Four Lessons for Event Planners From the Primetime Emmy Awards

Thanks to COVID-19, this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards were a lot different than in years past. For meeting professionals, the show offered plenty of food for thought for how to best execute virtual and hybrid events.

Just as associations have done with their events and other in-person programming, the entertainment industry has had to reinvent its awards shows due to the pandemic. The latest one to make its debut: the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, which took place this past Sunday.

In addition to a Schitt’s Creek sweep, the show offered up several takeaways for meeting professionals as they plan virtual and hybrid events moving forward. Here are four of them:

Help your speakers (or your award nominees and winners) look their best. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times before the show, Emmys Executive Producer Reginald Hudlin said the production team sent more than 130 cameras to nominees in locations around the globe. The goal, according to Hudlin, was to provide everyone with the best sound, picture, and lighting.

“We tried to make these rigs as user-friendly as possible so they can install them in their homes,” he said. “It really is a partnership between us and the nominees.”

While your association’s budget will likely make it impossible to send cameras to all of your speakers, consider putting together a short tip sheet for them on how to look their best on camera, or host a virtual speaker training ahead of your conference so everyone can test their setup.

Have a backup plan. We all know the unexpected can happen. For instance, what if technology failed mid-acceptance speech? How would producers fill the time? On this week’s Keep It podcast, cohost and Emmy writer Louis Virtel said the team prepared extra material in case something like that happened. “We had to write a lot of ‘what if’ stuff in case a winner’s Wi-Fi went out or somebody who was supposed to show up on screen didn’t,” he said. “It was a lot of covering bases in a way that you would never have to do with an Emmys otherwise.”

For your association’s events, troubleshoot in advance and have processes in place that will kick in if something does happen to fail. Some associations have decided to pre-record sessions to avoid speakers having technology troubles in real time.

Consider how popular in-person elements can translate to virtual. Every event has its staples. In the case of the Emmys, one of those is the host’s opening monologue and audience reaction. Jimmy Kimmel, this year’s host, delivered it to fake laughter and applause.

But, in one unexpected moment, the camera panned to a shot of life-size cardboard cutouts of several nominees in the front rows. Seated among them was actor Jason Bateman, who was trying to pass as cardboard. If your annual meeting has a staple that’s always a hit with attendees, consider how you can make it stand out in the virtual space.

Inject personality and fun. No matter whether your event takes place in person, online, or a mix of both, you still want it to be fun and engaging. The Emmys did that in several ways. First, there were the interns in tuxedo hazmat suits who waited outside some nominees’ homes and presented them with their trophies when they won.

And speaking of unique fashion choices, attendees joined the fun as well. In a nod to people’s pandemic wardrobes, nominee Rachel Brosnahan wore pajamas (with her husband and two dogs in matching attire).

The show also did a good job of making these celebrities more relatable: There was a funny video segment that looked at how celebrities were spending their time in quarantine. But my personal favorite was seeing Steven Colbert hug his dog on camera after he lost in his category.

If you watched, what other lessons do you think the Emmys offered to meeting pros? Please share in the comments.

“Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston, shown exercising with his Emmy Awards during an awards-show sketch. (via

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!