Streaming Media

Streaming Media on Facebook Streaming Media on Twitter Streaming Media on LinkedIn

What Do You Need for a Successful Virtual Event?

Virtual events are here to stay, from basic one-way webinars to highly produced, interactive simulations of the in-person experience. Here's how each of the three levels of virtual event production works.

It's spring of 2022 and it has now been more than two years of dealing with Covid. Working remotely may end up a permanent thing for many companies who realized that they don't need to pay for large corporate offices and expensive cubicles and equipment if people can be just as productive at home. Meanwhile employees have enjoyed not needing to waste 2 hours a day commuting to and from work, then getting settled in to be productive. Many have also realized additional productivity as they are able to do some home tasks while "at work." 

Despite all this, companies still have a need to gather people to share information. Face-to-face collaboration still works better than Zoom. Industries still have a need to gather companies in conferences and events to introduce new products, services, showcases, and more. Hands on with the press and customer works much better than a video because each reporter has a different take on it- as opposed the one corporate view.

So, whether it be a quarterly meeting, an annual marketing show, or an industry event like CES or the International Auto Show, we still have the need for events. But how these events recognize and incorporate remote presenters and remote audiences will need to change from what we all did before COVID. There are what I call "Three Tiers of Hybrid," different ways to try and bring local and remote people together.

Companies and services mentioned here are based on my working experiences the past two years. There is no connection or compensation between any company or service mentioned here and me or this article.

Zoom and other conferencing platforms can never replicate face-to-face meetings and conferences, but they've improved their feature sets and functionality significantly in the last two years.

The High-Level Hybrid Event

In these two years I've produced completely remote productions with my own tools and cloud-based tools, I've taken feeds from and produced shows into various cloud applications like Zoom, Teams, Webex and more. And I've also produced fully hybrid events with on-site production with local presenters, local audience, as well as remote presenters and a remote audience. These fully hybrid events are where anyone remote needs to be able to speak into the room with the local audience and presenters. Any audience member needs to be able to stand up and be recognized- either in the local auditorium or the remote audience, and be seen and heard by all.

In addition, the cloud events I have produced have been more than just a "meeting" or a "seminar" they have been entire events- where the doors to get in don't get unlocked till 8 a.m. Everyone can come in, look around, and mingle with others at tables in the lobby- where instant person-to-person, face-to-face conversations can happen at these tables. It could be 2, 3, 5, or 8 people around that table. Everyone is free to move from table to table just like a real lobby. You're able to read the "Hello My Name Is" tag on whomever is at the table before you even sit down with them.

There is a separate exhibits area where vendors rent booths. They have their own tables for face-to-face mingling, answering questions, demonstrating their products. They can have their own scheduled demonstrations, seminars, literature you can click and "take home" and more. The seminars can be one track or multi-track. You can build your own schedule, or sign up for certain sessions in advance- just like a real, in-person event.

This virtual event lacks only the immersive VR that the "metaverse" portends to offer us. It happens on the computer screen in front of you and, at its most basic, is a web browser for watching videos and seminars, and chatting with others like Zoom, with sidebars for text chat as well as Q&A, polls and more interactive elements.

It takes a lot of people to manage a fully hybrid event—from registration and staffing the "ticket booth" for those who registered with a different e-mail than they are trying to use to get in, etc. There are backstage personnel operating the cloud platform to start and stop sessions, bring speakers onto stage, and even elevate any of the audience onto the stage to speak (and, if necessary, take them off when they've said enough).

If there's local production, there are onsite producers like myself who switch between multiple cameras, replace backgrounds, incorporate videos, stills, slides and other media into the "broadcast" that goes into the cloud platform either as RTMP or as a virtual camera. This detail depends on whether the local presenter would need to stand on stage next to someone who is remote. This is only possible with virtual camera ingest. We use digital voice backchannels that tie the local and remote crews together.

We make announcements over the event's "PA system," meaning pop-up alerts appear on the screen of the attendees: "Session 101 is starting," "The exhibit hall is now open," "Join us in the Arena to mingle with the leadership team at 3 p.m.," etc.  We have a run of show with separate columns for local stage, what's on IMAG locally, what's being broadcast to the cloud event platform, what announcements get posted to the whole event, what announcements get posted in each session, and what gets posted and pinned in the session chat, and more.

Full virtual event platforms like Hopin, which recently acquired Streamyard, offer a wide range of features like multiple stages, breakout rooms, "PA announcements," virtual exhibit halls, and more.

If a high-level hybrid event sounds like it takes a lot of people, that's because it's no different than a big, in-person event. That also takes a lot of people, and a lot of organization to make it all come together properly. Now it has the added wrinkle of combining two events, a cloud event and an in-person event, at the same time. Yes, it is complex.

Related Articles
So, whether it's a quarterly meeting, an annual marketing show, or an industry event like CES or the International Auto Show, we still need in-person events. But how these events recognize and incorporate remote pre­senters and remote audiences will have to change from what was done pre-COVID. The future of events is hybrid, although these hybrid events will take different forms, depending on the event size, budget, and nature and complexity of the off-site elements. There are what I call "Three Tiers of Hybrid," which represent three different ways to bring local and remote presenters and attendees together.
Sage Event Management Creative Producer Blue Melnick explains his approach to enhancing the viewing and engagement experience for in-person and remote audiences at different types of hybrid events in this clip from Streaming Media West Connect 2021.
LinkedIn's Dan Swiney, 090 Media's Alex Lindsay, Kaltura's Charlotte Copeman, and Sage Event Management's Blue Melnick offer definitions of hybrid events and what it means to produce content effectively for in-person and online live audiences simultaneously in this clip from Streaming Media West 2021.
090 Media Head of Operations discusses the value of the viewing experience for remote viewers of hybrid live events, the challenges of serving both in-person and off-site live audiences effectively, and what it means for the future of hybrid live events as currently constituted in this clip from Streaming Media West Connect 2021.
Gigcasters' Casey Charvet discusses how Gigcasters and the agencies they work with have embraced remote production and virtual and hybrid events--first out of necessity with the challenges of the pandemic, then recognizing the new possibilities and opportunities they offer.