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Tips for Hosting Virtual Conference Speakers

Posted By Meredith Ellison, CAE, Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Updated: Monday, January 28, 2019


Whether due to budget, schedule, or travel conflicts, it’s not always possible to get the speaker you want to your event. Fortunately, technology can bring him or her to your event virtually. Here’s how it can work in practice.

Many professionals in event management and professional development have had to deal with an impossible challenge: get a high-profile speaker to keynote a conference on a shoestring budget. Sometimes the issue is that the association can’t afford to pay high speaker fees or cover travel expenses. Other times, it’s simply that the speaker can’t make it to the event in person.

How can you get around the challenge of a speaker who can’t be there for your meeting? Answer: technology to the rescue.

There are several ways to incorporate speakers into your program virtually. For example, consider a prerecorded video interview of the speaker by your CEO or board president. This is a great way to involve a high-profile speaker without taking up too much time or incurring a major expense. If they’re comfortable with video, you can also ask a speaker to make their own recording—cellphone technology and video quality have come a long way. Often, you just need a steady hand and a cue-card holder to create a video segment.

More expensive options are available, should your budget allow. Think about the advances in technology that we’ve seen in recent years, like virtual reality and augmented reality. Some associations can and should take advantage of these options.

If you are going to ask a speaker to do prep work for a recorded video, call, or podcast,
develop a run-of-show plan and make sure you have enough time to execute the project.


Successfully presenting a virtual conference speaker takes planning, and you need to start early. If you know that the speaker you want will only be available remotely, involve important stakeholders to get buy-in for a virtual alternative. Talk to your executive, board members, and committee volunteers to gauge their interest and appetite for a virtual speaker. If you are going to ask a speaker to do prep work for a recorded video, call, or podcast, develop a run-of-show plan and make sure you have enough time to execute the project.

Even the best-laid plans can go wrong, so consider and prepare for possible mishaps in advance. What is your backup plan if the internet speed is not enough to support AV needs? What if the internet connection drops midstream? What other technical issues—things like sound, image, or caption quality—might arise?

Once you have talked through these potential issues, make sure you know how to handle them quickly and appropriately. Be prepared to work with the AV company, meeting venue, and any other key contractors to ensure your bases are covered.

There is no reason why physical presence should be required for that one special speaker you want your conference attendees to hear. When you find creative ways to incorporate your ideal speaker into your meeting, you not only deliver a valuable viewpoint to your attendees, but you may end up with some new and enduring educational content for the future that can be shared with your entire community.


Meredith Ellison, MBA, CAE, is vice president of programs at the National Sleep Foundation in Arlington, Virginia.


Copyright ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership (December 10, 2018), Washington, DC.

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