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5 Quick Tips for More Professional Live Online Broadcasts

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Webcasting live events has become a reality for nearly every budget due to an amazing range of disruptor video hardware technology and ever-dropping service costs. I’m getting more and more requests to assist with the configuration of onsite gear in auditoriums or large conference rooms for high-quality streaming as well as with the cloud and/or CDN setup for delivery. As I’ve directed multi-camera setups for PowerPoint-style presentations to stream to internal corporate and government audiences that range from a few hundred to a few thousand, I’ve put together this list of tips to provide to organizers so they can prepare in the days and weeks leading up to the event.

Presentation Slide Layout

Instruct presenters to dedicate a consistent area of their slide layout to a picture-in-picture (PiP) overlay for their camera feed. Most webcasts have one broadcast stream (or one video player) which needs to accommodate multiple points of visual interest. For PowerPoint presentations, online audiences want to see the content being presented on the slide deck as well as the presenter’s face. While you can continuously switch back and forth between a camera view of the presenter and a video feed from the slide deck, you may need to hold longer shots of detailed slides with charts or complex data representations. PiP often keeps the energy of the presenter and the event in the frame while the visual of the slide is being discussed. If you tell presenters they’ll have more “face time” with audiences, you’ll be amazed at how quickly they’ll adopt this layout tip. Also, make sure their slide layouts have the same aspect ratio as the camera feed, typically 16x9.

Podium Lighting

Light your presenters well. Surprisingly, most event venues and smaller auditoriums have poor lighting conditions around speaker podiums for broadcast video. If you won’t have access to additional pro lighting on site, be sure to have a fast lens on your video camera. Most consumer or low-end prosumer gear will have a non-interchangeable zoom lens with a variable aperture at different focal lengths, and the tighter the zoom, the less fast a zoom lens will be. Beware, though, since additional lighting near a podium can also wash out slide presentations, especially if the podium is close to the projector screen.

Microphone Pre-Checks

Arrange time prior to the live webcast to test microphone levels with each presenter, using the specific type of microphone each presenter will use (e.g., lavalier mic, handheld mic, headset, etc.). Everyone speaks with a different loudness while presenting, so be sure to ask them to rehearse a slide or two during the test. Having proper audio levels during a webcast can be more important than having a crystal sharp focus on a presenter’s face. Always monitor your audio mixer during the presentation to make on-the-fly tweaks.

Active Microphone Feeds

Always mute microphones that are not in active use at the audio mixer console. For example, if the event MC is carrying a handheld wireless microphone on and off stage before and after introducing each speaker, mute it as soon as she/he has finished the introduction.

Hardware Redundancy

Have replacement gear readily available should you need it. To date, I’ve only had one encoder fail during an event, and thankfully our standard setup includes two simultaneous encoders pushing a primary and a backup stream to the ingest streaming server. No one was the wiser as the feed on the server automatically switched over to the backup stream.

These are just a few pointers I’ve gathered from my experiences. Perhaps the most overlooked factor is allowing enough prep time to set up and test all your gear so you can tackle the “day of” issues with clarity and calmness.

This article appears in the April/May 2017 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Quick Tips for More Professional Webcasts." 

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