Coronavirus is causing uncertainty around events & gatherings

HELPFUL ALTERNATIVES & ADVICE ON HOW TO ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCES with creative Media Production

Coronavirus is threatening our industry as in-person meetings are being cancelled globally. And with good reason: COVID-19 is dangerous. Cancelling or postponing in-person gatherings and live events is a wise and responsible decision. 

While no one is traveling for business right now, that doesn’t eliminate the need met by events. Our clients still have real business needs.  They still need to make product announcements. They still need to connect and unify their internal audiences. They still need to educate and inspire their salesforces. They still need to inform investors and the press. And, they still want event professionals to run their events—however, now we must run those events digitally. 

As event creatives and producers face tough new challenges, we must address these key questions. How can we engage our event audiences online? What practices can we keep from our experience with live events? What do we need to adapt for web-streaming applications?

Earning audience attention is our biggest challenge

Live events are big, immersive, shared experiences. They engage all our senses and connect us with our stakeholders. Conversely, webcasts are just one browser tab amid a dozen others.  Viewers could push webcasts into the background while sifting through email and a dozen other distractions. What’s the biggest challenge that online events face? It’s continually earning each individual audience member’s attention. There’s got to be something in it for them in order to justify their time commitment. Think of any webcast you’ve ever attended yourself, and you’ll have immediate empathy with your next online audience. What can be done to provide real value for our clients and their audiences?

Creative approaches for online audiences

In discussions with graphic designers, creatives and studio owners that regularly design visuals and storyboards for these online events, here are some key creative tactics, garnered from years of experience, which you might fold into your own approach for web-streaming events:

  • Not everyone in your audience will engage the same way. Some people may be interested in the program as a whole, while others might be interested in specific segments or tracks. It’s possible to serve both segments, but plan your session content accordingly. On-demand access to pieces of your online event can eliminate issues. Daily highlight reels offer Cliffs Note versions of the event. 

  • Walk-in still exists — it just looks different. You’d never put up a slide in an arena that says, “Our session will begin in 10 minutes.” Why should that be the first experience an attendee has when connecting to your stream? Produce meaningful pre-show content and start the stream early.

  • Audiences expect live hosts. Live events encourage people to engage with each other, but online experiences can be isolating. Using a host will make your event more relatable, and can help provide continuity across segments.

  • Opening videos work differently. A live event opening video is a crowd settler, but it’s not a live audience’s first touchpoint with your brand. They’ve already been immersed in your branded space for hours. An online opening video needs to establish that same brand connection right away. Practically, an in-person opening can start with something that generates curiosity and end with “Welcome to insert-your-event-here,” but a digital-first opening should lead with the welcome.

  • Staging transitions should flow quickly. Every slow transition in your show is an invitation for a viewer to check their email. Make sure your scripts connect one segment to the next. Tease what’s coming next, before the transition, to give people a reason to stay focused.

  • Deliver press kits to influencers. At any big public event, the press captures imagery that they publish to drive the client’s unpaid or earned media. You’ll have to provide your influencers the video, b-roll and photos they need.

  • Don’t abandon interactivity. There’s a lot that happens at a meeting that doesn’t translate to one-way webcasts. Most streaming platforms have features like chats and polls. You can and should develop seed content for these. When you run a chat channel alongside your stream, dedicate someone to answer questions and moderate Q&A for the speaker.

Design Approach Changes With the Changing Scale

With the live events industry moving to digital-first delivery, you need to work toward new goals. Space is very different in a browser tab than an arena. Everything has different proportions and scale relationships to the presenters. Broadcast design relies on different techniques to earn audience attention. Here are some ideas:

  • Express brand identity and keep viewers up to speed with a full broadcast graphics package. Borrow broadcast content techniques for your stream. A well-designed broadcast package should express the brand visually. Remember: you’ve lost all your in-venue signage. It should also give viewers the information they need about the program at a glance. Broadcast graphics serve a different function than speaker support does. They help the viewer understand the program, not the content.
 
  • Speaker support graphics move when they first appear on broadcasts. Motion is an important cue in a stream which might otherwise feature a lot of talking heads. It’s an obvious visual cue that there’s new information on screen. Make sure your speaker support moves when it enters to provide viewers that clear signal.
 
  • Think “studio” with your scenic and lighting. Live event sets are usually staged theatrically. They have a single plane of interest that the entire audience can see from wherever they sit. Another alternative to this is shooting in a complete green screen environment with pre-designed graphics settings.  This create more options but make sure your client is comfortable presenting in this format.
 
  • Video scenic gives a fresh alternative to cutting between talking heads and full-frame graphics. Add video LEDs or monitors to your scenic design to create a high-impact environment for your stream. You’ll need custom content, but the production value payoff is huge.
 
  • Previsualize your content to understand how it will appear on the stream. For stage shows, we usually previsualize one or two audience perspectives. For a webcast, we’d previsualize all camera perspectives and show how they intercut. This helps secure client buy-in during production. It also gets the whole production team on the same page before you roll into the studio.
 
  • Thoughtful sound design re-engages drifting viewers. The “breaking news” telegraph music cue has become a cliche, but think about the purpose it serves. It signals new content to active viewers, and it wins back the attention of viewers who have drifted away. You only get two senses with a webcast: sight and sound. Don’t underestimate the power of sound design. Be sure to execute it consistently and judiciously throughout your program. 

Production tactics for putting big events on small screens

Web-Streaming live events are still live events at their core. A lot of what we know about producing traditional events translates. There are new production considerations, too. Some are obvious, like cameras, switchers, and a streaming platform. Here are some others:

  • Stage presence and camera presence are not the same thing. Give your presenters someone to play to. It’s good for the presenter, and it’s good for your remote audience. An interviewer or a studio audience can help your presenters give their best performances. This also gives the remote viewer an advocate they can relate to.
 
  • Get the right gear for the gig. The broadcast sets you see on TV have come with extensive control rooms and expensive price tags. You can get much better bang-for-the-buck with a little bit of planning. Start with a solid idea of what you want to accomplish on-screen, then talk with both your AV and media vendors. They’ll help you target video systems to your needs.
 
  • Moving cameras add production value. If you’ve already invested in strong scenic for the broadcast, look at specialty cameras like jibs, JITAs, and Steadicams, too. They can add a lot of production value with sweeping shots. These shots are strongest in two scenarios: keeping visual interest high over a staging transition or studio-audience applause moment, and signaling emphasis around the delivery of a key message.
 
  • You don’t have to go live for everything. There are no do-overs for in-person live events, but that limitation does not apply with webcasts. Consider running a few performances live-to-tape. You can select the best full run for broadcast, or even edit the best takes together for maximum polish. Even if you run your main program live, you can still pre-produce some content as packages for roll-in.
 
  • Lean into the segments that are live. A little “LIVE” bug in the corner of a broadcast tells the audience that they’re seeing something fresh. If you are consistently delivering a solid program and engaging content, your audiences will overlook a flub or two. Small mistakes are authentic, everyday occurrences on broadcast television. That said, you’d be wise to have a backup plan for larger failures.

In Conclusion

The move to web-streaming delivery affects all event disciplines. We have great staging experience that we can still apply — but we must tweak our approach and layer in some vital new tools and techniques in order to best serve our clients. Collectively, we have the creativity, talent and experience to deliver key content online with the high production value and high audience engagement that our clients have come to expect.

 

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