While there are still many uncertainties on the horizon, most event professionals agree that virtual events and conferences have distinct advantages over in-person events.
For some, virtual events are merely a back-up plan if meeting in-person is not possible. Others are planning for a hybrid approach right from the outset, not least because it means a wider reach. And yet others are choosing to stick to a virtual-only format. Even setting aside social distancing requirements and travel restrictions, there are logistical, economic, and environmental benefits to virtual events.
The upshot? Virtual conference engagement is here to stay. With that said, there is a steep learning curve for virtual event planners who may be inexperienced with the format.
When in-person conferences were the norm, event organizers could rely on AV teams to ensure that on-stage presentations went smoothly. Plenary sessions were mostly handled by the speakers themselves. Now that many events have pivoted to a virtual format, organizers have to take a more hands-on role in managing the quality of their live sessions and organizing the entire run of show.
Conference live streaming technology has come a long way since the glorified Zoom calls of 2020. Attendees now expect virtual content to be as engaging as in-person presentations — or better. In an increasingly competitive online virtual event landscape, failing to captivate them with professional, polished live stream production means they might not be back next time.
In this post, we’ll cover
- The real cost of failing to invest in your virtual event production
- Why the time is right to upgrade your live streaming technology
- 12 best practices for TV-level production at virtual events and meetings
- The benefits of a virtual event producer
- Common FAQs from virtual event organizers
The Cost of Low Quality Live Stream Production
According to recent EventMB research, engagement was ranked the highest challenge when it comes to virtual events and the inability to match onsite engagement value ranked among the highest frustrations with virtual event tech. Why is this such a problem?
Streaming services like Netflix and educational series like TED Talks have set a high bar when it comes to consuming content online. Attendees need more to stay engaged. A virtual event on Zoom that consists of two poorly lit speakers in their living rooms talking to each other may as well be a podcast — at least then you can walk the dog.
Virtual event competition.
Virtual events need to be able to compete with both distractions at home and other events. The fact is that the virtual event marketplace has removed barriers to entry, and competition from other online content — much of which is free — is rising. Virtual event planners need to differentiate from the deluge of online content, and high-quality production is a key point of differentiation.
Event brand credibility.
Similarly, with new events popping up, attendees are looking for a way to determine which content is the most authoritative. A professional-looking stream on a dedicated platform can convey the sense of professionalism you need to separate yourself from the chaff. The last thing you want is for your brand to look unprofessional or unpolished.
The Race Is on for Better Virtual Event Live Streaming
So what exactly has the competition been doing, and how can you keep up — or even lead the pack?
Just as event technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the past year, many event professionals are adapting just as quickly.
While recent EventMB research shows that engagement continues to be the top challenge for virtual event organizers, more and more seem to be closing the gap. Less than a quarter (24%) of respondents cited engagement as their biggest challenge in Q2 of 2021, as compared with over a third (36%) in Q4 of 2020.
Several other positive trends are also gaining momentum. Fewer and fewer of EventMB’s respondents now think of virtual event tech as “untested”. Similarly, only 9% said that “lack of tech knowledge” was their biggest challenge (compared with 21% less than a year ago). Additionally, more than twice as many planners said that their own virtual events exceeded their expectations.
What’s the Secret to Virtual Event Success?
What happened to account for this growing sense of success? Was it simply a question of event planners adjusting to new technology? That is without a doubt part of the answer, but there is more to it than that. Event planners can’t be expected to raise the quality of their virtual events without having the budget to match.
Returning to EventMB’s survey, the number of respondents relying on free virtual event tech went from 14% in Q3 of 2020 to merely 9% in Q2 of 2021. In other words, it looks like many event planners — and the finance departments who set their budgets — heeded the warnings about ‘Zoom gloom.’
What’s more, the number willing to spend $15,000 USD (or more) showed a 70% increase. Almost a quarter of respondents now fall into this top category, compared with only 14% less than a year ago.
How to Budget for Better Virtual Event Technology
All these advances may sound encouraging, but the reality is that not all event planners can afford this level of expense.
In fact, a growing number of EventMB’s survey respondents cite their budget as their biggest challenge — even as they report higher attendance numbers and less trouble securing sponsorships.
How, then, can event planners balance rising event technology costs against their virtual event revenue?
The answer will ultimately be a matter of finding the right technology to meet their event’s needs. The biggest, most established event organizers might be able to afford professional live stream production services. For many others, however, self-service live stream production may be the best solution.
What Is Self-Service Live Stream Production?
Self-service live stream production software like EventMobi Studio makes it easy to produce professional-quality live streams right in your browser.
Fully integrated with your event platform, the Studio lets you set up your live stream session in just a few clicks. The platform sets up your RTMP streaming connection for you, so you don’t have to worry about copying and pasting URLs into a third-party application. At the same time, you maintain full control over the entire look and feel of your show. Need to juggle multiple speakers and add visual effects? Just toggle simple buttons on and off. Everything is designed in an easy-to-understand visual format, so you don’t need any technical expertise.
12 Virtual Event Best Practices for TV-Level Production
In a recent EventMobi webinar, Live Streaming Made Easy: How to Create On-Brand and On-Budget Virtual Events, we explained how self-service live stream production works — and we covered several fundamental live streaming best practices.
Here are 10 highlights from the event that will ensure your virtual conference engagement sets your virtual event apart.
1. Assess your virtual conference engagement needs
Are you running a one-off stakeholder’s meeting with someone in the background taking minutes? Or are you delivering sponsored sessions with a variety of speakers, whose contributions will live on as an on-demand content after the event?
If the former, it may not be worth it to invest in a heavily branded, professionally produced broadcast. However, if the latter, you may want to use a self-service live stream production platform, or even hire a professional production team. These options will help you achieve a production level that will stand the test of time and do the content justice.
2. Give yourself enough time
While virtual events can take months to plan, many have had to pivot in a time crunch as restrictions on mass gatherings change at a moment’s notice. Time and budget are also important factors in determining whether TV-level production is a priority.
That said, we recommend that you try to give yourself at least one month to ensure you have enough time to check all the boxes:
- Finalize your agenda and design your show flow
- Gather assets
- Prep speakers, moderators, and sponsors
- Capture any pre-recorded content
- Edit pre-recorded videos
- Conduct at least one dry run — and not at the last minute
- Refine your run of show
- Ensure you are fully prepared from a technical standpoint
If you’re not sure how to handle each of these steps in a virtual or hybrid context, don’t worry. We’ll cover them individually below.
3. Set the stage for success with a thorough show flow
Once you’ve figured out your agenda with an outline of session topics, it’s important to start developing your show flow — aka your run of show — as soon as possible.
Ideally, your show flow should not only provide a detailed timeline for each stage of your live stream, but also act as a project management tool for your entire virtual event. That means it should include a list of your speakers and their titles, a list of sponsors and their assets, as well as your plan for engagement tactics like live polls.
To make sure you start off on the right foot, EventMobi’s team of production experts is making their Virtual Event Show Flow Template available to download. This template has been an essential resource for the team over the past year as they produced over 300 virtual events, with audiences ranging from 200 attendees at a private event to over 5,000 registrants at major public conferences.
Designed for event organizers, the template includes:
- Responsive Project Timeline and Task List
- Green Room Checklist with Backstage Tips
- Charts for Tracking Speakers and Sponsors
- Classic Event Show Flow with Time Tracker
4. Gather assets to ensure you have the best branded visuals
Make sure you have high resolution graphics for any branded slides, lower-thirds, overlays, and transitions well ahead of time.
EventMobi Studio, for example, allows you to choose from a variety of pre-set graphics, or to add your own. If you are not using self-service live stream production software, a technical producer can help you collect these resources and make sure they are to spec.
You’ll also want to share all of these specs with sponsors well in advance, so they have ample time to give you their logos, overlay graphics, and video clips. Remember to keep track of all these assets using a project management system like our downloadable Virtual Show Flow Template.
Use both images and video clips liberally to visually stimulate the audience so that they’re not staring at a talking head for extended periods of time. Take a page from newscasts that use cutaways and statistics to break up shots of the news reporter.
Strong, clear images on screen also provide opportunities for attendees to screenshot the event and share it on social media.
5. Prep speakers and rehearse your virtual event
Virtual event planners are not the only ones struggling with the learning curve of online virtual events. Speakers, sponsors, moderators, and event participants are all adapting to a new format together. This makes for a perfect storm of potential glitches.
Are speakers using reliable mics? Are sponsored talks happening in well-lit rooms? Do the moderators have reliable internet connections?
Rehearsing your virtual event is a great way to identify these and many other issues that would make for a less-than-smooth experience during the live event. Test each speaker’s set-up. Make sure all the slides are in order, and that everyone knows where they are supposed to be and when.
6. Support speaker and moderator virtual event setup
Grainy video is not going to cut it for professional live stream content. EventMobi’s in-house virtual event producer recommends that your speakers use a webcam with a resolution of 720p to 1080p, as well as a microphone (headphones are especially good for cutting background noise and avoiding an echo from other speakers).
The equipment doesn’t need to be expensive; a $20 mic will go a long way to improving your audio quality. Lighting is also important. An inexpensive LED light behind the speaker’s monitor will make sure speakers are well-lit. Alternatively, ask your speakers to sit facing a well-lit window. And above all, ask them to avoid backlighting — there is nothing worse than a speaker who looks like a shadowy silhouette.
Our Virtual Show Flow Template includes a handy “green room checklist” that reminds you to double-check all of these elements. Alternatively, a professional producer can be a great asset when it comes to the dry run and speaker/moderator checks as they will know what to look for, field any of the more technical questions that come up, and make suitable recommendations.
7. Double-check your platform’s technical limitations
Unfortunately, your virtual event technology may not work as well on the day of your event as it does during rehearsals. That’s because each new attendee joining your live event means a new internet connection plugging into the platform, which in turn puts a higher burden on your servers. Can your virtual event tech platform actually handle the volume of attendees logging in simultaneously, streaming video, submitting Q&A, and engaging in chat?
You may not be able to do a trial that will match the attendance levels you’re expecting for the event itself, but you can ask your service provider what their maximum capacity is. Be sure to account for the extra data load caused by additional attendee activity like chat comments.
Tip: If you are close to the max number of attendees your platform can handle, avoid prompting your audience to comment in the chat all at once. (For example, try not to ask, “Where is everyone tuning in from?”)
For added assurance, ask your provider for statistics on their platform’s down time. EventMobi’s virtual event platform, for example, guarantees an uptime of 99.9% in its Service Level Agreement (SLA) — and to date, it has never failed to meet this promise.
It’s also a good idea to use a platform that allows you to require a login from your attendees, even if the event is free. That way, you don’t have to worry about being surprised by 3 times more visitors than you were expecting based on registration numbers.
8. Take advantage of prerecorded and simulive sessions
One way to guarantee that a session looks great and runs smoothly is to pre-record it and incorporate it into your live event. This will give you an opportunity to incorporate more visuals and cut or redo elements that contain errors or might lose your audience’s attention. With EventMobi Studio, for example, you can record your branded speaker sessions at any point prior to the live event.
You can even pre-record the heavier session content and follow it by a live segment such as a Q&A. “Simulive” content delivery refers to this hybrid of live and pre-recorded content within a given session. Use a separate slide — like the speakers’ contact information or even a sponsored message — to cover any visual disruption when transitioning from the pre-recorded section to the live engagement.
Pre-recorded content also allows you to run concurrent sessions without assigning additional producers to each stream. If you don’t have concurrent sessions, it has the added benefit of giving you time to set up the next live portion of the show, queue up live speakers, and give those working in the background a break.
9. Use engagement features and a variety of virtual event formats and layouts
Similar to the point above, avoid leaving your audience to watch the same speaker split-screen for hours on end. Shake it up with engagement features like live polls, a Q&A section, and an active live chat panel. It’s also best practice to use different layouts and arrangements of visual elements, like overlays, lower thirds, backgrounds, slides, and charts.
Your Virtual Show Flow Template can help you to keep track of all these moving parts, so your live stream producer can follow a simple checklist of the day of the event. A professional producer can also offer valuable insights into your options and how to execute the most visually engaging layouts and transitions. Here is an example of what a little production help can accomplish:
10. Use a virtual green room to coordinate virtual event speakers
Just like in a live, in-person event, virtual event organizers need to be able to prep and coordinate with their speakers, communicate any changes, and make sure they’re ready when they need to be.
A green room is a virtual space that is not part of the standard live broadcast where speakers can wait off-screen or move ‘backstage.’ It takes its name from the backstage waiting rooms at live theatres, which are traditionally referred to as ‘green rooms.’
EventMobi Studio, for example, allows the live stream producer to move speakers backstage at any time. Additionally, the Private Chat feature means that speakers, moderators, and producers can communicate privately at any point during the session.
11. Consider a virtual venue for higher event production quality
You may be wondering, “What is a virtual venue?”
A virtual venue is a studio or space set up specifically for the purpose of hosting your virtual event or for pre-recording event content. Virtual venues are typically run by AV companies or virtual event tech providers, so they come furnished with the right AV infrastructure to create and broadcast high quality, professional content.
Virtual venues and virtual event studios are a good alternative if you want a more professional live stream without the risks or investments associated with setting up a studio yourself, and they almost always provide consultative services or direct virtual event production support.
12. Be strategic about CTAs and data collection
While a professional-looking event should be one of your top priorities, it’s also important to think like a marketing director. What is the key CTA for each of your sessions, and what sorts of visual elements will you use to promote it? Make sure your virtual event Show Flow keeps track of all these elements for each live stream session.
Additionally, are you using a virtual event platform that allows you to gather analytics on engagement metrics like viewing hours and click-throughs? This kind of information can be crucial to demonstrate sponsor ROI, and it can be equally useful for assigning CE credits to webinar participants.
The Benefits of a Virtual Event Technical Producer
A virtual event production partner can be a huge asset. Many virtual event planners — especially those who found themselves pivoting in a pinch — are still learning the skills and knowledge required to execute a high production quality, professional-looking virtual event.
Your virtual event tech platform can be a great resource in that regard. In fact, according to EventMB’s latest research, 33% of event planners outsource their virtual event production, and a further 20% rely on their virtual event tech provider.
The benefits of an experienced virtual event producer include:
Virtual event technical producers conduct dry runs and can flag issues that a less experienced observer may not notice or anticipate.
- Tech support.
Technical producers ensure that the AV equipment, internet connectivity, virtual event platform, and any integrated technology are up to par and running smoothly.
- Video editing.
A virtual event technical producer is familiar with video editing software. If you want to make use of prerecorded video, they can help you record and edit it so that it looks clean and professional.
Virtual events have a lot of moving parts: speakers transitioning from the green room to the live event stream, breakouts that need to start and stop at specific times, slide transitions, inserted pre-recorded videos, shifting visuals — the list goes on. A virtual event production specialist coordinates them to ensure a seamless experience.
- Attendee management.
Virtual event producers can help to funnel attendees into the appropriate tracks at the appropriate times so they don’t get lost in the shuffle. They also make sure that attendees are muted, moderate chats and Q&As, and manage access to different elements.
- Happy sponsors.
In some ways, sponsors are taking a leap of faith in online virtual events, so it’s crucial that their brand and brand exposure looks professional. In addition to bringing the whole event production to a professional level, virtual event technical producers make sure that pop-ups, overlays, lower thirds, and other branded visual elements appear properly and at the right times.
Common Virtual Event Production Questions
EventMobi has helped thousands of virtual event planners with the transition to virtual event engagement with robust technology and expert technical production support. Here, we have answered our clients’ most common questions:
In a webcast production, do speakers need any type of production software?
No! All the speakers need is a webcam, a microphone and reliable internet connection. EventMobi Studio allows any speakers, moderators, or producers to connect right inside the event platform. If you sign up for our GoLive! production service, speakers and hosts will receive a link that will bring them into the virtual green room, which acts as a waiting room before they go live.
What is the recommended minimum internet speed for speakers/hosts?
We recommend 20Mbps for upload, 30-50 Mbps for download. You can check your internet speed for free at fast.com. For a more reliable connection, use a hardwired ethernet connection rather than WiFi whenever possible.
What are the advantages of live vs. simulive (pre-recorded)?
Live streaming is ideal if there is a strong focus on interactivity, such as live polls or answering audience questions as they come in rather than during a designated Q&A at the end. However, in a live setting there is always a risk of issues such as the speaker’s internet connection cutting out, or a speaker canceling last minute. Simulive offers more security as sessions are prerecorded, so speakers can do multiple takes and the result may be more polished. For interactivity, speakers can go live at the end of the session for a Q&A segment. It’s also possible to have a recorded session as back up in case there are any issues with the live stream.
In a simulive setting, should speakers wear the same clothes and use the same backdrop for the live Q&A to give the impression that the whole session was live?
Ideally, yes – the point of simulive is to recreate the feeling of a live session without the audience noticing that the presentation has been recorded in advance. However, if it’s not possible to recreate the same look, you can also choose to reveal the simulive nature of the session – usually the audience will be baffled that they couldn’t tell the difference, which speaks for a good show flow and seamless production!
What points should a tech check / rehearsal cover?
- Brief the speaker on the procedure of going live (entering the green room, waiting for the producer’s signal that they are going on air etc.)
- Make sure the speaker’s video and audio quality is flawless – no lagging, pixelated video or muffled audio
- The overall appearance should be professional – this includes a neutral/tidy background, good lighting, appropriate clothing, ‘eye contact’ with the camera lens, good posture, etc.
- If presentation slides are used, check they are displaying correctly
- In case of pre-recording sessions, speakers may want to review the recording to make sure they are satisfied with the result, so plan enough time for this process
What tricks are there to make sure speakers look at the camera?
If the speaker is using notes for their presentation, they should place them at the top of their computer screen or on a second screen that is placed close to eye level. If they are speaking freely, it can help to place a visual marker next to the camera so the eyes are drawn to that point.
Is it recommended to use one producer for each concurrent live session?
This depends on the type of session. One of the most popular options are breakout rooms, which typically require no extra production as they focus on conversation and networking between attendees. (In fact, these are technically video conferences, not live streams.)
For producing complex concurrent live stream sessions, we recommend using self-service live stream production software or partnering with a specialized AV company.
If you choose the self-service option, EventMobi Studio does allow the same producer to manage more than one concurrent live stream session. Keep in mind, however, that this will put an extra burden on both the producer’s internet connection and their organizational skills. Particularly if you’re first time using the software, it’s a good idea to stick with one producer per concurrent live stream session.
What is latency?
‘Latency’ is simply a fancy way of referring to the delay caused by the process of live streaming. For those who want to take a deeper dive, our Live Streaming 101 guide provides a more thorough explanation of how the technology works. In brief, all the video and audio feeds inside your speaker session need to go through an ‘encoding’ process before they can be live streamed out to your audience. And this process takes time, resulting in a delay of about 20 seconds.
If you’re shopping around for different live stream encoders, you might see the terms ‘high latency’ and ‘low latency’ floating around. A high latency just means a longer delay (which is generally undesirable, but does often allow for a higher quality of video).
Does latency have an impact on the session experience?
When it comes to practical advice around the issue of latency, the golden rule is to avoid ending your live stream as soon as you finish talking. It’s best practice to wait at least 20 seconds before shutting it down — it could take that long for your last words to reach the audience.
If you’re going to mention comments in the chat, it’s also a good idea to feature them on the screen. EventMobi Studio, for example, makes it easy to highlight chat comments. Using this tool, you can be sure that attendees will see the comment right as you’re talking about it.
What is a lower third?
A lower third refers to an insert with the speaker’s name (plus usually their job title and/or company) being displayed on the lower third of the screen.
This area can also be used to highlight chat comments or captions with key event messaging.
Combatting Zoom fatigue and differentiating yourself within a rising tide of virtual event competition can be a challenge, but a fast and easy way for your attendees to tell that you’re an authoritative, credible, and professional resource is through beautiful, engaging live streams.
When it comes to executing on your vision with the production quality attendees have come to expect, a self-service live stream production studio can help you get there. And if you’d rather hand the reins over to professionals, technical producers can help you make sense of all the moving parts and keep things running like a well-oiled machine.
Get in touch with our live stream production services team to learn more about how we can help you impress your audience with tv-level production.