Whether you host a podcast or are creating video content, interviewing is essential. Here are some of my experiences and tips for working with VIPs, Celebrities and Experts.

Some of the most nervous and challenging subjects I’ve worked with on camera are celebrities, CEOs and subject matter experts. These are the very people you’d think are fairly comfortable in front of cameras.  Yet it’s worth remembering that not every celebrity loves cameras. The reasons can vary widely, and it’s useful if you can do your homework to be prepared.

For example, I once interviewed a brilliant scientist who shared in our pre-interview that he had ADHD, a condition which had eventually led him to a career in science to unlock the genetic secrets of the human condition. This scientist admitted that he was unlikely to stay focused for more than five minutes at a time. He was right. I had to let him get up and check on experiments and talk to colleagues in between every question. Flexibility is sometimes the key to a happy interviewee, and thus a better interview.

A brilliant conductor was another fascinating and tricky interview subject. Having worked with her for many years, I was not surprised that she almost directed our production from her seat. Allowing an expert to feel in control is often a key to creating a successful interview dynamic, even though you are always keeping track of the story arc and important points you want and need to draw out for your particular audience.

I once worked with a Very Famous TV Personality whose name shall not be included here. That’s because her on-screen bouncy persona was a far cry from her real approach, which was difficult and anxious. Her assistant was equally challenging. We had to do many takes, some of which I had to carefully cajole out of her, because I realized no one on her team was willing to admit to her that she had made some mistakes. Yet I knew that she would want a perfect take, and wouldn’t approve anything less (and frankly, neither would I). When conducting interviews with experts, VIPs and celebrities, part of your job is also managing feelings, and managing the managers.

As an interviewer, director or producer, you need to be ready for everything.  Your best weapon is knowledge. Your second is patience. And for challenging VIP’s, the crew or tech team needs to be 100% on their toes, with no chit-chat. Everyone needs to exude the confidence that you will make this person look and sound their absolute best.

 

This blog post is partially excerpted from my content creator’s guide The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Routledge Press).

Socially distanced panelists filmed in studio for a virtual event feed – courtesy Interface Media Group 

As part of my continuing series on producing virtual events,  I caught up with Steven Yerman, Vice President of Operations, and Nick Mueller, Studio Manager at Interface Media Group in Washington, D.C. [Full transparency—I’ve hired IMG for their great studios, and they’ve hired me to produce virtual event content.]

Amy: What are some of the pitfalls of planning virtual events?

Steve: Even more planning goes into virtual events than live events.  Typically, a live awards event might take 6 months of planning, but the same group will only allot a few weeks to the same event happening virtually. And yet there are so many more technical components.

What takes the most time in pre-production to make sure the event succeeds?

Nick: Running technical tests takes time – you want that time with all of your “talent” to be sure their connections work right, video and audio look and sound good.

What are audiences expecting, now that we’ve had almost a year to develop virtual content?

Steve: The audience is expecting more than a Zoom meeting.

Nick: You don’t want to have a talking head for 60 minutes. People want dynamic content.

Steve:  You need to think of these events as television productions. The audience wants content that looks tight, like a real broadcast, with higher quality video and graphics.

So how are you taking the risk out of creating that kind of “broadcast look”, especially when most of the people speaking are not on-camera professionals?

Steve: Often we pre-record key segments. Let’s say it’s an awards event. We’ll mail the person the award in advance. We then record them saying their remarks. We’ll edit that nicely, with lower thirds and logo graphics, then bring it into the live event.

There are loads of different platforms for bringing an audience into a virtual event—Zoom, WebEx, Skype, Bizzabo, Hopin, Aventri, etc. (I will cover these in another post). What unique tools do you bring as a broadcast studio?

Nick: We can use Talk Show VS4000 which allows us to bring in four guests via Skype.

That’s a multi-channel video calling system designed to simultaneously connect you with up to 4 remote sources and give you full audio and video control over the signal and what happens next.

Nick: Correct. So this is a great tool for a talk-show type format.  We also use the Tricaster.

You’re talking about the broadcast switcher?

Nick: Right. It can take a signal and push it to YouTube, Facebook, a website, or an external encoder. It will work with Zoom, WebEx, Teams or Skype and can also ISO record audio and video. And it can handle mixed format inputs.

Just to clarify for our readers, ISO means “isolated” audio or video signal—meaning, a separate record that doesn’t mix in the other speakers and visuals.

Nick: Yes. So we have those “clean” sources if we need them to tweak a session after it has been recorded live.

That’s incredibly handy, because mistakes happen and we don’t want the permanent recording to contain any! So how do you bring the client into the picture, so to speak?

Steve: We’ve been using a conference bridge for the client and tech team, so we can communicate offline and not interfere with what is being recorded.

What’s the biggest challenge that gets overlooked when planning for a virtual event that is bringing different speakers and panels to the audience?

Steve: You need to think about the maximum number of feeds and what you will show during the transitions. Another one of the challenges to space out the show correctly to have the pauses to make those technical transitions.

That’s where a show writer like me comes in handy. Just like I do for a live event, I write what’s called a showflow that anticipates those transitions, so we have every segment timed out and also have video content ready to fill any gaps, like prep time for speakers.

Steve: Exactly. You need your speakers on the line 15 minutes to a half hour before they go live, and we keep the connection open while they get ready.

Nick: Because if you wait until 5 minutes before hand and you have technical issues with their connection, you have no time to fix it.

How are you mixing virtual and live, in-studio feeds?

Steve: We’ll often have an on-air “talent” hosting the event from one of our studios, and then we’ll have panelists in the other studio and also coming in remotely from multiple locations. Plus roll-in videos and Skypes from earlier in the day.

And does that work?

Nick: We make it work. The only problem we had once was a guy in his car in a parking lot. He really didn’t have the best connection so I had to go to a different guest.

Steve: But we plan for that. We have a photo of each guest and a name slate ready to go in case we need to switch to audio-only.

What you’re describing is a lot like television, but also it isn’t.

Steve: Yes, guests (panelists) need to understand that once you get going there is no stopping the train. We can’t drop out and go to commercial break.

It’s been an interesting ride so far. What’s next?

Nick: I really see [remote and in-studio production] staying even if we “get back to normal” because of significant cost savings like hotel and travel.

Steve: I think people will still want to get together and give awards in person and see each other face to face. But you’ll see more panel discussions with a remote interview added into the panel. And folks will still want to produce segments in the studio where you have a controlled environment, good branding, and a good looking set. But virtual opens a whole new world to engage people from anywhere in the world.

 

A Guest Post by Jendi Coursey, CEO, Jendi Coursey Communications

When I can muster the discipline to get up early and exercise, I love listening to my favorite podcasts while I work out, one of which is the daily current-affairs show from Economist Radio called The Intelligence.

Lead With Your Values

If you listen to podcasts, you know they generally include few short sponsorship ads during the course of the broadcast; The Intelligence is no exception. As I tune in to the podcast and take those first steps on my treadmill, I’m usually greeted by the voice of someone offering services from a financial institution like Capital One, Bank of America, or Bank of the West. All of them offer services that could be of use to listeners like me, but if I were looking for a new bank, I know exactly which one I would choose: the one that leads with its values.

Bank of the West has an ad stating that what they don’t finance is as important as what they do. They posit that banks can be a force for good in the world, that they can use deposits not only to finance home loans, car loans, and local business loans, but that they can also influence large-scale projects, which begs the question: which projects do you want your money to support?

Customers Are Choosing Values

More and more, savvy marketers understand that consumers are choosing products and services that meet more than a functional need. Consumers are choosing companies whose values align with theirs. So, if you’re responsible for your organization’s messaging, you may want to ask yourself: what is your company willing to stand up for? What beliefs are you willing to shout from the rooftops for the whole world to hear? Who wouldn’t you accept a check from?

Your Values Affect Your Bottom Line

If you do not know the answers to these questions, your customers probably don’t either—and that could be costing you money. A 2020 report by 5W Public Relations indicated that millennials, the generation born between 1981 to 1996, is the largest proportion of the workforce in the U.S. and will soon overtake Baby Boomers to become the largest living population of adults. Consequently, their purchase habits are shaping how business is done. 5W data indicate that 83 percent of millennials say it is important for the companies they buy from to align with their beliefs and values.

In its 2018 report, another communications firm, Edelman, stated that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue, and that number is trending upward.

Making Your Values Plan

If you haven’t already, it is time to take a hard look at your mission, vision, and values. Do they include a bunch of meaningless platitudes or can they be used as a guide for how each and every organizational decision is made? It is better to go narrow and deep than to have dozens of values that no one can remember. If you’re interested in a book to guide you through the process of establishing or updating these foundational pillars, consider Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage.

If you’d like help digging into this work, reach out to Jendi via her website above or on LinkedIn

In an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show (“Boy #1, Boy #2,” CBS, 1965) Rob casts their son and one of his friends in an episode of his TV show. The results aren’t as anticipated. He confesses to the two moms: “Those kids can’t act, they’re terrible…When they started out they were almost fair, but the more they rehearsed the worse they got!” When the moms remind him the kids aren’t professionals, he responds “Yeah, because professionals get better!” So true. One of the big differences between trained and untrained talent is that repetition and self-consciousness about being in front of cameras and crew often degrades rather than enhances their “performance.”  And each time you make your reality player self-conscious about the camera, chances are high they will be less natural—the very reason you wanted them in the first place. This, in turn, can radically affect your schedule and budget.  In other chapters, we address specific techniques for re-introducing a question during an interview, for blocking a re-enactment, or getting that scene from another angle for a documentary, all without making your subject feel awkward.  To keep your production schedule and budget on target, you need all the help you can get to minimize retakes and set-ups. Even if you are masterful at keeping your subject from feeling pressure during the shoot, every minute you spend in shoot planning will be paid back in decreased time and costs on the post-production side.  Since you never entirely know how a “real person” will react to being on camera, the following are some strategies you can use to minimize unpleasant surprises and budget-busting problems, while you maximize creative opportunities.

  1. Be sure you discuss options for on-camera clothing before the shoot. Bring extra ties on set. If green-screen, be sure your subject is not wearing any green!
  2. Have enough crew. A production assistant is worth their weight in gold to help move gear in place quickly, or handle the back-end of recording remotely. Non-actors are not used to the “hurry up and wait” pattern of production life.
  3. Give non-actors a break by shooting b-roll.  I often shoot a little bit of b-roll to warm them up to the crew, before sitting the person down for an interview.
  4. Use Locations Familiar to Subject to help them be more comfortable. If you need to move objects around for a better background, ask permission. (You may need to have the person themselves move things around for remote interviews.)

Excerpted from my book “The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera”.  I love directing “real people” on camera. Please sign up for my additional tips ——–> see sidebar!

 

Remote feeds during the #GALSNGEAR Tech Talks segment that I produced and hosted from my virtual office in DC, with switching and production took place from Broadcast Beat’s studios in Florida, during NAB Show Express online conference.

If you’re confused by all the many tools of virtual event and content video production, you’re not alone. Here, I will set out to briefly demystify some of the different components and tools for creating, encoding and distributing content remotely.

Virtual livestreaming and switching platforms

Zoom, WebEx, Skype are some of the livestreaming platforms we are all familiar with by now, so I won’t go into their features. Manycam is another dedicated streaming tool useful for those teaching remote classes, for example. ManyCam allows you to stream live videos on YouTube and Facebook simultaneously, and includes a mobile app for Android and iPhone. As this useful review explains:  “This program acts as a middleman between your webcam and whatever application you want to connect it to. It could be Facebook Live, Twitch Livestream, a Skype video call, and much more.” Streamyard is a newer player, recently acquired by Hopin, and a bit more sophisticated. It allows the user to add subtitles, put links on the screen live, and engage guests using a robust chat feature. And you can use it to stream your video content directly to Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and other platforms.

Virtual event management platforms

Managing a virtual event requires much more than the live streaming/switching function. You need a way to track tickets and users, provide captioning and translations, build out spaces for sponsors and more. Some event organizers have cobbled together solutions by combining tools like Eventbrite for ticketing and tracking audiences with the services of Rev.com for live-captioning on Zoom.  Socio, Bizzabo, Hopin, and Aventri are some of the players who offer integrated event management elements with ticketing, tracking, metrics, translations, post-event content storage, and more.  For example, Socio provides a way to segment your audience for access to different sessions and push notifications, interactive mingling areas, and a sponsor hub.

Mootup has intrigued me for some time.  They’ve put the focus on creating a VR like experience without a need for headsets. The platform offers a gamified experience where each participant selects an avatar that can move through conference spaces such as an auditorium for presentations, breakout rooms like the firepit, virtual tradeshow floors and more. And it integrates with Zoom, so speakers can present from the traditional Zoom app directly to the 3D audience.

Pro tools for switching and encoding multi-source content for streaming

If your organization is building in-house production and streaming capabilities, or producing an event that requires a broadcast approach to multiple feeds, then you have many tools to choose from.

Blackmagic Design offers a great series of affordable professional production switchers, as well as the bargain-priced ATEM Mini and ATEM Mini Pro for smaller setups with fewer sources. (I use the ATEM mini when I present, so that I do not have to rely on the “screen share” functions of Zoom or other platforms.)

On the higher end, Talk Show VS4000 is a multi-channel video calling system designed to simultaneously connect you with up to 4 remote sources and give you full audio and video control over the signal and what happens next.

A Tricaster has long been the standard for in-studio switching, and can take a signal and push it to YouTube, Facebook, a website, or an external encoder. It will work with Zoom, WebEx, Teams or Skype. The Tricaster can also ISO record audio and video, and has the ability to handle mixed format inputs.

Video encoding systems such as Teradek can save you bandwidth if you are encoding a large amount of content for streaming to an online platform like Youtube, Twitch, or Facebook. A Teradek encoder can also be used on set so that a remote producer or interviewer can monitor the live video feed on an iOS device for confidence or directing local configuration.

This is just a brief overview of the tools we use as live and virtual event and content creators. I hope it’s helpful as you navigate our new world of virtual and hybrid event production. Please reach out to me if I can help you with any remote, live or hybrid content creation this year.

Amy DeLouise is a virtual and live multi-platform content producer. She’ll be speaking this week at the Remote Production Conference. Use this link for 10% off your registration!

 

Frederick Van Johnson’s POV while he records us on his podcast This Week in Photo

I’m so honored to have been interviewed on #podaster @frederickvan amazing series This Week in Photo, the world’s most popular photography podcast network! We had a great discussion about creativity, filmmaking, and what it takes to be a multihttps://thisweekinphoto.com/-platform content creative. #podcasts #ageofconversation #contentcreator #storyteller #videoproduction #GALSNGEAR

The Transcriptives Premiere Pro plug-in allows editing video with text (courtesy Digital Anarchy)

Transcripts rule. If you are a video content creator like me, you know that getting transcripts of interviews, and even transcribing b-roll audio, can massively speed up the video editing and publishing process. Here’s how.

Faster Video Editing. If you’ve ever scrubbed through footage listening for soundbites, you know it’s time-consuming. Even listening at double speed. It’s much faster to scan through an accurate transcript, then pull your top pick soundbites together into a timeline for final selects.

Making Your Selects. Once you have your interviews in hand, it’s time to log your best takes.  Thankfully there are great digital tools to make the transition from field shoot to final edit seamless. In FinalCutPro, you have the Lumberjack system, which lets you live log on your shoot and tag soundbites in the field, and also set up your top soundbites for editing. For those working in Premiere Pro, the Transcriptives plug-in from Digital Anarchy is a great way to go to simplify the soundbite-tagging-to-editing process. And these systems also speed up your captioning and subtitling workflow.

Blogs, Websites and Social Posts.  Be sure everyone in your communications department has access to your interview transcripts.  Transcripts are great source material for pull quotes that can be sourced for social media posts, blogs, publications and e-newsletters.

Captioning. Once you have accurate transcripts, captioning is a breeze. You can output your final transcript of a show and upload it directly into a publishing platform such as Vimeo or YouTube. Or you can create your own captioned version. (Processes like Transcriptives captioning workflow makes this extremely simple.) My preference is for the latter.  After speaking to many users for the accessibility chapter of my book Nonfiction Sound and Story for Film and Video, I learned that auto-captioning can not only be inaccurate, but also poorly timed. If a caption comes too early, for example, it can give away a story line without letting the viewer draw those conclusions for themselves.

Where to Get a Good Transcript.  These days, you can get fast turnarounds on transcripts—often in a matter of hours. For straightforward and brief interviews, I’m a fan of automated services like https://www.rev.com/. For people with accents, those who speak very fast, or lengthy interviews, I prefer the human touch with a service like Noble Transcriptions. Don’t count on the YouTube automated tool. For $1-2/minute, accurate transcripts are your best tool for storytelling.

Amy DeLouise is a video content creator helping organizations tell a better story.

You’ve got some interviews lined up for a company video. Maybe you’ve already got a list of questions. But will you be able to turn those soundbites into a compelling story? Before filming, you may need to do some brief writing. Namely, a short creative brief, conduct some pre-interviews, and develop a story arc. As a professional video scriptwriter and producer, here are a few of my top tips for some writing that will help your video end product.

  1. Creative Brief. What’s the look and feel you want to convey? Who is your target audience? And what are you trying to get them to feel and do after watching the video? What are the delivery specs and what platforms will it play on? Who has final approvals? What’s the budget and timeline for delivery? Detailing the answers to these questions is essential before you roll on any footage. Often, I like to add storyboards to my creative briefs, so everyone can discuss looks and agree on a visual style. You can use tools like Storyboarder Plot or the more high-powered Frameforge. You can certainly reference other videos on YouTube, but be careful. If you don’t know the budget and timeline of those projects, you could be setting a goal you can’t achieve. And don’t forget that even a crappy sketch can help everyone on the team visualize the look!
  2. Pre-Interviews. Whenever possible, conduct pre-interviews. If you’ve pre-interviewed someone, you can build rapport in advance of lights-camera-action. You can also get a sense of key stories and anecdotes and how to approach your questions. You’ll also get a sense of their personal style, which will again help you conduct a better interview. A solid story arc drawn from these interviews should include a brief introduction or back story, a key challenge or turning point, and a resolution. And ideally also an opening hook. (I’ll leave that for another post.) By pre-interviewing your subjects and thinking through your story arc in advance, you’ll get better soundbites and avoid missing an important element.
  3. Story Arc. Now that you’ve got the lay of the land in terms of who your main characters are and the stories they can tell about your subject, you can start to lay out a possible story arc. This doesn’t mean you can’t stray from this idea once you are in the editing room. But a solid story arc can help you decide which questions are most essential when you have limited time for interviews. You can also start to understand what additional visuals you might need to tell the story, whether they are stock images, archival content, or b-roll.  For my video projects, I like to have these elements in my story arc:
    1. An opening hook—something to grab the viewer and get them into the story.
    2. Background – an extremely brief explanation of what we’re talking about—which can come from interview soundbites or a narrator.
    3. Central challenge or conflict – every story needs some tension, even nonfiction. What created change in the central character’s life? What did the product do to change the world of the customer?
    4. Resolution – Some final thoughts or a resolution of the central challenge gets you to the end.
    5. Call to Action – If you are making a fundraising or advocacy video, there may be something you want viewers to do after watching. “Get involved by clicking this link” etc.

You don’t have to be a Hollywood screenwriter to make your interview-based nonfiction story better. But you will find that doing some writing in advance of filming will improve your video storytelling and impact. In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about taking the story arc plan and transcripts and turning them into an editing script.

For more details on video scripting, see my LinkedIn Learning course http://bit.ly/HowtoScript

Photo by Gabriel Benois/Unsplash

You just got invited to moderate a panel. Great! By the way, it’s going to be virtual. Oh dear. As a virtual event moderator, you are the stand-in for the audience. Your engagement throughout the interview or discussion will make a difference in how the audience perceives the experience. And if the recording will include you and your reactions and questions, it’s even more important to consider how you will appear on camera. Here are some tips for making your event more lively and interactive.

  1. Make sure your face is “alive”—your facial expressions, your engagement directly to camera, and your responses to the speaker are all essential for making the experience feel more personal for the audience. Practice in the mirror or in a private video call with no one but you on the line.
  2. For livestreamed events, let the audience know at the top of the interview and at regular intervals that you will be taking questions.
  3. Don’t expect the audience to immediately ask questions when you open the floor, so have a set of relevant questions ready for each panelist.
  4. Be sure you have a production team member save the Q&A and/or Chat so that any questions not answered live can be followed up by you and/or your interviewee. You can then post these questions and answers through your website and social channels–another way to promote post-event engagement.
  5. Come up with creative ways to engage the audience and make sure they feel represented, even if their faces do not appear in the livestream or recording. Ask people as they arrive to type in where they are tuning in from, if this is a nationwide or global event. Ask people to share one obstacle or challenge relating to the session topic.
  6. Promote virtual applause. One fantastic tip I got from my friend Jeff Greenberg who is an experienced virtual trainer, was to come up with a letter that stands in for applause. I usually change the letter depending on the topic. On a recent panel I moderated during the One Woman, One Vote Film Festival, Wonder Women Behind the Lens about visual effects artists and editors, we used the letter “W”. I asked attendees to “throw down a W in the chat pod any time you want to applaud the speakers or support what they are saying.” We had a lively discussion with lots of “WWWWWWW”’s in our chat that helped our panelists know there was an audience cheering them on.

Keeping an audience lively and engaged when you can’t be with them in person is a big challenge. That’s why being a virtual panel moderator is much more like being a television host or MC than it is like moderating a live panel. But with some advance planning and these tips, you’ll increase your audience engagement.

 

Amy DeLouise is a digital media expert, and virtual panel curator and moderator.

Well produced videos are essential for informing and engaging audiences during virtual and hybrid events.  In this article I’ll take a look at some best practices to ensure your pre-recorded videos support the success of your virtual event.

1. Make Video Content Snackable – At a live event, you have a captive audience. Plus the dynamic that occurs when everyone is together in a room.  In this world, a 5 minute or longer video can keep the room engaged. Not so for virtual events. Everyone who tunes in has other distractions in their immediate area—children, pets, emails, and work on their desktop that needs attention. Enter snackable content—short videos that engage, entertain and inform, while propelling the theme of your meeting or event. Roll-in videos for live events, with the exception of panels—and we’ll talk about them in a moment—should be no longer than 2 minutes.  Better yet, a series of 1:00 spots that work to set the stage for a particular session, or act as transitions between sessions.  This length will also allow your video to be hosted natively on Instagram during or after your event—an added social media bonus.

2. Video Transitions are Key – At a live event, when a speaker is late, you can ask your MC to take a few more questions from the audience. At a virtual event, remote feeds can fail and tech problems can result in your team needing more time.  If you lose your audience now, you might not get them back. Having a few videos of various lengths available to you to play at any time can be helpful. This could be a Year in Review video, a light-hearted video put together by staff, or a promo montage of upcoming sessions. Having at least two videos of 2-3 minutes in length on standby each day of your virtual event will give you a little breathing room for those unexpected moments. You should also create a little animated “We’re having technical issues but we’re working on it!” video that you can play if all else fails. After all, you are effectively putting together a broadcast and you don’t want any dead air.

3. Ensure Your Video Plays Back Properly – It’s amazing how often organizations spend tons of money producing great video content, but forget to test the delivery formats prior to output. If you are streaming your event from a platform like YouTube, be sure your video is optimized for that platform rather than asking YouTube to convert your specs. The conversion process will introduce garbage—technical term!—that you don’t want in your video.  Unless your platform is a professional 4K streaming system or specifies otherwise, I’d recommend a frame rate of 30fps and 1920×1080 as your video delivery size, with an audio sample rate of 44.1Khz and bitrate of 128kbps.

4. Provide an Engaging Home for Your Videos – Where will your videos live after the event is over? Can you set up a hub on your website or the event site? You can still host the videos elsewhere, such as your YouTube or Vimeo page. But putting the videos on your website—with and without subtitles—can ensure more hits post-conference. Be sure you have already created written content that explains the context for each video, and any action steps you want the audience to take after watching. For example, if your event was a fundraiser, a video featuring one of your organization’s projects can include a link to a Donate Now button. Don’t wait until after your event to set up your video hub. Be sure to write the copy and links in advance, and have it ready to go.

While we hope for live events to be back soon, virtual and hybrid events will be the norm for the future. And well-designed pre-recorded video content will be a big part of those events.

Amy DeLouise is a producer, interviewer and moderator for live and virtual events and videos.