What Disney Can Teach You About Your Next Virtual Event with Ella Glasgow

Ella GlasgowVirtual events are here to stay and putting them on can help you reach a wider audience. You CAN make them ROCK for you without pulling your hair out.

Ella Glasgow is an award-winning vocalist, 2-time best-selling author, former Disney Main Stage performer, and the CEO/Producer at Beyond Virtual Events. Meeting planners hire her to create impactful virtual events so they can wow their community, increase connections and commitment to their cause without pulling their hair out trying to deal with the logistics and delivery of their events. She does this using her Signature E.N.C.O.R.E. Method™  for transformational virtual experiences that have their audiences wanting to pay cash money to attend again and again.

More about Ella and Beyond Virtual Meetings at https://beyondvirtualevents.com


Read the Interview Transcript

Hugh Ballou: Hello, everyone. It’s Hugh Ballou. We’re back for The Nonprofit Exchange. Each episode is exciting. I can’t believe in seven and a half years I have met so many different people. People have different stories. We have even had people with the same topic who have a different message.

We’ve never had a guest that has talked about live virtual events. They’re live but not in-person, but everyone there is living. Today, I have brought a friend I met years ago, and we recently got reconnected. Ella Glasgow is an expert in rockin’ your virtual events. Ella, welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. Tell people. a little bit about who you are.

Ella Glasgow: Hey hey, everybody. Thank you so much. I was so glad when we connected again. That was a couple months ago now. I am so glad we found each other again and we can have these conversations.

Yes, I am the founder and executive producer of my company Beyond Virtual Events. We produce virtual events for companies and organizations, really helping them to get through the event without pulling their hair off. I like to prescribe what I call the hair regrowth plan for the event organizers because we are going to take care of everything for you so that you can do nothing but give me the answers that I need so we can run the event for you, and you can sit back and relax and do what you do best. That may be speaking at the event. That may be sitting down and watching what’s going on on stage. Whatever that means for you, we are going to make sure it is completely easy and seamless for you while we handle everything when it comes to putting that virtual event together.

Hugh: What ignited your passion for doing this kind of work?

Ella: It’s interesting that this happened when it did. I have been passionate about production since I was quite young. In fact, I have been in productions around the world for over 20 years. In 2005, when I originally wrote my business plan after having graduated college a few years before, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. I was singing exclusively at that time. I realized I wanted to help people in a different way. I wrote a business plan that said I have a production and coaching company. The production was the biggest thing.

It took me many years to understand how to make a production company happen because it ain’t cheap to start a production company. I didn’t understand how to raise the money to do it. Even when I did finally learn how to raise the money, and that is right around when I met you, Hugh, in 2015—I got scared. It was a lot of money I needed to raise, $250,000. I still didn’t do it. Then came corona. Corona came to me and said, “Ella, what if I told you you could do that production company for free?” I said, “Corona, tell me, whatchu talkin’ ‘bout?” So we did. It wasn’t completely free obviously. There was some stuff I had to pay for.

Hugh: I remember when corona used to be just a beer.

Ella: A tasty beer with a lime.

Hugh: You probably attended some pretty bad events over the years, huh?

Ella: I have attended some events that have left little to be desired. But I wasn’t the one running the show. I refuse on my watch as many times as I can if I can watch the show, to make sure the ones we do produce are really off the chain. The events that we’ve run over the past year, and we have done about 28 of them at this point- We’re working with a client that we worked with last year, and we’re doing a repeat event for her. Their audience is still talking about the event we did last year. They are excited about it happening again this year.

Hugh: Wow. You may or may not know that I served mega-churches for 40 years.

Ella: I did not.

Hugh: And I produced a lot of events. They got better as I got older and smarter about it. Some of those were concerts. Now I produce events for nonprofit leaders. There is a lot of facets to it. One thing I know as a conductor is it takes a lot more time to prepare a meeting than it does to run a meeting, only if you want to accomplish the right things in the meeting. You have important people and important work, so let’s prepare for it. I find that a lot of people who do events aren’t aware of the timing. They start running behind schedule and don’t know what to do about it, so things get out of hand. There are so many factors like that. How do you move people from one place to the other? How do you build in the transition time between elements? There are so many things about an event that if one of them goes wrong, it’s a daisy chain, and one thing that isn’t a good experience for someone may turn them off from the whole event. You attended events before. You got interested in events. You probably saw some that you thought could be better. When did you start your enterprise? Was it 2015 or before that?

Ella: My overall company is Becoming Entertainment. That, I officially started in 2005. It wasn’t actually supposed to be called Becoming Entertainment. It was supposed to be called Becoming because I am all about people becoming greater than what they are right now. Becoming was already taken, so it became Becoming Entertainment. That happened in 2005.

Like I said, I was a part of productions for all of this time before 2020. I learned so much along the way being a part of productions and also being willing to ask a lot of questions. I would be the one that was in the sound booth with our sound engineers for shows and asking about the buttons. I was the one going into the recording studio when I lived in Nashville to ask what was going on with that big fat board. I love production. I think it’s a wonderful thing. As many people as I can help to have an up-leveled experience with what I have learned over the past 20+ years of being in this industry, I want to help as many people as possible.

Hugh: That’s a great spirit. Let’s do a scenario here. I’m going to do an event. I’m going to schedule it on this date and send out a few emails, and people are going to clamor because they are charmed by me. I schedule an event, and I send out the email. A week before, I have one person registered. I really haven’t thought through the venue, the meals, the breaks, refreshments, handouts, a lot of the moving parts. I haven’t thought through the shopping cart and how people are going to pay and get the receipt for it. I think I should put this off and do it another time. I am suddenly aware I need to have a professional.

There are multiple kinds of events. I want to talk about events in general, and then let’s do a subset because nonprofits are doing fundraising events online when they used to do them in person. Let’s get this out in the open here. We have passed the point where we are going only to do live events again. We are past the point where we have generated a kind of energy. Many groups I am in are all over the world. Coming together is a big deal. But we can do weekly meetings on Zoom, which are more efficient than trying to fly somewhere. The future of virtual events is here, and it’s going to stay, right?

Ella: Virtual events were here before COVID. I was trying to get people on the Zoom train years and years before COVID. Now I don’t have to fight as hard. Virtual events are going to be here long after COVID is over. It’s because we have new expectations of what we expect virtual events to look like and what we expect them to be. Before, we didn’t question what was being fed to us as a virtual event. We accepted hiccups that were happening. We accepted what things were looking like. COVID came along and forced the majority of people to have to be online.

People who were coasting along with what they were doing with their events really had to up-level their game. It also means that because now people have gotten a taste of being able to reach people around the globe without having to buy a plane ticket or get a hotel room or pay for catering, unless they get a swag box, but that’s another conversation altogether. There are lots of things that don’t have to happen anymore. You are able to reach a much wider audience by doing your event online and have a much greater ability to be able to raise more funds in terms of nonprofits. You’re able to reach a wider audience to get more funds raised to help that bottom line to get the people help that you are trying to help because you are doing a virtual event.

Hugh: Yes. I will say there is an energy. You and I met at a conference in Orlando. There is an energy of the person to person that you cannot duplicate on Zoom. That event happened five times a year. Now they are doing it more frequently because people don’t have to travel, and they can charge less. There is a difference. It doesn’t need to be as different as it had been. Virtual events are here to stay, and they are getting better. They will be more effective, and people will do more of them because there is a lower cost.

Events for nonprofits are good for building relationships and giving out information about what we do, for giving people updates on the powerful work that we do. Mostly we do events like a gala to raise money. They know they will donate if they are there. Galas were on rocky footing before the pandemic because people were paying a lot of money for them, and a lot of time and energy went into them, and often there wasn’t a good return on investment. Talk about why I would need to call Ella, a professional, to help me run my event. Would you run it, or would you teach me how to run it?

Ella: One or both. It depends on what your needs are. We do teach people how to run virtual events on their own, but there are some people who say to me, “I don’t care if you teach me to the moon and back. I don’t want to do it. You are going to run it for me.” For those people, we will run the entire event for them.

When it comes to a nonprofit, you’re right. There are some costs that are less than running it in person, but I would caution you to understand that it doesn’t always mean it’s much less. It really is a shifting of where those costs are going as opposed to it being so much less. For instance, your venue that you are getting is now online. That is not free. If you get a swag box, that is where your food cost is now going. All those things shift position.

The reason why you have someone like me to help you with that is to help you understand and navigate these new waters. This is new for the majority of people. With someone like me behind the helm, plus my entire team- We have a fundraiser on our team who will help you raise as much money as possible so you can get everything you need for your event. We will be holding your hand the entire way, making sure which T’s and I’s need to be crossed and dotted, so you don’t have an event that you put out a link for the week before and are disappointed because no one shows up. There is a process that has to be gone through to make sure people understand and know what they are getting into when they are coming to your event. What is in it for them? It’s that basic principle. We still want to make sure we are giving them a reason to be there. With us at the helm, we will help you understand what those reasons are so you have the most successful event possible.

Hugh: Sweet. Help me define what are some bad practices that end up in events that are less than effective? How do we contrast those with good practices?

Ella: Bad practices I have seen at events is one we just talked about: you wait until the last minute and expect everything to go well. That is a bad practice. Events, virtual or in-person, have to be planned. You have to plan them to the nines to expect a great return on your time and financial investments, to be quite frank.

The other bad practice I see is people not having a tech run and expecting things to run smoothly and wonder why things fell apart. Well, all of this could have been avoided if you had simply had one or two tech runs to find out where all of the kinks were before you have the event. Whether it’s live or in-person, unlike the shows I was in, you only get one time to do this show. The shows I was in, I had months or weeks to live into my part. If I messed up the first night, I would fix it tomorrow night. Your event, you get one shot. If you jack it up on that first shot, oh well, it’s done. Don’t skip the tech runs. Don’t get mad at me when I tell you we’re going to have it because it’s non-negotiable.

Hugh: If you want it to go right, you have to rehearse it. We’re on the same page. You don’t just wing it.

Let me share a quick story with you. I am changing my background to me conducting an orchestra. This event was in December 2018. Months earlier, the choir in the background rehearsed all of their parts; it was a choir of 100 singers. A children’s choir is going to pop up behind me on the riser. We had a Black gospel choir come in that rocked the house. We had soloists. We had all these moving parts. We had it scheduled for the opening week of this theater. It was a centuries-old theater that had been renovated, and it was the first week they were open.

We were scheduled to do a dress rehearsal in the afternoon, come back, and do the concert in the evening on Sunday. We had 12 inches of snow that day. We weren’t going anywhere. The only time that we had done a tech rehearsal on Friday night. No orchestra. Just the singers and the tech people and the soloists. We walked through those parts. We knew all that and sang in place. We had the mics adjusted. It snowed.

The only spot we had was the following Sunday after another concert. We had no dress rehearsal. Because we’d had the tech rehearsal, the orchestra sat in place, and we’d had rehearsals. They’d played the music. The orchestra sat in place, and we had rehearsals with the choir and the orchestra not at this venue. We’d done all the moving parts. Because we did what you said, we could do the performance. If we hadn’t done it then, we could not have done it at all. A lot of money, time, and heartfelt energy would have gone to waste. Having the rehearsal means you can pull it off.

I taught middle school for part of my life. I knew the lesson plan. I knew what I was going to teach because it never went like you planned it. but you could pull it off because you did that rehearsal. Rehearsal is essential to what you’re doing. Thank you for letting me tell that personal story. That is a testimony that you have to do the tech rehearsal.

Ella: You have to. It’s absolutely key. At first, when we started this, the majority of people we work with are not show people. I didn’t want them to be scared by what is happening at tech rehearsal. I have since changed my mind. What am I talking about? I am talking about something you know very well, which is what happens at tech rehearsal. All hell breaks loose at the tech run. I used to ease people into it and not let them know that it was going to be crazy because they were already nervous about it being online. I didn’t want to add to their stress. I have since started telling our clients, “We are going to do the tech run. It’s going to be horrible. In fact, I expect it to be horrible, and I pray it is.” In the production world, when you have a horrible tech run, you know opening night is going to be amazing. We get scared in the production world when the tech run is fabulous. We get scared all hell will break loose on the day of the show.

Hugh: People get cocky. “Oh, it’s no big deal.” It keeps you on your toes. It’s got to be good enough so that you’re confident you can pull it off. That’s where you get the shakedown.

Ella: Yeah, it is a shakedown. When I say everything is going to break, I mean to the point so we know how to fix it. When we get to the showtime, we have already worked out the horrible kinks so that if and when things do happen during the actual event, it’s nothing that your audience recognizes.

In fact, I was reviewing a debrief of one our clients a few months ago and reviewing what they had said. What you’re talking about, there was an issue that happened with one of the speakers. One of our other speakers said, “It’s interesting that you say that because I had no clue there was anything going on. I guess that’s the beauty of having you run things for us because I was able to do what I needed to do and have no clue as an audience member that anything was happening.” That is the beauty of having gone through tech rehearsal and having us run things because if anything is happening on stage, you as the audience member or even the client doesn’t realize that chaos has happened because we are cleaning it up immediately.

Hugh: That is so key. I have been to national conferences. I can see behind the scenes there is an event person running it. They are the ones running around making sure things happen. They are only screwing around if something goes wrong because they have done their work. Normally, they are calm and just hanging out in case something goes wrong. If it does, you don’t have to come off the stage and say you got to fix something. You just keep going. We don’t want to distract our audience.

Let’s talk about this area of fundraising. We didn’t do it much before the COVID pandemic, but we have been forced into having to do it. What level of success is happening in the fundraising for nonprofits? Is there a bright road ahead for most of that?

Ella: There is a bright road ahead. Nonprofits are seeing a lot more success in raising funds online, especially because of something we talked about before: them being able to have a farther reach. Now that they are online, they don’t have to rely on just the people in their town. In fact, we are working with a nonprofit right now that is so excited about the fact that they have had for years people outside of their city or state who have wanted to be a part of the event, but they have not been able to come because they live states away. They are not going to drive there just for a night, as much as they love the organization. Now, because it’s virtual, everybody in the nation can come.

Hugh: Everybody in the world can come.

Ella: Everybody in the world, literally, can come.

Hugh: How do we make that emotional, heartfelt connection when we are not in person that is so important to the fundraising perspective?

Ella: That has a lot to do with who you are putting on stage and making sure they understand how to make that connection through the camera. The question you are asking is key to understand. I want you to think about all of the YouTube videos that you’ve watched, all of the television shows that you love, that you sat there on the couch with a tear in your eye from the action that was happening on the screen. They weren’t even talking to you. That was all pre-recorded. That is exactly what we are doing for virtual events, except we’re live. When you have someone on stage who understands how to take that emotion through the screen, you will be touched, sometimes even on a deeper level than you would be in person. You are more willing to give when you are there virtually because you haven’t spent the money to buy that plane ticket or that hotel room or whatever you spent in the past. You have a little more in your pocket to be able to give.

I liken it the virtual events we are doing for nonprofits to Jerry Lewis telethons. Those telethons did virtual events for years. The only difference was it was on television, and he wasn’t talking to you. You couldn’t be on the screen with him at that time. You have been giving online for years. Every single time PBS runs their fundraising and you pay $200 for that book, you have been a part of a virtual event.

Hugh: I never thought of that. You’re so right. They do these virtual fundraisers for public radio or television as a matter of course. People respond to that.

Ella: Every day.

Hugh: Wow. Events are here to stay. Here is a question that is not in the script here. Where do we find on YouTube places where you are singing?

Ella: You’ve gone rogue.

Hugh: That’s right.

Ella: If you look up “Ella Glasgow,” you will find videos of me singing.

Hugh: I don’t think I knew that before.

Ella: In fact, I just did my second virtual performance last week. I did some new things with it. I waited a while before I decided to get on the virtual scene when it came to performing because I wanted things to be above level that they have been in the past. I am excited that I have finally ventured into that world for myself, not just for all of my clients.

Hugh: You’ve gotten there. *Sponsored by Wordsprint*

Ella, let’s talk about this relationship piece in virtual events. There are all kinds of funny pictures online about people who didn’t realize they were on camera in a Zoom meeting and were doing things they shouldn’t have been doing. They only realized the camera was on when they were doing it. What is the secret to engagement? People are watching, and they want to turn the cameras off, which tells me they are not paying attention. What is your secret to helping spark and maintain that engagement?

Ella: Depending on our client, there are all kinds of things we do. One thing you just talked about with being engaged with your audience before you have an event is really key. We set up some expectations for our events before the event happens. When the audience gets there, they are more inclined to keep their camera on because they know that we want that energy. I often say to people you wouldn’t put a bag over your head when you walk into an in-person event because that is essentially what you’re doing when you turn your camera off. You may want to be the person in the back of the room, and there are ways you can be the person in the back of the room in the Zoom meeting.

Hugh: Secrets.

Ella: If you don’t want to be on the front screen, don’t show up early. Whoever gets in first is going to be the first person seen on the screen. That’s a little Zoom tidbit for ya.

For a virtual event, we assume that we can just watch vicariously. The thing is that depending on who is running your event, if you are doing your event with us, we want you to be a real audience. At an in-person event, you would be there fully engaged and fully vested in what is going on on the stage. We want you to be that same audience member virtually. The only difference now is you get to be on your comfortable couch. You don’t have to be in an annoying conference seat. You should be more excited.

Hugh: They don’t see what you’re eating or drinking. We have some folks who would have some interesting observations. Is it okay if I interrupt this flow and invite some audience questions now?

Ella: Yeah.

Hugh: Let’s mix things up. You said we could have fun.

Ella: Yes, always.

Hugh: We have people from all over here. I see Bob Hopkins from Dallas, Texas, author of Philanthropy Misunderstood and producer, with SynerVision, of the Youth and Philanthropy conference. Bob, do you have a question or comment for Ella today?

Bob Hopkins: Yeah, nice to hear you, Ella. I like your laugh. You obviously have a contagious one; I can’t wait to hear you sing on YouTube. I am doing everything on Zoom here. I am talking to Hugh a couple of times a week. My challenge is I teach college. We are doing Zoom school. That is a virtual event. It has to be a virtual event. It has to be exciting so that students will stay in the space they are in instead of wandering around and doing other things in the house with their kid or with their dogs. Is Zoom the best format to reach people, do you think, or is there another one that is better?

Ella: In my personal opinion, when it comes to real face-to-face, in-person engagement, Zoom is honestly the best platform to make that happen. There are over 200 virtual event platforms. The other platforms are still making it so that it’s really more of that webinar format where I am talking at you. The only other form of engagement is maybe a poll and possibly a chat. If you want to get the whole sense involved, then Zoom is the place to make that happen, in my personal opinion.

Bob: Do you think it’s the safest? I say that because my college says Zoom is not safe.

Ella: Let’s dive into that question if that’s all right. What specifically is unsafe about Zoom from their perspective?

Bob: That people can come in and do all kinds of crazy things in front of the audience. They are worried about our children, even though they are over 18 years old.

Ella: There seems to be a little bit of a misconception with how that gets bypassed. The thing is, if you are sending out links to everybody, anybody can get there, whether that is a Teams meeting, Zoom, Facebook, or any other meeting. If you put out a link in the public for anyone to see- In fact, I saw this the other day. Someone posted on Facebook their Zoom meeting ID and password. This is happening all the time. You are setting yourself up for disaster when you post those things publicly. The safety is not Zoom’s fault, I’m sorry to say. It’s whomever is operating the Zoom account.

Bob: I appreciate that information. I am telling my college that Zoom is safe. I am trying to bypass not having to go to something like Teams where there is only four or five people we are able to see on screen, and we can’t see our whole class. I appreciate your conversation, and I know that I need to do better.

I am thinking out of the box here. I am going to be doing some virtual events coming up here soon, and I am trying to figure out the best way to do that. Should I need any help, I am going to call the professional, and that is you.

Ella: Good. I look forward to hearing from you.

Bob: Thank you.

Hugh: Jeffrey, do you want to weigh in?

Jeffrey Fulgham: Sure. Ella, it’s great to hear your voice talking. We will get to the singing later. I really think that we are going to a balance of in-person and virtual events. I really like the way you position that because we’ve got an opportunity here to make, as the saying goes, the old adage of lemonade out of lemons. What it’s done is it’s set us up to be able to do things that we were doing in different ways before. But we weren’t looking at them this way. Now we are integrating these two things together. That point needs to be well-taken by folks: This is a time we can make some positive changes and not go back to the way we used to do things because we thought that was the best way to do them. Now we may think it is still the best way to do them. Guess what? It’s not. We have an opportunity to do some cool things.

I’m glad you mentioned Zoom is the best because I think it is, too. I know some people who have to go back and forth between Zoom and Teams for different things, and they like Zoom a lot better for that particular type of thing. I was gratified you gave them a plug because I think it’s good and safe. My friend runs a health care organization, and they use the high-end, HIPAA compliant version of Zoom. That is about as intense as it has to be, and it works great for them. I’m glad you covered that so folks can feel more comfortable knowing they are investing in something that is secure and stable and is the best platform for what they are trying to do. Thanks for being here.

Ella: Thank you. Hugh, is it okay if I make a comment?

Hugh: Absolutely.

Ella: What you were saying about the people making the decision to make things safer by choosing the higher-end version of Zoom, it doesn’t always have to be the higher end. When we work with our clients, you’re using our Zoom account, and we do have the highest end for all of those reasons. But the other end of that spectrum is that it is a matter of doing your due diligence in the things I talked about before. Understanding it’s not just the Zoom platform.

Whenever we are working with our clients, we are looking at what is the best platform for them. Zoom just happens to be the one we lean toward the most because of the ability to have that face-to-face engagement. It may not always be Zoom as the answer for whatever that event happens to be. Whatever it is you are trying to do, make sure you understand the pieces of the platform. If you are not willing to have a professional help you, get in there and understand the nuances of what you can do, like the simple things of not sending out your link to absolutely everyone. There are other ways to get people into the meeting besides sending them the actual link for them to share with anybody.

Jeffrey: Exactly, yeah.

Hugh: Thank you, Jeffrey. He is in Virginia, and Bob is in Dallas. They are both certified fundraising executives who have retired and are volunteering in various places. I am sure they have seen lots of less than satisfactory funding opportunities.

Is part of your game helping people improve their presentation skills and their image on screen?

Ella: When we are working with all of our clients, we are putting an event together for you, I am coming at it from the angle of the highest-level in-person events you are thinking of. We want to make sure that as a speaker, you feel really comfortable on stage. At the end of the day, as much as everybody has been on Zoom, it still does not surprise me. Everyone has not been trained to be on camera. It is a different beast. Just because you have been on Zoom with other people’s meetings does not mean you have up-leveled your game to where it needs to be for a virtual event and for people to take you as the authority that you should be when you are speaking on stage for a virtual event.

With all of the speakers, we work with them to make sure that their background looks good. it doesn’t always have to be a green screen. If anyone has heard me say anywhere else before, I am not always a fan of the green screen because not everyone knows how to use it properly. It takes a lot to put a green screen on properly. Sometimes it might be better to pick up the papers in your background. Doesn’t have to be that difficult. We work with them on really helping them understand how to shine through the camera. That is something that is new that we are adding to the roster of services this year. I had done it for years in the past, helping people to shine on stage. Now we are being more proactive with the speakers that we have for our virtual events in taking that a step further beyond the training we were already giving them. We are not just expecting that because they were either A) world class speakers in person or B) they have been on Zoom forever does not mean they know how to make this work online.

Hugh: There is an energy in being in person where you can relate to the people. When I first spoke at CEO Space, there were 1,000 people in the audience. The larger the audience, the faster they will turn on you. You have to pay attention to what is going on. Even on Zoom, it’s important for us to make eye contact with people and see who is there. They don’t know you’re looking at them, but just to make eye contact. That’s hard to do. I try to have my camera right there so I can still see the screen. I see people doing this [looking off to the side] when they are looking at the screen and not at the camera, which to me is an obvious change. Or I see people where they are chin up, and the rest of them is below the camera. Their head is cut off.

Ella: I like to call those the peepers, and I tell people don’t be a peeper.

Hugh: That’s a border merge in photography. There is a background merger where you have something coming out of your head in the background, which is very distracting. People have an unmade bed in the background, or the papers you mentioned. How about lighting? You have nice lighting and a clear, clean background.

Ella: Thank you. All of the things that you are talking about are incredibly important. Before I get to my lighting, those things are important because regardless of whether or not your audience says something to you about what you are looking like on camera, when those seemingly little things are off, your audience subconsciously feels uncomfortable. It’s not a discomfort they are able to put a pin on and say, “You know what? Your background is making me uncomfortable.” They are not able to voice their opinion, but there is some unease that you haven’t put the time to make sure everything is put together well and expect people to accept it because you’re at home. That cannot be the case any longer.

The lighting I have in my office is inexpensive. I have two lights sitting here on the edge of my desk. Behind me is something super simple. I talk about this often. I know it looks like it might be a cool green screen background, but it’s literally a gray sheet I bought for $12 on Amazon. I have some stage lights pointing up at it.

Hugh: That rocks. That works.

Ella: In fact, I will show you this so that you can see what we’ve got back here. I will change my camera lens here so you can see all of that.

Hugh: That’s clever. Great studio you got there.

Ella: It’s easy. It’s not expensive. It doesn’t take a lot of money to make what you have work. The camera I am using that looks so nice and clear is actually my iPhone.

Hugh: Wow.

Ella: I am using a specific app for my iPhone that utilizes all of the wonderful aspects of your 4K camera that you have already paid money for in your phone.

Hugh: It is a very good camera. You have a high-quality microphone?

Ella: I do. The microphone that I use is not the most expensive microphone either. I use the next level up, and a level down from what you’re doing. It depends on what you like to do with your microphone. I don’t like to have my microphone in my camera shot. But you can still hear me pretty well without it being in view. This is the $79 version of the Blue Snowball. This Ice [holds up additional microphone into frame], I can’t be as far away from. I have to be close to it, kind of like the Yeti you are using. I like this one because I can pull away from it and people can still hear me.

Hugh: A microphone makes a huge difference. People use these headsets and have this real shrill tone quality, which is distracting. You put all these things together: a distracting background, poor lighting, the fuzzy head with the non-background green screen, and a low-quality mic, and it’s all very distracting. People will be distracted from your message.

Do you advise people in your prep for their live event not only to do a tech rehearsal of the event, but should they do a dry run or practice session of their presentation?

Ella: They should. You should get onto camera. We do some of these things with our speakers now. When you give me the time and don’t call me at the last minute for your event, which happens more often than I’d like to admit, we actually have a timeline that has a four-week preparation period for your speakers. They can get their lives together.

That is the other thing I see falling through the cracks. People don’t think about the other people they are asking to be involved on the stage in the event and expect them to pick up their lives. I just told you that the event is happening tomorrow; you can be there, right? No. you have to give people time.

Hugh: Charities use volunteers, and they usually have volunteer speakers. We have this myth that we tell ourselves that you don’t want to ask them to do more because they are already donating their time, which is stupid. They want to look good. They need to look good. We need to step up and say we are going to have a rehearsal because this is a professional event. That is how we have approached nonprofits. We use the word “nonprofit,” which is a bad word as it puts us into this scarcity thinking. Everyone is already donating their time, so we don’t need to ask anything of them. As I approach events, nobody wants to do a bad job. That is the baseline. Nobody wants to do a bad job, so we are going to give everybody the opportunity to do an excellent job. The problem is rehearsing. Any inspiration or encouragement you can give people to say, “Yes, tell your presenters we need to have a dry run?”

Ella: First, help them understand the mindset behind the speaker you are asking to come and do these rehearsals, tech runs, or orientations and all the things we require. The first thing is to understand there may be some pushback from the speaker. I am saying this as a speaker who has been asked to be at tech runs, so I am giving you the thoughts I have even though on the other side I understand it. Sometimes you feel like you are being attacked on your talent and ability to speak on the stage. Why should I come and rehearse when I do this all the time? I get that on a very real level.

What you can do to help mitigate that situation of them feeling like you are doubting their ability is to say, “It’s not that we doubt what you can do. In fact, we are asking you to do this because we know that you’re amazing. But we’d like everybody to be on the same playing field. When we have these rehearsals, it gives everybody the opportunity to be on the same playing field.”

I would liken it to this story I had. Years ago, before I understood rehearsing, I was sometimes the bane of a director’s existence because I was the one who was never full-out at rehearsal. My thinking in my young mind at that time was, “Why am I wasting this effort in rehearsal? I know I will be amazing when I get on the stage. It’s going to be awesome because I am awesome.” Truth be told, I had a lot of natural ability that helped me do things on the fly. Everyone is not that way. The honest to goodness truth is I was able to just pull it out right when I got to the stage. The problem was it made me look like a show boater. Had I done what I needed to do in rehearsals, everyone in the cast would have been able to up-level themselves. That means everyone is a part of the same show.

When it comes to a virtual event, when you go through the tech runs and the rehearsals, whether it’s in-person or virtually, you’re giving everyone the opportunity to shine and be on the same level. When you take that away as a speaker, then you run the risk of there only being one person talked about when there should be a whole show that gets talked about.

Hugh: That is such wise advice. I used to bring in the best conductors in the world to work with my choir in Florida. It wasn’t a big trick because I would do It in the winter. I would ask, “Would you work with my choir in the winter in Florida?” A good place to make music. One member said, “This is just rehearsal. We don’t have to give our all.” She got a polite but very intense response, “No, you always do your best because you are rehearsing what you are going to do on stage.” It becomes part of your DNA. It’s like having a bad meeting and expecting good results. No. you’ve had a bad meeting, so you will have bad results. Your tech shakedown is a different thing. You are finding the spots that are going to be problems before they are problems.

People say, “Oh, I tried a virtual event. Nobody liked it. Virtual events must be bad, right?”

Ella: Wrong. If nobody liked it, I’m so sorry. I’m just not the person to beat around the bush. It’s your fault. Meanwhile, back at band camp, there are thousands of virtual events happening every day and loving them. They are paying lots of money to be there and walking away with so much value. If they did not like your event, that is all on you. You did not do your due diligence to go through the steps that needed to happen and be in place to make a virtual event something that everyone enjoys. That is not something that is a far-off cry to happen. That is very possible for people to walk away. Like I said, this event we are doing for our client in September that we did last September, they are still talking about it and are so excited it’s happening again.

Hugh: We need to do it right, and we should hire a professional. Do I need an emcee who is a professional, or can I do it myself?

Ella: Here is the thing. Could you have someone that is on your team to emcee your event? Sure. Maybe they are a ball of light and energy, and they are so much fun. I am going to tell you what has happened on the events that I have come in, that I am not even producing, where I have been the emcee of their event. The change that they see happen when a professional comes in as opposed to somebody on their team.

There is a particular organization I have emceed for for the past eight years.  The reason they kept me coming back, because they were using someone on their team up to the point that they hired me, and they keep calling me back year after year because there is a level of energy that I bring. This is something I do; literally this is my life’s blood. It’s not something I think about once a year. This is what I get paid to do all the time. it’s like saying, “I’m going to hire Joe down the street who sometimes dabbles in fixing plumbing.” Maybe he’s really good at it because he’s watched a lot of YouTube videos. But he missed that one thing that somebody who has been doing it for 30 years and is certified in doing it would have seen in 2.7 seconds, which is why you pay them the money that you do.”

Hugh: It all adds up to results. We want the best results; we have to do the best job of producing our events. This hour has gone by fast. Your wisdom far exceeds your youth. It’s amazing all the great wealth of information. Lot of sound bites. Lot of strong wisdom. You can learn more about Ella and her company at BeyondVirtualEvents.com. I bet if you put Ella@, you could get a message to Ella there. You would be glad that you went there because as you see, she is the consummate professional that knows the art, craft, and science of putting on events that actually get the results that you want.

You have a vision and a product that you offer to people to change lives. Let somebody else help you run the thing so you don’t have to be doing it all. They could do it a lot better than you could.

Ella, thank you for today. What is a closing thought or challenge you want to leave people with?

Ella: I always like to say instead of “challenge” because that feels so strained. I will encourage you to go out. If you are using Zoom, I encourage you to get in your Zoom dashboard and learn it. Learn it. Zoom has a wealth of tools for you if you will take the time to learn what is underneath the hood. Go do it. Choose one thing and implement that at your next meeting.

Hugh: Wonderful advice. Thank you so much for being our guest today.

Ella: Thank you for having me.

One Comment

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