NACA BLOG - How to Host a "Virtual Open Mic" - 3/30/2020
Tough Calls

March 30, 2020
Jason LeVasseur 
The Rock Star Project®

As the host of a traditional open mic program, I create a space where performers feel comfortable sharing their talents and the audience is supportive and positive. I accomplish this by stating expectations at the beginning of the event and repeating them periodically as the show proceeds. It doesn’t need to be done in a "follow these rules" kind of way, but more through encouraging the performers and thanking the audience preemptively for being a great and supportive audience. It’s no different in the virtual setting.

However, you also have the advantage of sharing your expectations in the invitation email, as well as using visual cues. I use Zoom software, so my references will pertain to that particular platform.

Here's what you really need to begin as a virtual show host:

For Organizers: 

  • Communication – When working with a professional emcee and/or show host, communicate with your facilitator (host) and agree on a date, time and duration of the event. 
  • Calendaring – The virtual world gives us much greater flexibility with calendars. Your event host will be able to provide a link for you (your organization) to distribute to your list of possible attendees and performers. Once they receive the link, attendees will be able to join the event at the scheduled time. 
  • Share Hosting – I recommend allowing the guest facilitator to host because they need to access all of the platform’s admin features to help the event run smoothly.

For Show Hosts: 

  • Know Your Platform – Familiarize yourself with the platform and learn its features. Set up an experimental event with family and friends before you ever go live. The more smoothly you can navigate the platform, the more smoothly your actual event will run. 
  • It’s Not About You – Remember, this event is not about you showcasing your talent! This is a way for you to help showcase the talent of others and help connect and engage all of the attendees. 
  • Early Sign-Ups – Get as much of the talent to sign up ahead of time so you can share the order of performers as soon as the event begins. It’s also OK to allow performers to sign up during the event if they feel inspired. Ask them to send you a private message through the chat feature. 
  • Recruit Talent – Like every open mic I’ve ever hosted, there are folks in the audience who want to perform but have shown up as an audience member first to check it out. Your encouragement of participation and taking additional sign-ups is part of your hosting responsibility. 
  • Mute Mics – As the host, you will be able to mute microphones individually and as a group. So, letting everyone know you have that capability is a good idea because you will sometimes need to use it when it’s time to move on to the next performer. 
  • Visual Cues – Use a visual cue that says you are trying to quiet down the group. Try a colorful note card, a scarf, or a stuffed teddy bear. Just use the visuals as cues and introduce them all at the beginning of the event. If chaos is unstoppable, simply mute the whole group with one click.

For Attendees: 

  • Background Movement – Please do not walk around or drive while attending the event. You are in an audience. The movement behind you is distracting and takes attention away from the performer. If you do need to move your camera, turn off your video while doing it. However, if your talent involves the movement of your camera, that’s a whole different story and we’re all excited to see it. It’s your moment to shine! 
  • Silence Your Devices – Please turn off any “sound” notifications on your device and/or computer. Avoid the pings! This is most relevant when you are the performer, but it also helps everyone when all mics are unmuted. 
  • Do Support, Don’t Judge – You are there to support the performers. Be a great audience member. Remember, this is not a competition and you are not a judge. We’re all here to have fun!
  • Mute Your Mic – Mute your mic during the performances! This allows for the performer to “take the stage.” You can always hit the “react” button and give a “thumbs up” or a “hand clap,” features that are available in Zoom. 
  • Applause – You can also show applause visually by raising your hands in the air in the “jazz hands” pose. Visual finger snaps are awesome (raise your arms and snap your fingers). If you want to jump up and down and dance as a reaction, heck yeah! 
  • Comments – You can always leave your positive comments in the chat. 
  • When to Unmute? – If you feel like making some noise at the end of each performance, that’s totally OK. But then be ready to mute your mic again for the next performer. If a performer is doing a sing-along, then it’s participation by invitation. 
  • Private Message Concerns – If one of the performer’s sound is not coming through as beautifully as you would like, please don’t make a fuss. Enjoy it in the moment and make the most of the situation. Your negative visual reactions to sound quality will be interpreted by the performer as negative feedback on their performance. Send the host a private message with your questions and concerns and always positively support the performer.

For Performers: 

  • Unmute Unmute your mic when it’s your turn to perform. 
  • Tuning Tune your instrument ahead of time! 
  • Song Prep – Karaoke? Have your song ready on YouTube ahead of time and use the “share page” feature in Zoom if you would like everyone to see the lyrics as you perform. (Sometimes, the background music is not loud enough so the host may ask you to turn up your own computer sound volume so it’s louder for attendees.) 
  • Visual Cues – Use a brightly colored visual cue if there is a significant sound issue that needs to be addressed. It’s OK to restart a performance. 
  • Friendly Competition – This is not a competition. The audience is not judging you. They are there to make a connection with you and have fun. This is new for you and it’s new for the audience. We all recognize that, so “take the stage” and share your talent!

Jason LeVasseur lives in Nashville, TN, and is one of the most awarded music performers in campus entertainment, recently receiving NACA’s Campus Legend Award. He’s also a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, online teacher, summer camp counselor, husband, father and the creator of “The Rock Star Project®.” Visit 

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