We need a professional level of control for Virtual Events

August 31, 2020

Meaningful Control of Production Elements

I want you to imagine a speaker walking into a conference room. They are about to give their keynote address. They have practiced it over and over again. They are little nervous, but not too much. Usually they would be greeted by a professional with a headset and a clip board. They would be shown where they should stand and where the confidence monitors are. An audio engineer would start to fit them with a professional mic that has been balanced and set just right for the room. 

When you send them on stage, you know that a team of professionals and experts have your back and that they will be well supported. You take a deep breath. The speaker steps on stage and know that the content that was built for the presentation is in the hands of people that support you and the speaker. You didn’t have to think about how the presentation was routed to the screen, how notes would appear on the down stage monitors or how the audio would sound in the room. It would just work. 

That was then. 

Now, speakers are being asked to be IT professionals, tech support and operators, while making sure they are creating content that is unbelievably compelling and engaging. That is not how we should be doing it.

As we all work though various solutions for the new landscape of Virtual and Hybrid events, we need to make sure that we are supporting our performers, speakers and guests in the same level of concierge service and support that made our industry what it is.

There are a lot of tools out there that seem to make producing a Virtual Event seem seamless and easy but a lot of these solutions lack a level of meaningful control to be able to affect specifics. As event professionals, we know that there are tons of very small variables that can effect the outcome of an event. We meticulously test, tweak and adjust these hundreds of touch points to know that we have done everything we can to make the presentation, performance or address the best it can possibly be. 

Platforms like vMix, Zoom or OBS studio, on the surface, look like a great solution for the production of virtual events. They are relatively inexpensive, or in the case of OBS free to use. They even have features that allow you to easily dial in to a video platform to allow your speakers to use their own device to participate in panels and speak at your event. Cheap and easy.

But that is where their features lack the ability to truly control the outcome of the event. Producers have no control over those capture devices. No control over how the video and audio are brought into the production and little control of the outcome. Should anything go wrong with the dial in link for the vMix platform for example, you cannot do anything about it, short of calling the speaker on the phone ( a completely separate system) to see if you can help them out. Just imagine doing an event in a conference room where the only way to communicate with your team was with a phone call from front of House…. Yikes.

On the production end, you can use some of their preset tools to add layouts and graphics to create visually interesting panel layouts or lower thirds, but they lack the ability to make changes on the fly, switch in real time or be meaningful with the specifics of your narrative. Once you get into a layout, you are stuck there until your session is over.

This is like the example that I started with, but the speaker walked into the conference room with their own mic, a projector and laptop and was told “the stage is over there, good luck.” Again, this is not how we should be doing things.

When we created Studio-In-A-Box™, we wanted to make sure that our production team was able to affect specific change on every aspect of the production workflow. As a Stage Manager and Producer, I didn’t want to just send out little kits of cameras, lights and some audio to augment someone’s personal device. We wanted to ensure that if there was ever an issue with the many variables that are in play for a virtual event, be it audio, video, networks connectivity or communications, that we could go into each “Box” and address it in the same purposeful way we would have in a conference room setting.

The biggest challenge that faces Virtual Events is the ability to add the specific and meaningful detail that we are used to working with. We have all rushed to find the most convenient way to make it easy and affordable, but have sacrificed the level of production control that is needed to create a professional looking event, while allowing speakers and presenters to concentrate on their presentation only.

As a producer, I want to worry about the message more than I worry about the tech. Don’t you?

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