Most event professionals agree that including a virtual component in their meetings and conferences offers distinct advantages over a strictly in-person event. However, for many planners, a fully virtual conference is merely a backup plan if meeting in person is not possible. Even setting aside unexpected circumstances such as weather events or travel restrictions, there are logistical, economic, and environmental benefits to offering remote attendees access to your event.
The upshot? Virtual conference engagement is here to stay. With that said, there is a steep learning curve for planners who may be inexperienced with virtual conference production best practices.
When in-person conferences were the norm, event organizers could rely on AV teams to ensure that on-stage presentations went smoothly. Plenary sessions were mostly handled by the speakers themselves. Now that many events have pivoted to a virtual format, organizers have to take a more hands-on role in managing the quality of their live sessions and organizing the entire run of show.
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Conference live streaming technology has come a long way since the glorified Zoom calls of 2020. Attendees now expect virtual content to be as engaging as in-person presentations—or better. In an increasingly competitive online virtual event landscape, failing to captivate them with professional, polished live stream production means they might not be back next time.
In this post, we’ll cover
- What is a virtual conference?
- The real cost of failing to invest in your virtual conference production
- Why the time is right to upgrade your live streaming technology
- 12 virtual events best practices for TV-level production at virtual conferences and events
- The benefits of a virtual event producer
What is a Virtual Conference? Our Definition
A virtual conference or event is an organized gathering of individuals that occurs entirely or almost entirely online.
Successful virtual conferences use audio and visual technology along with a sophisticated event app to connect people who attend and present at the event.
Virtual conferences can bring together people who live in different parts of the world, allowing them to participate in talks, networking, and workshops with people they’d never meet otherwise.
A hybrid event is similar to a virtual conference, but it brings in elements of an in-person event as well. For example, there may be limited in-person tickets offered at a higher price, or a business may use the virtual side of the event to bring in people who aren’t able to travel to the venue.
The Cost of Low-Quality Live Streams at a Virtual Conference
According to recent EventMB research, engagement was ranked the highest challenge when it comes to virtual conferences; event planners also cited the inability to match onsite engagement value as one of their biggest frustrations with virtual event tech. Why is this such a problem?
Streaming services like Netflix and educational series like TED Talks have set a high bar when it comes to consuming content online. Production quality makes it easier for people to pay attention and stay engaged. A virtual event on Zoom that consists of two poorly lit speakers in their living rooms talking to each other may as well be a podcast — at least then you can walk the dog. To host a successful virtual conference, planners must go out of their way to make sure they have top-notch streaming video quality, and that technical errors don’t cause people to tune out before they get anything of value out of the event.
Virtual event competition.
Virtual events need to be able to compete with both distractions at home and the many other events available. The virtual event marketplace has removed barriers to entry, and competition from other online content—much of which is free—is rising. Virtual conference planners need to differentiate from the deluge of online content, and high-quality production is a key point of differentiation.
Event brand credibility.
Similarly, with new events popping up, attendees are looking for a way to determine which content is the most authoritative. A professional-looking stream on a dedicated virtual events platform can convey the sense of professionalism you need to separate yourself from the chaff. The last thing you want is for your brand to look unprofessional or unpolished.
The Race Is on for Better Virtual Conference Live Streaming
So what exactly has the competition been doing, and how can you keep up—or even lead the pack?
Just as event technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years, many event professionals are adapting just as quickly.
While recent EventMB research shows that engagement continues to be the top challenge for virtual event organizers, more and more seem to be closing the gap. Less than a quarter (24%) of respondents cited engagement as their biggest challenge in Q2 of 2021, as compared with over a third (36%) in Q4 of 2020.
Several other positive trends are also gaining momentum in the virtual conference space. Fewer and fewer of EventMB’s respondents now think of virtual event tech as “untested”. Similarly, only 9% said that “lack of tech knowledge” was their biggest challenge (compared with 21% less than a year ago). Additionally, more than twice as many planners said that their own virtual events exceeded their expectations.
What’s the Secret to Virtual Event Success?
What happened to account for this growing sense of success? Was it simply a question of event planners adjusting to new technology? That is without a doubt part of the answer, but there is more to it than that. Event planners can’t be expected to raise the quality of their virtual conferences without having the budget to match.
Returning to EventMB’s survey, the number of respondents relying on free virtual event tech went from 14% in Q3 of 2020 to merely 9% in Q2 of 2021. In other words, it looks like many event planners — and the finance departments who set their budgets — heeded the warnings about ‘Zoom gloom.’
What’s more, the number willing to spend $15,000 USD (or more) showed a 70% increase. Almost a quarter of respondents now fall into this top category, compared with only 14% less than a year ago.
How to Budget for Better Virtual Event Technology
All these advances may sound encouraging, but the reality is that not all event planners can afford this level of expense.
In fact, a growing number of EventMB’s survey respondents cite their budget as their biggest challenge — even as they report higher attendance numbers and less trouble securing sponsorships.
How, then, can event planners balance rising event technology costs against their virtual conference revenue?
The answer will ultimately be a matter of finding the right technology to meet their event’s needs. The biggest, most established event organizers might be able to afford professional live stream production services. For many others, however, self-service live stream production may be the best solution.
What Is Self-Service Live Stream Production?
Self-service live stream production software like EventMobi Studio makes it easy to produce professional-quality live streams right in your browser.
Fully integrated with your event platform, the Studio lets you put together your livestream session in just a few clicks. The platform sets up your RTMP streaming connection for you, so you don’t have to worry about copying and pasting URLs into a third-party application. At the same time, you maintain full control over the entire look and feel of your show. Need to juggle multiple speakers and add visual effects? Just toggle simple buttons on and off. Everything is designed in an easy-to-understand visual format, so you don’t need any technical expertise to run a successful virtual conference.
12 Virtual Events Best Practices for TV-Level Production
In a recent EventMobi webinar, Live Streaming Made Easy: How to Create On-Brand and On-Budget Virtual Events, we explained how self-service livestream production works — and we covered several fundamental best practices for online conferences.
Here are 12 highlights from the event that will ensure your virtual conference engagement sets your virtual event apart.
1. Assess your virtual conference engagement needs
Are you running a one-off stakeholder’s meeting with someone in the background taking minutes? Or are you delivering sponsored sessions with a variety of speakers, whose contributions will live on as on-demand content after the event?
If you are planning the former, it may not be worth it to invest in a heavily branded, professionally produced broadcast. However, if it is the latter, you may want to use a self-service live stream production platform, or work with a team of pros. These options will help you achieve a production level that will stand the test of time and do the content justice.
The event is
- Fully live
- Single track, solo speaker
You don’t need:
- Branded content
- To showcase sponsors
- Advanced production elements
You are planning:
- Multi-track, single or multi-day event
- Multi-speaker presentations
- Large number of attendees
- Branded content
- To showcase sponsors
- To have control over the final content
- Finalize Agenda
- Speaker prep & technical assessment
- Edit videos
- Speaker review (if required)
- Create show flow
- Dry run/rehearsal
- Day of (Geen Rooms)
- Add videos to app post-event
2. Give yourself enough time
While virtual events can take months to plan, many have had to pivot in a time crunch. Many businesses take months to plan virtual events—others are less lucky, having to pivot to a hybrid event with short notice due to unexpected circumstances. Time and budget are also important factors in determining whether TV-level production is a priority—even if you’re hoping for an in-person-only event, it’s a good idea to have a contingency plan to create high-quality virtual content if needed.
As a virtual conference best practice, we recommend that you try to give yourself at least one month to ensure you have enough time to check all the boxes:
- Finalize your agenda and design your show flow
- Gather assets
- Prep speakers, moderators, and sponsors
- Capture any pre-recorded content
- Edit pre-recorded videos
- Conduct at least one dry run—and not at the last minute
- Refine your run of show
- Ensure you are fully prepared from a technical standpoint
If you’re not sure how to handle each of these steps in a virtual or hybrid context, don’t worry. We’ll cover them individually below.
3. Set the stage for success with a thorough show flow
Once you’ve figured out your agenda with an outline of session topics, it’s important to start developing your show flow — aka your run of show — as soon as possible.
Ideally, a virtual event best practice is that your show flow should not only provide a detailed timeline for each stage of your livestream but also act as a project management tool for your entire virtual conference. That means it should include a list of your speakers and their titles, a list of sponsors and their assets, as well as your plan for engagement tactics like live polls and gamification.
To make sure you start off on the right foot, EventMobi’s team of production experts is making their Virtual Event Show Flow Template available to download. This template is an essential resource for the team over the past year as they produce hundreds of virtual events every year with audiences ranging from 200 attendees at a private event to over 5,000 registrants at major public conferences.
Designed for event organizers, the template includes:
- Responsive Project Timeline and Task List
- Green Room Checklist with Backstage Tips
- Charts for Tracking Speakers and Sponsors
- Classic Event Show Flow with Time Tracker
4. Gather assets to ensure you have the best-branded visuals
Make sure you have high-resolution graphics for any branded slides, lower thirds, overlays, and transitions well ahead of time.
EventMobi Studio, for example, allows you to choose from a variety of pre-set graphics, or to add your own. If you are not using self-service live stream production software, a technical producer can help you collect these resources and make sure they are to spec.
You’ll also want to share all of these specs with sponsors well in advance, so they have ample time to give you their logos, overlay graphics, and video clips. Use both images and video clips liberally to visually stimulate the audience so that they’re not staring at a talking head for extended periods of time. Take a page from newscasts that use cutaways and statistics to break up shots of the news reporter.
Strong, clear images on screen also provide opportunities for attendees to screenshot the event and share it on social media.
5. Prep speakers and rehearse your virtual event
Virtual event planners are not the only ones struggling with the learning curve of virtual events. Speakers, sponsors, moderators, and event participants are all adapting to a new format together. This makes for a perfect storm of potential glitches.
Before you can launch your virtual conference, you have to ask questions like,
- Are speakers using reliable mics?
- Are sponsored talks happening in well-lit rooms?
- Do the moderators have reliable internet connections?
Rehearsing your virtual event is a great way to identify these and many other issues that would make for a less-than-smooth experience during the live event. Test each speaker’s set-up. Make sure all the slides are in order, and that everyone knows where they are supposed to be and when.
6. Support speaker and moderator virtual event setup
Grainy video is not going to cut it for professional livestream content. EventMobi’s GoLive production team recommends that your speakers use a webcam with a resolution of 720p to 1080p, as well as a microphone (headphones are especially good for cutting background noise and avoiding an echo from other speakers).
The equipment doesn’t need to be expensive; a $20 mic will go a long way to improving audio quality. Lighting is also important. An inexpensive LED light behind the speaker’s monitor will make sure speakers are well-lit. Alternatively, ask your speakers to sit facing a well-lit window. And above all, ask them to avoid backlighting—there is nothing worse than a speaker who looks like a shadowy silhouette.
Our Virtual Show Flow Template includes a handy “green room checklist” that reminds you to double-check all of these elements. Alternatively, a professional producer can be a great asset when it comes to the dry run and speaker/moderator checks as they will know what to look for, field any of the more technical questions that come up, and make suitable recommendations.
For those who use EventMobi to host a virtual or hybrid event, you’ll have access to our GoLive! Professional production team. They’ll handle all the virtual streaming aspects of the event, and work with your live AV team to make you can easily record and/or broadcast any in-person events for your virtual audience.
7. Double-check your platform’s technical limitations
Unfortunately, your virtual event technology may not work as well on the day of your event as it does during rehearsals. That’s because each new attendee joining your live event means a new internet connection plugging into the platform, which in turn puts a higher burden on your servers. Can your virtual event tech platform actually handle the volume of attendees logging in simultaneously, streaming video, submitting Q&A, and engaging in chat?
You may not be able to do a trial that will match the attendance levels you’re expecting for the event itself, but you can ask your service provider what their maximum capacity is. Be sure to account for the extra data load caused by additional attendee activity like chat comments.
Tip: If you are close to the max number of attendees your platform can handle, avoid prompting your audience to comment in the chat all at once. (For example, try not to ask, “Where is everyone tuning in from?”)
For added assurance, ask your provider for statistics on their platform’s downtime. The EventMobi Virtual Events Platform, for example, guarantees an uptime of 99.9% in its Service Level Agreement (SLA) — and to date, it has never failed to meet this promise.
It’s also a good idea to use a platform that allows you to require a login from your attendees, even if the event is free. That way, you don’t have to worry about being surprised by 3 times more visitors than you were expecting based on registration numbers.
8. Take advantage of prerecorded and simulive sessions
One way to guarantee that a session looks great and runs smoothly is to pre-record it and incorporate it into your live event. This will give you an opportunity to incorporate more visuals and cut or redo elements that contain errors. With EventMobi Studio, for example, you can record your branded speaker sessions at any point prior to the live event.
You can even pre-record the heavier session content and follow it with a live segment such as a Q&A. “Simulive” content delivery refers to this hybrid of live and pre-recorded content within a given session. Use a separate slide—like the speakers’ contact information or even a sponsored message—to cover any visual disruption when transitioning from the pre-recorded section to the live engagement.
Pre-recorded content also allows you to run concurrent sessions without assigning additional producers to each stream. If you don’t have concurrent sessions at your virtual conference, you’ll have extra time to set up the next live portion of the show, queue up live speakers, and give those working in the background a break.
9. Use engagement features and a variety of virtual event formats and layouts
Similar to the point above, avoid leaving your audience to watch the same speaker split-screen for hours on end. Shake it up with engagement features like live polls, a Q&A section, and an active live chat panel. It’s also a virtual event best practice to use different layouts and arrangements of visual elements, like overlays, lower thirds, backgrounds, slides, and charts.
Your Virtual Show Flow can help you to keep track of all these moving parts, so your live stream producer can follow a simple checklist of the day of the event. A professional producer can also offer valuable insights into your options and how to execute the most visually engaging layouts and transitions. Here is an example of what a little production help can accomplish:
10. Use a virtual green room to coordinate virtual event speakers
Just like in a live, in-person event, virtual event organizers need to be able to prep and coordinate with their speakers, communicate any changes, and make sure they’re ready when they need to be.
A green room is a virtual space that is not part of the standard live broadcast where speakers can wait off-screen or move ‘backstage.’ It takes its name from the backstage waiting rooms at live theatres, which are traditionally referred to as ‘green rooms.’
EventMobi Studio, for example, allows the livestream producer to move speakers backstage at any time. Additionally, the Private Chat feature means that speakers, moderators, and producers can communicate privately at any point during the session.
11. Consider a virtual venue for higher event production quality
You may be wondering,
“What is a virtual venue?”
A virtual venue is a studio or space set up specifically for the purpose of hosting your virtual event or for pre-recording event content. Virtual venues are typically run by AV companies or virtual event tech providers, so they come furnished with the right AV infrastructure to create and broadcast high-quality, professional content.
Virtual venues and virtual event studios are good alternatives if you want a more professional live stream without the risks or investments associated with setting up a studio yourself, and they almost always provide consultative services or direct virtual event production support.
12. Be strategic about CTAs and data collection
While a professional-looking event should be one of your top priorities, it’s also important to think like a marketing director. What is the key CTA for each of your sessions, and what sorts of visual elements will you use to promote it? Make sure your virtual event Show Flow keeps track of all these elements for each live stream session.
Additionally, are you using a virtual events platform that allows you to gather analytics on engagement metrics like viewing hours and click-throughs? This kind of information can be crucial to demonstrate sponsor ROI, and it can be equally useful for assigning CE credits to webinar participants.
The Benefits of a Virtual Event Technical Producer
A virtual event production partner can be a huge asset. Many virtual event planners—especially those who find themselves pivoting in a pinch—are still learning the skills and knowledge required to execute a high-production quality, professional-looking virtual event.
Your virtual event tech platform can be a great resource in that regard. In fact, according to EventMB’s latest research, 33% of event planners outsource their virtual event production, and a further 20% rely on their virtual event tech provider.
The benefits of an experienced virtual event producer include:
Virtual event technical producers conduct dry runs and can flag issues that a less experienced observer may not notice or anticipate.
- Tech support.
Technical producers ensure that the AV equipment, internet connectivity, virtual event platform, and any integrated technology are up to par and running smoothly for your virtual conference.
- Video editing.
A virtual event technical producer is familiar with video editing software. If you want to make use of prerecorded video, they can help you record and edit it so that it looks clean and professional.
Virtual events have a lot of moving parts: speakers transitioning from the green room to the live event stream, breakouts that need to start and stop at specific times, slide transitions, inserted pre-recorded videos, shifting visuals — the list goes on. A virtual event production specialist coordinates them to ensure a seamless experience.
- Attendee management.
Virtual event producers can help to funnel attendees into the appropriate tracks at the appropriate times so they don’t get lost in the shuffle. They also make sure that attendees are muted, moderate chats and Q&As, and manage access to different elements.
- Happy sponsors.
In some ways, sponsors are taking a leap of faith in online virtual events, so it’s crucial that their brand and brand exposure looks professional. In addition to bringing the whole event production to a professional level, virtual event technical producers make sure that pop-ups, overlays, lower thirds, and other branded visual elements appear properly and at the right times.
Combatting Zoom fatigue and differentiating yourself from virtual event competition can be a challenge, but a fast and easy way for your attendees to tell that you’re an authoritative, credible, and professional resource is through beautiful, engaging live streams.
When it comes to executing your vision with the production quality attendees have come to expect, a self-service livestream production studio can help you get there. And if you’d rather hand the reins over to professionals, technical producers can help you make sense of all the moving parts and keep your virtual conference running like a well-oiled machine.