Speaking to a lot of our clients in the last few months the virtual event market is a bit of a minefield and is tricky to navigate. With end users, agencies and suppliers having to take a drastic change of direction since COVID19 pushed the pause button on in person events. There is a huge choice over platforms out there and all have various pros and cons. From simply watching a stream on YouTube to the fully interactive and customised platforms, with many springing up overnight. Agencies are having a hard time interpreting clients requirements, given that clients virtual experience is often based around zoom meetings. But my advice would be don’t get paralysed by the platform! 

Before I go any further, I understand there will always be a place for zoom, teams etc, these are excellent meeting tools and moving forward will hopefully reduce some of the unnecessary corporate travel. But what I am talking about here, are high end virtual events, where screen sharing, constant muting and unmuting of mics doesn’t cut it!  

In my opinion there is a huge role for agencies, suppliers and crew in delivering virtual events. As you can argue virtual needs even more focus on production and creative in order to deliver a slick and captivating event. Rehearsal and tech checks for virtual can take even longer than a physical event and it is often overlooked how much planning and resource is required. Remote presenters are so disconnected from the production, communication and planning is key to success. Getting presenters connected to the studio can take time and requires patience. That connectivity of the presenter to the event is vital, at a minimum they need a real time view of their content and a virtual clicker. Other considerations: how do they see audience questions, do they need notes, do they need a countdown clock to keep them to time? All things that need to be considered and planned for, to put them at ease and ensure their delivery is their focus. 

This leads me on to something I think needs addressing which is the art of streaming. As mentioned, there are a huge number of virtual platforms out there, all with their own nuisances and pros and cons. No doubt this is distracting as people try and find a solution that does everything. We need to start with the brief and take time to assess the objectives and level of interaction before selecting the correct platform, don’t start with the technology first!

There has been a lot of talk about hybrid events, but here’s the challenge for everyone: What works in a physical event doesn’t necessarily work virtually. Think content, duration, networking, breaks etc. Maybe a real positive from COVID is that we as an industry will really raise our game on content and engagement. For too long we have relied on PowerPoint decks and maybe a few videos to break it up. Presenters will have developed new skills. What does your resting face say about you, we have never thought and studied ourselves so hard! We will learn new skills and develop new technology. If you’re captivating online then imagine that power when face to face resumes, when we combine these new skills with the energy and atmosphere of live.

But in the virtual world, the stream is where the magic happens. This is what will make or break the event from the audience perspective, the content has to be interesting and engaging. A talking head and a PowerPoint deck isn’t going to do it! In a live physical event you have the audiences attention, when they are remote you have to fight to earn it. Presenters dropping in and out and hard to read slides are going to turn your audience off. Even if it’s an internal comms event and the staff are being paid to be there! We still have a lot of work to do on the production standards and this will be hugely helped when presenter can start to come in to physical studios.

Sound is so important and often over looked. The downside of purely software based streaming solutions, is that you don’t get separate audio send and receives with your remote presenters. Having the ability to adjust the EQ on the incoming feed and also comms from the producer with presenters is key to a slick show. Other issues such as latency and lip sync need to be considered. Comms with presenters and also crew is vital, we use a system called Unity which means the remote production team can communicate in the same way traditional comms works. In the lockdown this has been vital as often the production team and studio are scattered around the country.

Like a live event you need to have skilled operators in place that give you the ability to act quickly.  We have the option of sending out presenter packages with broadcast cameras, panel lights, mic, green screen and even a 4G encoding box to send the stream back to the studio. We can even send PTZ cameras that we can control from the studio. But you still need the crew to make this happen, all the traditional skill sets are needed (thankfully!) Showcaller, producer GFX Op, sound engineer, switching op. But now the webcast engineer has a vital role. Managing getting your remote presenters in to the studio and monitoring the stream output. Whether using vmix or Skype TX servers this is a pressured role, communicating constantly with the Showcaller and presenters. What happens if a remote presenters home internet falls over, what’s the backup plan? These are things that need to be planned for so the team can react quickly. Do you have a host on standby to fill while you get the remote presenter back, have you got an audio comms line with all presenters just in case. Or do you have pre recorded ad breaks you can cut to, to keep the audience attention. 

We always send a main and backup stream with auto fail over. We also have the option of running a bonded 4G backup in the unlikely event our 1GB leased line should encounter difficulties. Again, just like live we are always trying to mitigate the risk.  

We are not a creative agency! But what we do is work with agencies to deliver their content and concept with the best technology. We have now built 3 levels of streaming studios at PSP, dependent on the requirements. If you have any streaming requirements, then please do get in touch with us, we would be delighted to support you. 

David Woodcock – Director

David has been with PSP for 17 years and heads up our projects team and is integral in the operations of the business. Looking after a portfolio of his own clients, his specialisms lie within the sports, travel and financial services events industries.