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How LinkedIn and Lockheed Martin Produce Virtual and Hybrid Events

When the pandemic hit, organizations such as LinkedIn and Lockheed Martin had to quickly adapt to switching over events and internal meetings to primarily virtual setups. In this panel from Streaming Media West 2022, Andy Howard, Founder & Managing Director, Howard & Associates, talks with Dan Swiney, Head of Media Engineering, LinkedIn, and Eric Hards, Creative Director, Space, Lockheed Martin, about how their approach to producing virtual and hybrid events has evolved over the last three years.

“What happened at LinkedIn when you basically had to go to fully virtual events?” Howard asks Swiney.

“We always had a virtual element to it, but it wasn't the primary,” Swiney says. “So we would do our internal biweekly CEO address to the whole company. There was a streaming element, and then there was an in-person piece. When Covid hit, it became fully virtual, both from an audience perspective, a production perspective, and a talent perspective. Everybody was virtual, as we all know.”

Swiney discusses the different approaches that LinkedIn took for presenting virtual events for internal teams and external audiences. “We simplified and we went to a solution that basically did everything in the cloud. At the time we were using BlueJeans, to do very basic production by anyone’s standards. The talent was coming in over BlueJeans and then the audience watched a streamed version. For our external, we essentially were using LinkedIn Live for that piece. So in comparison to hybrid, that came next in a way, while the transition to fully virtual was tricky because you had to get buy-in from everybody that this was okay, both from a production standpoint and from a technology standpoint, which is where we did hit some of our limitations [with the] number of people joining these streams. Once we had it figured out, it was easy…so we got into a really good rhythm of fully virtual. We felt very satisfied and very happy with what we were producing.”

Howard asks, “Is the production piece of it kind of the same for whether you're doing it internally or if you're going external with LinkedIn Live? Or is it different workflows?”

Swiney replies that they used StreamYard for their capture to bring in the talent, and their crew was dialed in to control it. “Essentially the same idea, where everything's done with one tool instead of us piecing tools together,” he says. “The audience wasn't watching on StreamYard, but for both sides of things, it just became all cloud-based, essentially.”

Howard asks Eric Hards from Lockheed about their approaches to virtual and hybrid, asking if he should set up Lockheed’s presentation slides for the panel. Hards says to go ahead, then explains Lockheed’s initial handling of the situation when Covid hit. “Previous to Covid, most of our events were in-person with a camera,” he says. “So we would webcast if you couldn't be there and it was primarily just watching whatever was happening on stage. Not a whole lot was put into the experience for the virtual audience. I work for our Space Division, and we have a yearly gathering of our executives and their direct reports, which has always been in-person… suddenly, in fact, the week before COVID hit was the week we gave it in-person, and then the lockdown happened. And so we spent the next year trying to figure out how we would do this and engage the audience.”

The Lockheed Martin slide presentation begins, and Hards says, “So that first image that you see was taking a large conference room and turning it into a giant green screen studio so that we could turn it into something more engaging. And then we did things like we hired a streaming company that was awesome, except the stream wouldn't come through the firewall. So lesson learned number one! We had to abandon that three weeks before we went live because I was the first person to say maybe I should check this before we go live…and we said we're going to do Zoom webinars. So we did that, but then we found we had presenters in multiple locations who weren't attending the event. So you can kind of see in one of those images that we have Zooms within Zooms, so they're Zooming in, and then we're Zooming them back out in the studio again, so that was a fun learning experience by all means!”

Lockheed Martin’s complications with live events didn’t stop there. Hards emphasizes that the constantly changing pandemic situation only further necessitated quick adaptations. “As we rolled around to last year, it was going to be in-person because things were looking good, and then it was like, oh, it can't be in-person because things were not looking good, so it was going to be virtual,” he says. “And they said, ‘Oh, except our executives want to be there.’ So now it's hybrid. So we plan the entire event to go from in-person to fully virtual to hybrid, which, if you click the slide one more, you can get a feel for it. So that event was offsite. So as you can see, there's a stage because we were going to be in-person. I designed the whole background so that we can really engulf the audience, which we didn't have, but the executives were there.”

Hards says that no matter how sophisticated Lockheed Martin got with their attempts for seamless hybrid productions, there were still aspects out of their control. “We ran into things like checking bandwidth at hotels,” he says. “That was always fun when they make promises they can't complete. So we went from that, trying to do it ourselves in that green screen environment, to bringing in vendors to try and do it externally.” Now, he says, things have almost come full circle. “This year, we're going to try and do it in-person. Interestingly enough, [there's] not a lot of discussion around making it virtual for anyone.”

Learn more about virtual and hybrid event production at Streaming Media East 2023.

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