By Michael Pope, emcee and keynote speaker

Last week one of the television industry’s favourite audience emcees, Michael Pope, produced and hosted a 300-pax live virtual awards ceremony. Now he shares with us how he kept the audience engaged, the unexpected benefits of hosting an event online and what the experience taught him.

Last Thursday (October 22) I had the honour of producing and hosting the Australian Service Excellence Awards for a gathering of some 300 attendees online. The live event ran over two and a half hours and involved the presentation of 17 awards.

It was my intention to make it as interactive as possible for all, so the decision to go with Zoom meetings rather than a webinar paid off. It began early with the invitation to attendees to meet in groups at their workplace, even though it was held 7:30 at night. Many took up the idea which necessitated adding a ‘room connector’ to the event to bypass the corporate firewalls.

Then to highlight the 50 or so finalists, virtual backgrounds were produced to identify them as finalists then champions or winners. The use of breakout rooms meant we could corral spokespeople before then spotlighting the winners and hearing their acceptance speeches, as well as answer the odd spontaneous question. The chat box was kept alive by messages of congratulations, privately or to the whole room. One finalist in fact was observed to be sending congratulatory messages to every winner in each award. That expression of support would just not have been possible if it were the usual live event held in a function room.

The strategic placement of some funny subject-relevant videos, as well as the live appearance of comedienne Mel Buttle and magician Nick Kay, gave both variety and a respite from the traditional award after award. Plus, the winning of an iWatch by participating in an online quiz on their smart phones gave delegates another interactive dimension to the whole thing.

Sure, Zoom brought its technical challenges, but none that couldn’t be overcome by Dylan Batterham and his great crew at AV 1 studios Melbourne. I still believe that live events offer so much more than the fractured, impersonality of many an online experience. But the ‘new normal’ of virtual does offer some opportunities to connect in an entertaining and innovative way.

It requires a clear vision from the producer, (beautifully realised by designer Marcus Gibbs from Dove-tail), a love of detail, and most importantly great support from the client which was given in spades by CSIA’s Executive Director Jeremy Larkins and Head of the Judging Panel Danielle Larkins.

I hope we are back in the one room in 2021, but there are many good online events to be enjoyed before then. And if it isn’t already clear- if you feel I can add value to your online event, just reach out.

To watch a video on the event, click here.