneity and verve.  Try that while also peering at a screen trying to find a button to open a mic, or organize a small group breakout. It is a recipe for failure.

It is quite surprising to me that most of the platforms out there have limited support for speakers to help translate their material into an effective virtual agenda that includes audience interaction, support in the process of registration, marketing, and promotions, as well as being able to host or technically execute a call. Most platforms offer tutorials that are as dry as the Sahara, and while some offer hosts for hire, they are nothing more than technicians who may have no idea how to flow with your agenda.

I was fortunate to bring on two technically oriented and grounded business partners and revamp my company, Gather Central, to develop our skills in executing truly fun, interactive and engaging virtual events that put the audience front and center. We created a “virtual living room” ambience; encourage listeners to turn off their computers, get a cup of tea and sit with the phone in their favorite nook. We asked them to talk –a lot. Sometimes we did this through “shout outs” with everyone talking at once, in small groups or just by calling their names.

Our self generated programs like the Virtual Book Club and Morning Cup Inspirational Chats drew wide audiences almost instantly, and one of our biggest passion is collaborating with others who want to run telesummits, e-workshops, virtual support groups or build global communities. We created global programs for tween and teen girls that connected girls from Africa, Colombia, Canada, Europe and the USA together to talk and learn how to manage stress.

Now, we want to bring that expertise to you.

As WSA members, you will experience interactive virtual round tables and monthly member calls that will feel more like a BNI than a webinar. Check them out!! It will become a transformative place for international networking- and none of us has to put on lipstick.

We have so enjoyed supporting the WSA to develop a wide range of opportunities for the members to connect virtually, that we would like to give a gift to all 500 Founding Members with a free consultation with me, and $100 towards your first virtual event.

Whether you are an author, expert, therapist, coach, manager, HR director or teacher, we can help you explore the possibilities of leading your own interactive virtual events, building your exposure and having a lot of fun at the same time!

Kari HenleyKari Henley, president of Gather Central, brings over 20 years experience in public speaking, writing, entrepreneurial start ups, and instructional design. She is a featured contributor to the Huffington Post, with over 100 blogs, and is a contributing author to the Amazon internationally best selling book Embracing Your Authentic Life.