An Online Event Act That Aims to Deceive

May 18, 2020

Wow…what a response from the May 4 “Cerbelli: Hot Virtual Event Ideas” newsletter!

I know you are looking for ideas and we got ’em! It’s been crazy for myself and team over the past few weeks, as we have produced over 40 virtual events in just six weeks! From a cooking class to a full two-hour concert with a meet and greet, our clients are looking to keep teams engaged.

As I did last week, I went to the archives of past Michael Cerbelli’s: The Hot List™ Alumni. I have done a few events with them in the past couple of weeks and love they have pivoted to support our clients with great entertainment and engaging content. my dear friends and amazing event partners, Ryan Oakes and Doug McKenzie of Digital Deception.

Digital Phones

Event Entertainers Are Moving Online 

As early as February, Digital Deception began to see their clients move events online, as worries about COVID-19-related travel bans began to take effect. The duo realized quickly that they’d need a virtual version of their stage act, and they began to rework their material.

As an act that focused on integrating  magic with consumer technology, Digital Deception was in a unique position to pivot. By the first week of March they’d come up with a concept for their virtual show and began to test new ideas. Thinking that most of the general public would be adopting the Zoom video conferencing platform, they decided to call their virtual show “Alakazoom” and they registered the domain.

"Our virtual show is an entirely new framework,” Ryan said. “We had to re-write scripts, create graphics and completely overhaul our approach to the magic so that it would have the same impact as our live show.”

Only a portion of the live show ended up making its way into the virtual show; most of it is new magic they created just for the online medium.

Cerbelli Creative: Digital Deception from Cerbelli Creative on Vimeo.

“And perhaps needless to say, Doug and I created this all as we worked remotely—he and I haven’t been in the same room in over two months,” Ryan added. “Most of the show was created over iMessage!”

Before long they were entertaining friends and colleagues with their revamped show, testing out the new material.

“Since Ryan and I perform in person for groups both large and small, we knew we had to build a show that could scale,” Doug said. “We have since performed for organizations as large as UNICEF and Google, and for a host of small companies looking to entertain their customers.”

“The online medium has completely changed the dynamic of our show,” he added, “but it’s also opened up new opportunities for interaction that weren’t possible before. It’s a fun challenge for us. We’ve been digging through our collective notes to revive ideas that previously weren’t possible on a live stage.”

Virtual Events Are Here to Stay 

Regardless of when live events are fully reinstated, Doug and Ryan both believe their virtual show will be a permanent part of their business.

“We’re building this virtual show for the long-term outlook,” Ryan said. “Right now, virtual events are the necessity, but they will become much more widely adopted during this period. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and it’s our job now to help make these virtual events more communal, more engaging and more memorable.”

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Since performing this new show, they’ve admittedly learned a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of the online “stage.” They’ve been able to quickly diagnose technical issues (i.e., identifying when two people are watching a Zoom show on different computers in the same room and they create sound feedback) as well as learning techniques to heighten the impact of their work (i.e., selectively muting and un-muting participants so that the group all shares in the feedback).

Digital meetings

“As live performers, we are so used to getting instant feedback from our audiences throughout the show and being able to respond to that feedback in real time,” Doug said. “We have all been conditioned that we’re somewhat anonymous behind our computer screens, so it has taken a while to figure out how to get an audience to connect with each other virtually. Now that we’ve cracked that nut, we’re enjoying that human connection more than ever.

“The other plus side, of course, is that we don’t have to travel to get to our shows, so in one day we can do shows for audiences in New York, Geneva and LA without going through an airport,” he added. “We’re finding the positives in all this.”

The virtual event market existed pre-COVID, but now it’s in the midst of a hyper-growth phase. Companies who had never previously considered a virtual event are now instituting them, and private individuals who had never even heard of Zoom or Webex are scheduling family celebrations online. The market for entertainment continues to take shape, but Digital Deception has already dabbled in a number of formats online.

From virtual cocktail hours and webinar interstitials to breakout rooms and sponsored events, Digital Deception is keeping events virtually alive!

[Related: How Live Event Entertainers Are Going Virtual]

Without the environmental factors that drive emotional connection to an event, Ryan and Doug focus on making their magic as interactive as possible.

Hot list

“Doug and I have both performed magic on TV and on social media, but this is entirely different,” Ryan said. “Magic for virtual events has to be interactive and engaging. It can’t just be like watching a YouTube clip or an Instagram post. Many of the traditional constructs for ‘community' have been torn down with social distancing, and everyone is in need of shared  experiences with friends and colleagues now. We’ve worked hard to design a show that would create a shared experience, so that each participant feels like they are a part of something unique to that live moment.”

Look for more Cerbelli: Hot Virtual Event Ideas in the upcoming weeks, and most of all stay healthy, stay safe, stay home and stay #EventStrong!

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About the author
Michael Cerbelli | CEO & President, Cerbelli Creative

Cerbelli Creative is a New York-based event production company that operates in the corporate, social, entertainment and wedding sectors of the industry.