The Pandemic’s Impact on Professional Speaker Booking In 2021

March 25, 2021

Mike Taubleb

Mike Taubleb owns Promenade Speakers Bureau, a New-York-based talent broker. For more than 15 years, he’s booked professional speakers, trainers, emcees, facilitators and entertainment for leading corporations and associations.

The Pandemic has dramatically changed speaker sourcing and performance. Last year saw far fewer bookings, compelled most professionals to reskill and revamp content for virtual, lower their pricing and become more flexible. Many trends will endure as in-person events return - here are a few to consider:

Content and Formats:

  • Pre-recorded virtual talks reduce risk while enabling questions afterwards. This enables better participation from those in different time zones, too.
  • In-person engagements are adding webinars at a later date for more value and extended learning.
  • Fireside chats/AMA (ask me anything) are building engagement versus one-way talks.
  • Longer-running series with shorter content (weekly 10-minute tips).
  • Without budgets for F&B, live venues and travel, speculation was that more would be left for guest speakers. That hasn’t happened yet.
  • Talks that are virtual platform agnostic will be more appealing.
  • Zero or much fewer slides versus advancing many more slides rapidly.
  • More regularly refreshed content. Virtual forums multiply how many people have seen a speaker give a talk. They’ll expect something different next time.


  • A few speakers expect in-person events to make sure that all attendees are vaccinated. Some have raised their Q3-4 in-person pricing due to perceived risk of safety/travel challenges.
  • Building in just-in-case virtual pricing for in-person engagements is rising.
  • Force majeure clauses have more variation. They require more flexibility from all parties. Some hosts are broadening the triggers for force majeure to include loss of major sponsors, exhibitors and event attendees (unheard of pre-pandemic).
  • More specificity on virtual recording and sharing.

Topics and Talent

What’s In:

  • Futurists used to be mostly technology experts. Now, a futurist focus applies to just about any major topic, profession and industry, particularly “after COVID.”
  • Local talent for in-person (less travel risk), global talent for virtual (no travel risk or expense, more diversity), Epidemiologists/public health officials, Gray Rhino RisksWork From Home, remote career management, virtual executive presence.
  • Global affairs (We all realize that what starts overseas impacts every part of our lives).
  • Self-care, authenticity, mental health, empathy and kindness versus self-improvement amd peak performance.
  • Diversity finally shifts from pledges to action. Since 2019, I’ve seen big increases in women, LBGTQ, African-American, Hispanic-American and Asian-American speakers being booked.
  • An AV arms race, led by futurists and tech thought leaders, who made substantial investments in equipment and practice time. Commercial-grade home studios for virtual presentations with broadcast quality. A speaker’s tech proficiency and professional support will matter more in the selection process.
  • Professional emcees are having a moment. The relatively fluid technical nature of virtual events is raising their value. Maximize budget by leveraging their expertise: scripting, run of show, risk management, interactive elements, interviewing and facilitation.
  • New speaking industry certifications, such as Certified Virtual Presenter.
  • There are more talent choices than ever; the question remains how to effectively narrow down your selection.

What’s Out:

  • Reality TV stars (too superficial)
  • Politics/Politicians (too divisive/election exhaustion)
  • Manels (all-men panels),
  • Ultra-celebrity keynote speakers (too costly, not worth it for virtual forums where 1-on-1 mingling isn’t a factor).
  • Standup comedy (most stars won’t perform it virtually). However, humor is becoming more important to maintain online engagement.

To Be Determined:

  • Will speakers need to prove their COVID-19 test and vaccination status? 
  • Professional speakers certified as experienced with virtual platforms (e.g. GoToWebinar, ON24)?
  • More innovative ways for event hosts to monetize speakers’ appearances?
  • As in-person events return to viability in Q3-4, there may be a sudden rush for speaking talent with limited calendars. Will last-minute booking work as well as it did in 2019-2020?
  • Less solo talks, more duos, debates and other livelier formats?
  • Emerging standards for hybrid event talent pricing (versus online or in-person only)?
  • Audience reaction to non-professional speakers with subpar presentation skills?
  • Holograms, digital avatars, AI, VR and AR, gamification and other emerging technologies. How will these customize, complicate and democratize the speaking experience?
  • Impact of Gen Z audiences?



Submitted by Bill Ganon (not verified) on Sat, 03/27/2021 - 08:59

Excellent snapshot of what’s in / out at this very interesting time of slowly peeling back the suffocating blanket of COVID. Prediction - in person gatherings jump in second half of 2021

Submitted by Kelli Vrla (not verified) on Sat, 03/27/2021 - 13:06

Thanks for an exceptionally thorough window of pandemic shifts in how we do business. As a speaker, my business model switched overnight to virtual (with a lightening fast learning curve!) While many of my clients have discovered the benefits you mentioned, many are looking forward to onsites in person again. I’m starting to get booked more for hybrids (video taped with live Q&A) and onsites for July and beyond.
Whichever way great minds gather to accelerate learning is key, as long as the platform allows us to interact. Thanks again for sharing this valuable info. (Certified Virtual Presenter :O)

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