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No Second Chances, Part 2: Best Practices for Live Events
Businesses are increasingly depending on live event streaming. For expert tips on how to pull them off like a pro, read the second part of our series.
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Live events in the enterprise often include an online component such as a web conference or webcast to a targeted audience within the corporate intranet. Webcasting tools have become easier to use, and, with the development of interactive and social media tools, they’ve evolved from one-way broadcasts into two-way conversations. But just because you have myriad bells and whistles at your disposal doesn’t mean you have to use every one for every event. as i said in Part 1 of my article, “the key is to use the right technology to make it easy to reach the live audience and virtual attendees and provide them a quality and worthwhile experience.”

Back in the early days, webcasting was more of a novelty with a poor end-user experience, says Nick Balletta, CeO of TalkPoint. But today, webcasting live events may finally be reaching a tipping point.

“We see webcasting more as a business tool, a workflow tool,” says Balletta. “Years ago it was something nice to do, but now it’s become a critical part of people’s businesses. Now it’s either driving revenues, supporting their brand, or communicating with their different constituencies, whether they be shareholders, clients, employees. We also see a trend towards much more adoption of video, both [in terms of] making it easier to view and easier to present.”

The Medium Is the Message

We’ve already established that you need the right team with the right tools and the right capabilities at your live event venue. But what are the secret tricks to creating an engaging experience for your audience with streaming video, audio, graphics, and real-time interaction to move them from passive viewers to active participants?

If you only take away only one thing from this article, remember this tip: Don’t let your online audience be an afterthought. You need to cater to their needs by making their experience as engaging as the live audience’s, but in a different way.

Waiting for the big event to begin, in person and online.

Look no further than popular culture to see what "American Idol" has done to capture its live audience. The producers were deliberate with their intent, because they knew that the real show was on the screens of millions of TV viewers; it was not for the hundreds of people in the live audience. They didn’t skimp on production value, and, from the start, they introduced an audience response text-to-vote system that gave the audience the power to influence the outcome of the show.

Just think: What if you put that capability into the hands of your online audience? We’d be able to vote off every boring presenter known to mankind!

Corporate communications departments are seeing the shift as well. Donn Kanagaki, senior manager of IT communications at Kaiser Permanente, oversees the employee outreach events for the CIO and senior IT leadership, which incorporate a combination of a live event, webcast, WebEx, and telephone bridge in order to reach more than 6,000 employees across five time zones. About one-third of the IT employees are able to attend the event live via webcast, but the online numbers are growing. Kanagaki says, “We have to recognize that the majority of our employees that participate are watching online, so we need to look at ways to better engage them.”

While Kaiser Permanente CIO Phil Fasano addresses an in-person audience of several hundred, the live webcast reaches thousands of employees who can watch the event online and submit questions directly to the CIO and senior leaders.

In the words of Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message,” and the message can be delivered more effectively using the latest interactive technologies. You may have to use a hybrid approach with a combination of tools based on the capabilities of your webcast or webconferencing platform. Beyond content design, it really does comes down to pushing the limits of any platform and streaming technology to achieve the best two-way experience for your attendees and yourself.

TELL A STORY

The plain and simple fact is that no technology, however great it is, can make a boring presenter better. You have to design your presentation to the right audience using the best set of tools and production value to carry your message. But beyond any technology, presenters need to connect with their audience.

All the great presenters, from Steve Jobs to Gary Vaynerchuk to Isabel Allende, use storytelling to convey their messages. People respond to personal stories because they convey emotion and a universal message.

According to Tim Schmoyer, producer of The Reel Web for Reelseo.com and one of the most diversely skilled and knowledgeable people in the online video space, storytelling is important and the best way to get your message across. “Stories are something that everyone enjoys and appreciates, and there’s an emotional connection to stories,” says Schmoyer. “What we really believe in is that stories are much more compelling, especially if you can tell a story that answers the ‘why?’ question.”

We use our words to carry our message, but, as with all social media tools, words only go so far, because ultimately people want to see you. Faces show emotion, and our body language tells the rest of the story. We’re used to seeing things visually through television and movies.

Think about how we watch movies. We’re used to more sophisticated viewing experiences, because that’s what we grew up seeing. We know what a close-up is, we see multiple camera angles, and we can hear the dialogue.

So what better way to tell a story and connect with your online audience than by video and audio? But the question comes down to budget: Can you afford video? How does that impact your budget? How much return on investment does it bring?

Let’s look at how the current webcast tools we can help us increase engagement of our online attendees.

Interactive Tools to Increase Audience Engagement

VIDEO

It may seem as if this one goes without saying, but in fact, it must be said: Sometimes, you really have to sell your clients on the value of video to get them to invest in it. For online video marketers, this is a no-brainer. We all know that video increases audience engagement, and live video creates even greater engagement. Keep in mind that the camera can zoom in and get close-ups and a variety of shots that the live audience can’t see, and this allows your online audience to achieve a greater connection to those on camera.

Look at any TED talk video, and you’ll see multiple camera angles, because they strive to create an engaging and cinematic experience. They’ve even developed a guide for would-be TED video producers that speaks to the value of multiple camera shots.

Also, from a business perspective, a report by Polycom and Wainhouse Research that surveyed almost 5000 users worldwide found that 94% of the respondents said that “increased efficiency and productivity is the #1 benefit of video.” Additionally, video increased the impact of discussions by 88% and accelerated decision making by 87%. See the report and infographic.

You can use these resources when you’re trying to sell your clients on video and describing the value that multiple cameras bring to an event. Of course, they’ll focus on cost, but you’ll have to remind them that every expense is adding value.

AUDIO

Always strive for great audio. Make sure that your webcast audio feed is clean and audible, and test every microphone. You’ll lose your audience with bad audio. Use fresh batteries for wireless microphones, and give your audio engineers enough time to deal with any wireless frequency interference when you’re at a new venue. Also, be sure to test with any remote presenters, because in most all cases, they won’t have a sophisticated audio setup like you have at the host site, and it’s likely that they’ll use a headset microphone or even a telephone connection. Nobody wants to listen to bad audio, and they’ll abandon ship quickly if audio problems persist.

According to Casey Wilms, product manager at Zencoder, audio can be more important than video. “The best practice from an audio production side is to manage how you’re placing the microphones and the tools you’re using to capture the audio,” says Wilms. “The best step you can take is to provide the audio in a really high quality format to either a cloud or local encoding solution.”

Kaiser Permanente uses Cisco’s WebEx Livestream webcast platform, which can stream in Windows Media at bitrates as low as 150Kbps in an enterprise network environment. 

This is outlined in Zencoder’s white paper “Encoding for Quality: How to Deliver the Best Online Video Experience Every Time,” which states that “the differences between good and bad audio encoders are even more pronounced than those among video encoders. The AAC audio codec, offering higher efficiency than MP3, has become the dominant choice of video publishers.”

PRESENTATION CONTENT

Keep your online audience’s attention by using slide builds and refer to the graphic as it changes on screen. Use video clips to capture people’s attention and trigger the discussion. One tip for presenters is to mention what’s on screen, whether it’s a picture or slide data points. That will make multitaskers click back to look at the slide.

The online audience won’t see the dramatic lighting changes and big screen experience that the live audience in the main hall sees, but they will be able to watch the same video at the same time, and more likely have better control of the picture and sound, both of which can be adjusted on-the-fly.

CHAT

While not all webcast platforms allow for two-way chat, and may be limited to one-way Q&A, you can have a highly interactive experience with your attendees using the chat feature. Platforms such as WebEx allow you to manage chat between attendees and your presenters, host and panelists, and other platforms such as Ustream and Livestream integrate Facebook, Twitter, and real-time chat.

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