No Second Chances, Part 2: Best Practices for Live Events

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A key tip for managing chat is to always have a dedicated webcast moderator or a community manager to manage the social stream. Be sure to have a subject matter expert available to help field questions. You need to monitor the backchannel and feed that into the main channel when it’s appropriate. See Ustream’s “Tips for Doing a Great Ustream Live Chat” for more chat best practices.

Q&A

One of the best ways to engage your audience is through Q&A. If you have both chat and Q&A, you can use a combination of the two to provide updates to the online attendees on the status of their questions, since the Q&A facilitator on stage is balancing the incoming questions from the live and remote attendees. A best practice here is to give your Q&A facilitator access to the online Q&A module through a tablet or iPad on a Wi-Fi connection, so they can scroll through the questions themselves and decide the best questions to take in the interest of time and the direction of the event. Since most webcast-producer tools are based on HTML, it should be no problem for you to test this function and make it available to your clients.

POLLS AND SURVEYS

Polls and surveys are integrated into WebEx Meeting Center, WebEx Training Center, Citrix GoToTraining, and Citrix GoToWebinar; they can be used by presenters to gather intelligence and important information and demographics of your audience. Polls can be created in advance or on-the-fly, and they can help add interactivity and audience participation for your virtual attendees. Other platforms platforms Poll Everywhere and SMS Poll can replace the traditional audience response systems by allowing live and virtual attendees to submit their responses using their mobile devices. Real-time data can be shared on screen so that all attendees can see the responses. And don’t forget that you can launch a survey using any of the popular survey platforms, such as SurveyMonkey, to capture feedback from your online audience.

GET SOCIAL

While it’s been a bit of struggle for compliance and legal departments to see the value of social media in a corporate webcast, many younger employees disagree and are connected on social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare, to stay updated and post their own updates. Many webcast platforms incorporate the ability to make Facebook comments into the social stream and allow you to embed your webcast and chat on your corporate website.

Some platforms, such as SnappyTV, have integrated with Twitter to give users the ability to edit video highlights of a live stream in the cloud and create real-time video promotional messages through social media channels. SnappyTV CEO and co-founder Mike Folgner says that people have a short attention span for live events, and social media helps bring in social interaction. “One thing we saw is that every video has 100 stories,” says Folgner. “But it’s not just about the highlights, it’s about how you’re distributing and who’s your audience.”

GET MOBILE

Corporations are adapting to the changing environment, as mobile devices replace desktops. Many platforms and enterprise streaming products -- such as Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite Recorder and Polycom RealPresence Capture Stations -- now have mobile delivery, either through Apple HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) or a mobile-ready version that works on iPhones, iPads, and other mobile devices. Survey your audience to find out how many people will join your live event through a mobile device to determine if you should go that route. You might be surprised at how many more people would attend if you give them the flexibility and the choice to go mobile.

TRACK ATTENTIVENESS

Some platforms, such as WebEx, provide a real-time tool to track the attentiveness of your online audience, which is great tool to see if people are multitasking or paying attention. Some sessions can achieve a 75% attentiveness rate with live video and real-time chat. You can see the meter go up and down and use that data to develop your future presentations to help keep people tuned in.

Studies have show that using a variety of media types can keep online viewers attention.

Platforms such as WebEx provide a real-time tool to track the attentiveness of your online audience.

Real-World Video Strategies

But what about the live and on-demand video generated by the event? Here are some best practices for making sure your video delivers maximum value for your audience and maximum ROI for your client.

RECORD IN HD AND CREATE CHAPTERS

The best practice for on-demand video is to record and archive your live webcast or web conference for immediate replay, and record in HD so you can edit the event into chapters and short sound bites for later use.

Harvey Louie, technical director, producer, and consultant of the webcasting company Event Compression Group, works with his clients in advance to plan out file segments.

“We always like to get an agenda for every room we webcast or do digital presentation capture in,” says Louie. “Adobe Flash H.264 F4V files made with Adobe’s Flash Media Live Encoder (FMLE 3.2) can not be edited down to clips. With an agenda in hand, we can make plans to start and stop and encoder to create session clips.”

Event Compression Group runs concurrent encoders for redundant backup recording and streaming. Louie always captures video at the highest quality before it gets encoded.

“One of my primary tools on all webcast jobs is to use Microsoft’s Windows Media Encoder 9 to make high-quality, high-speed archive files that can be edited down into clips natively in Windows,” says Louie. “In HD we make 1280x720 files encoded at 1500 Kbps or higher, then transcode these file into .mp4 files using Handbrake or Freemake transcoding apps in 2x to 4x faster than real-time. Adobe F4V files can also be transcoded into .mp4 video files, and using Handbrake, [you can] selectively pick precise start and end edit points in the master file to render out a finished .mp4 end file.”

TO HD OR NOT HD? THAT IS THE QUESTION...

While you’ll want HD for the archival version of your event video, you’ll likely want to stay away from it for the live feed. Bandwidth is always a concern in the real world, as TalkPoint’s Balletta says, and while HD video quality is great, it’s not going to make it through corporate firewalls and proxy servers. So what the audience sees from a video encoding perspective is bitrates of 150Kbps to 500Kbps, with most events clocking in at 300Kbps.

“At the end of the day, we’re in a mission-critical, actionable, information environment where the messaging is more important than the pixelation on the video,” Balletta says. “People are watching video on their computers, so although HD video and HD cameras are great, in the enterprise, it doesn’t really bode well.”

Also, depending where you’re at, you could experience a significant bottleneck trying to get your stream out of the venue and up to the cloud, and then back down to your online viewers. So be sure to test the network to see what it can yield to get the best end-to-end live streaming experience.

What Works Best

As we’ve seen, you can combine several platforms to create hybrid events that are live and captured for on-demand viewing, which can extend your reach:

  • Webcast, WebEx, and videoconference
  • Keynotes and plenary sessions
  • Leadership and project updates
  • Moderated exhibitor preshow content
  • Facilitated breakout sessions

You also can create special online-only content and features for your online audience to keep them engaged and coming back for more:

  • Highlight reels
  • Real-time commentary
  • Attendee chat and Q&A
  • Social media streams

A few more parting tips before going live:

  • Set a lockdown on your shows no later than 45 minutes before start time; accept no changes after lockdown begins
  • Do station and facility checks at 30 minutes before each show
  • Make sure you have the final set of slides for rehearsal; avoid last-minute slide changes whenever possible
  • Hire a stage manager whenever there’s a stage
  • Go over stage direction with presenters, as well as transitions, camera blocking, and short answers
  • Do a run-through of the slides with the clients, tech rehearsal with all elements
  • Have your clients proof all titles and on-screen lower thirds
  • Always wire the stage for computer and audio connections
  • Apply makeup to presenters who’ll be captured on HD video
  • Train your mic runners on how to get people to speak into the microphones
  • Watch mic placement so that jewelry or clothing doesn’t muffle or hit the mic
  • Test all microphones
  • Monitor all your feeds: webcast, web conference, videoconference, and telephone
  • Restart computers and free up RAM

In closing, the take-home messages are simple: hire the experts, focus on your business model, and create great content to engage and retain your audience.

This article appears in the August/September 2013 issue of Streaming Media magazine as " No Second Chances: Best Practices for Live Events in the Enterprise, Part 2."

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