In the world of live events, it’s a given. Everybody understands the role that a reliable, competent, and [hopefully!] amusing host plays in the success of a gala dinner. They link it all together, keep things bouncing along, and – if you’ve chosen wisely – they will even deliver your auction and fundraising asks as well. In short (and we firmly believe this), an event is only as good as its host, which is probably why the same, familiar, yet down-right reliable faces tend to crop up time and time again.
But now, at least for the time being, things are different. Gone is the stage, the spotlight, the wireless mic; gone are the tables, the chairs, and the warm bread rolls. In is the webcam, laptop, and home-office-studio; in are the ring lights, ring lights, and yet more ring lights. Welcome to the age of virtual galas.
So where does a professional host sit in this new, socially-distanced, and banana bread-fuelled world? Are they still a requirement, or can you just stick Jimmy from marketing in a bow-tie, plonk him in front of a webcam with a few lines, and hope for the best? Well (and you could call us a little bias), we have no doubt whatsoever that the importance of a skilled, well-drilled, and experienced host has only increased with the switch to virtual fundraising.
The slickest and best-planned virtual fundraisers typically see around 75-80% of their run-of-show pre-recorded, with the final 20-25% falling to your host to deliver live. Despite taking up only around a quarter of your show, it’s these live sections that dictate the tone, the tempo, and the pace of your event, with the introduction and welcome in particular playing an enormous part in steering everything – not least the fundraising – in the direction you need it to go. The best virtual event hosts will craft an introduction which not only builds rapport and engagement with your donors but also lays out a clear and concise fundraising narrative for them to follow. They’ll make it crystal clear what’s expected of the audience, and they’ll outline exactly how they can contribute to the fundraising. They’ll cover off the technical basics and crucial points of housekeeping, whilst keeping the tone light, fun, and friendly. They are the lynchpin in the proceedings and how they look, sound, and position your messaging will play an enormous role in the overall impression your virtual fundraiser leaves on your supporters.
Whilst some fundraisers choose several live hosts to fulfill different roles, the best virtual events tend to rely on one person covering all the bases across roughly five separate appearances. This usually begins with an introduction and welcome, as mentioned above, followed by several updates and calls-to-action spread across the event, rounded out with a final update on the all-important figures, a thank-you, and sign-off. With good planning, your pre-recorded content can segue from one section to the next, leaving the host free to focus on the key fundraising messages without the risk of over-exposure to the audience. Ultimately, a capable host will be giving you guidance and direction on a good run-of-show, drawing upon their own experience and expertise.
Another firm recommendation is to choose a host who comes with the equipment needed to elevate their delivery to a standard that matches the caliber of your event. It doesn’t have to feel like the Emmy’s, but poor lighting, camera, and sound quality risks creating a vibe much more akin to ‘Tales from the Crypt’ than that of the modern, versatile, tech-savvy charity which I’m sure you are. So often, a brilliantly slick and well-produced virtual fundraiser is let-down by a live host who sounds as though they’re talking through two tin cans connected with string, and who appears to be delivering their sections by candlelight via a 1990s dial-up connection. You might have gotten away with this in April 2020 but now, eleven months in, audiences expect more.
And, finally, cost! Well, yes, if you want a host worth their salt, there will almost certainly be one. But committing to a solid and reliable virtual event host, who not only delivers their sections with competence and professionalism but also supports in the planning of your virtual event, is as about as safe an investment as you can make, and one which should pay for itself over, and over, and over again.
John is a familiar face in the charity and event fundraising world, having worked at Givergy for over six years as part of the business development team. Now a fully trained and experienced fundraising host, his focus is on helping charities raise as much money as possible through both in-person and virtual events.
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