What is the biggest challenge when organising a virtual event? Technical glitches are high up on the list when I ask this question in my workshop on organising engaging virtual events.
A year on since the pandemic first hit, we are still challenged and aggravated by poor video and sound quality, speakers that fail to connect and lack of time management. At one event I moderated, so many outside lines went down I ended up talking at length to the one guest I fortunately had in the studio. If he hadn’t been with me, we would have just had to go on a break and come back once we reconnected with our speakers.
So, how do you organise a technically glitch free event?
I recently moderated the Global Vaccine Immunization and Research Forum (GVIRF) – an event spanning three days over two continents – where all the speakers were pre-recorded. They or proxies were brought back live to answer audience and moderator questions.
If you do pre-record, speakers must keep to time. If you are pre-recording a panel discussion or interview, it must be done “as live” so that it is kept to time. If you go over, you will have to cut something else later in the programme.
Broadcasters give themselves flexibility, editing short and longer versions.
On some platforms, like VMIX, you can integrate a countdown clock so that speakers and the audience see how long is left. At the GVIRF, all of the panel moderators kept to the time that was set.
MC talk back
One of the main jobs of a Master of Ceremonies (MC) is to seamlessly link from one part of the show to the next. It helps if they get a countdown in their earpiece from a studio producer so they know how long is left in a discussion, presentation, pre-recording, video or jingle before they have to speak. At the GVIRF, I downloaded a fantastic mobile phone application called unity comms. I connected with my headphones and could hear the studio producer and talk back to him.
Studio and virtual producers
If you want a seamless and smooth event you need a producer either with you in the studio or in the moderator’s ear virtually.
At one hybrid event I moderated, the producer was in the UK while the event was in Geneva – so I ended up moderating and being the floor manager – guiding guests in and out of the recording area and giving them instructions on what camera to look into. And of course, we had the added complication of social distancing!
Virtual event companies
If you are going to stage an event of more than an hour, you need to have great in-house audiovisual support or engage a virtual event company.
Many events companies have had no option but to work virtually. However, there is a big difference between a company that knows how to do the technical set up in a hotel or conference center and one that understands how to produce virtual events like a TV programme.
At the GVIRF, I worked with Go Vivace an events company in the UK that employs people from the worlds of theatre and broadcasting. Needless to say, the event was as smooth as a BBC programme or a West End production!
Technical rehearsals with each speaker is required – do not try to cut corners on the budget on this step. It is crucial to check speakers’ background, lighting, and sound before the event.
Also make sure speakers are familiar with the platform – know how to unmute themselves and on some platforms know how to pin themselves to the live broadcast. It is best if they keep their cameras on as if they turn them off the organisers and moderator can easily think they have lost connection.
Even the CEOs of big pharma at the briefings I moderate on COVID 19 vaccines and treatments for IFPMA gave us 15 minutes of their precious time for the technical set up.
I would say this as a professional panel moderator and conference MC, but you do need someone who can keep calm and carry on whatever technical issues occur.
At a recent event recorded in a client’s office, we lost connection right at the end, between two high-level speakers. Fortunately, the quick-thinking producer switched between one computer and another so we managed to finish the programme smoothly – and on time!
Of course, the real role of an MC is to drive the narrative, connect the dots and energise and interact with the audience – more on that in next months blog!