“Welcome to the Pand-Emmys!” announced host Jimmy Kimmel during the opening of the 72nd Annual Emmy Awards as he looked into an audience of cardboard cutouts of this year’s award nominees. Like many other events this year, the award ceremony was expected to look different than ones in the past, yet we had a hunch the show would still go on. After all, while the pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty, TV has become a cornerstone in our daily lives—a friend who is there for us 24/7—and the industry has never done better. According to Forbes, traditional TV has jumped by a considerable 8.3 million U.S. viewers this year due to the pandemic, ending a nine-year dip since 2011. Given TV’s importance, it’s no surprise the Emmys—which honors the best TV shows—still went on this year, but like many other events, its organizers had to get creative with how that would happen—cue the empty venue, hundreds of personal camera feeds and lots of COVID-19 jokes.
When it comes to virtual events, the options are seemingly limitless, left in the hands of an organization’s creativity and technological know-how. That is why I was particularly excited to watch the Emmys this year—I was curious to see how they were going to emulate an in-person ceremony that has been broadcast in the same format for decades while keeping the program entertaining. Using technology to their full advantage, creatively telling stories and engaging the audience with humor, show organizers certainly made the best of the situation. As there will undoubtedly continue to be numerous virtual events across almost all industries, the Emmys can serve as a model for businesses, and the media and communications world. Here are the key takeaways:
Think Outside the Box
Be creative. Zoom fatigue is a true challenge that everyone is currently facing, so you need to think of ways to make your presentation, webinar, whatever it may be, compelling. No one wants to just watch you talk to a screen, so it’s best practice to think of how you can use modern technology to make a virtual event or session come alive. During the Emmys, video footage of last year’s audience was strategically inserted on-screen to react to the parts of Jimmy’s speeches that called for laughter or applause. This creative use of technology captured the energy of a live, in-person audience, and ultimately made the experience feel much more normal and fun to watch. Similarly, try to inject captivating content that makes your audience feel like they’re in the room with you.
Thoughtful Storytelling Communication is Key
It’s important to build a sense of connection even when interacting virtually, probably more so. Successful entertainment relies on how your audience engages with your story. Likewise, audience engagement relies on the way you deliver that story. Make sure the way you are delivering a message and interacting with others promotes a sense of community among the audience. One of the best ways to do that is by generating laughter. Throughout the show, Jimmy made sure to slip in plenty of corny COVID-19 jokes that stirred up communal smiles and giggles amongst the virtual audience, such as thanking them for risking everything to be there and pointing out that “you can’t have a virus without a host.” These jokes never failed to hold my attention.
Remember to Be Personable
Just because it’s a virtual event doesn’t mean the little things don’t matter. Sometimes we take for granted the ways in which we used to interact with people in person—eye contact, body language, tone of voice, physical touch. In fact, incorporating these into a virtual event or presentation can actually help it feel more natural and grounded. Even when the Emmy winners accepted their respective awards on camera, there was no shortage of eye contact, hand gestures or engaging facial expressions. These seemingly simple, yet important movements allowed me to feel their emotions and stay connected to what they were conveying. Don’t let a screen be a barrier to the human component of how you communicate.
Roll With the Punches
For as much you’ll need to plan when hosting a virtual event—much like you would any in-person meeting or event—always account for the possibility of some unexpected “real-life” moments. There is no doubt that Zoom can be awkward, and that any type of video chat can result in a lot going wrong. The only way to combat that is to be prepared to just go with it and recover with poise, and sometimes even humor. Jeremy Strong, who won Best Actor for his work playing Kendell Roy in HBO’s “Succession,” misjudged the muting of his microphone after his speech, resulting in the accidental broadcasting of a “Holy Sh*t” at the end. Rather than getting embarrassed or flustered, he accepted it, played it cool and just moved on, and the audience did exactly the same.
In a situation as unique and fluid as the ongoing pandemic, it will be all the more important for companies and clients to hone-in on these key strategies that success in the virtual world now relies on. As businesses try different strategies and methods to shift to this new way of work and engage audiences, they should be open to learning from unexpected sources, such as The Emmys.