10 Virtual Conference Best Practices to Elevate Your Production Quality

A woman sitting in front of a laptop with her back to the viewer. On the laptop screen, a three-speaker panel is being broadcast inside the EventMobi Virtual Space

If 2020 has one silver lining, it’s that the industry now recognizes the advantages of online virtual events

The rollout of vaccines in many countries signal that a return to relative normalcy is on the horizon, but the logistical, economic, and environmental benefits of virtual events are strong incentives to embrace a hybrid future. The upshot? Virtual conference engagement is here to stay.

However, the most cited challenge associated with taking your event online remains virtual event engagement, and there is a steep learning curve for virtual event planners who may be inexperienced with the format.

Conference live streaming technology has come a long way since the glorified Zoom calls of March and early April 2020; attendees expect more than a choppy, poorly lit, and unrehearsed webinar. 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
  • How to produce professional conference live streaming
  • The benefits of a virtual event producer

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?

Zoom fatigue.
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.

A screenshot of a standard Zoom meeting in the background with a screenshot of a professionally produced two-speaker panel with lower thirds in the foreground

10 Virtual Meetings Best Practices for TV-Level Production

In EventMobi’s recent Virtual Events Masterclass, we introduced strategies for assessing your virtual event production needs, determining whether it makes sense to enlist the help of a technical producer, and ensuring a seamless production. 

Here are 10 highlights from the event that will ensure your virtual conference engagement sets your virtual event apart.

Hybrid Event Production Logistics

1. Assess your virtual conference engagement needs

Are you running a one-off stakeholder’s meeting with someone in the background taking minutes? Are you delivering sponsored content with a variety of speakers that will live on as gated 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 enlist a technical producer to help you achieve a production level that will stand the test of time and do the content justice.

A graphic outlining the different virtual conference production levels offered by EventMobi

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 the agenda
  • Prep speakers and technical assistants
  • Record any prerecorded content
  • Edit videos
  • Onboard speakers and moderators on the technology and live streaming best practices
  • Create the showflow
  • Conduct a dry run — and not at the last minute
  • Revise and edit as needed

An experienced virtual event technical producer can help you to coordinate and execute many of these steps, avoid common pitfalls, and prevent unnecessary delays. They can therefore be an excellent option if you do want high production quality on a tight timeline. 

3. 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? Can your virtual event tech platform actually handle the volume of attendees logging in simultaneously, streaming video, submitting Q&A, and engaging in chat? 

A laptop screen showing a green room with the videos of eight speakers waiting to go live and a window showing the attendee view

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. Test the platform. Make sure all the slides are in order, and that everyone knows where they are supposed to be and when. 

4. Support speaker and moderator virtual event setup

Grainy video is not going to cut it for the virtual event engagement and professional look attendees expect when streaming 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). The equipment doesn’t need to be expensive; a $20 mic is perfectly sufficient. Lighting is also important. An inexpensive LED light behind the speaker’s monitor will make sure speakers are well-lit.

A technical 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. 

Technical Virtual Event Production Tips

1. Choose virtual event tech solutions that support branding objectives

Virtual event tech platforms typically integrate with conference live streaming services to combine the best of each class of software, and the default is usually Zoom. However, Zoom may not be the ideal live streaming solution if you need branded content. For that, you can select a virtual event platform that gives you options for branded content within the stream and virtual experience by integrating a service that allows for more dynamic displays, such as:

An event technologist or technical producer will typically recommend their preferred software, or should be able to guide you through the options based on your needs and help you set up your virtual event tech stack.

2. Take advantage of prerecorded and simulive sessions

One way to guarantee that a session looks great and runs smoothly is to prerecord 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.

You can even prerecord 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 prerecorded 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 prerecorded section to the live engagement.

Prerecorded 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 to give those working in the background a break.

3. Use high quality visuals to deliver virtual brand engagement

Make sure you have high resolution graphics for any branded slides, lower-thirds, overlays, and transitions well ahead of time. A technical producer can help you collect these resources and make sure they are to spec. 

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.

A computer screen shows a professional virtual conference production with presentation slides, speaker videos and branded background

Strong, clear images on screen also provide opportunities for attendees to screenshot the event and share it on social media.

4. Vary your 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 different layouts and arrangements of visual elements, like overlays, lower thirds, backgrounds, slides, and charts. 

A technical producer can 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: 

A laptop screen showing a backdrop reading 'Virtualtech Annual Conference' with a speaker video in the bottom left corner

5. Use a 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 await their sessions and planners (or more likely technical producers) can update them, check-in with them, and queue them up before their sessions.

A video editing software showing a speaker video and a title card side by side

6. Consider a virtual venue for higher event production quality

Asking yourself, “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 prerecording 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. Just keep health and safety guidelines in mind if you’re bringing multiple people together into one physical space.

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.

An experienced virtual event production partner offers many benefits:

  • Expertise.
    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.
  • Coordination.
    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:

What is RTMP?

Real-Time Messaging Protocol, also known as RTMP, is an early standard for streaming that is supported by a majority of encoders (these are used to digitize your videos so that you can live stream them to an audience) and most media servers (the software that you are using to broadcast the video). EventMobi’s Virtual Space can support any video that is in RTMP format. If the media server that you are working with does not offer a Video URL, then the EventMobi Experience platform can help you to generate an RTMP server with just one click, using our Custom URL feature.

A graphic visualizing the process of streaming video content into the EventMobi Virtual Space via RTMP

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. Our production team will provide speakers and hosts with a link that will bring them into the virtual Green Room, from where they will go live.

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, upright posture (standing is preferred), looking into the camera etc. 
  • If presentation slides are used, check they are displaying correctly
  • In case of prerecording 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 speak to 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 at 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.

This depends on the type of session. The most popular example are breakout rooms, which typically require no extra production as they focus on conversation and networking between attendees. For producing complex concurrent live stream sessions, we recommend partnering with a specialized AV company.

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.

Conclusion

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 a professionally produced event. 

When it comes to executing on your vision with the production quality attendees have come to expect, a virtual event production partner is an asset. 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 technical production team to learn more about how we can help you impress your audience with tv-level production.