Photo by Stem List for Unsplash

Have you heard the new buzzword? It’s Hybrid events. And yet, hybrid experiences have been around for more than 100 years.   Now we have new tools to add impact and engagement.

So no need to panic. Let’s break it down into what works.

What’s Old is New Again

My grandfather was a great lover of baseball. In his youth, if he was very lucky and could get away from work, he would attend a game or two at the old Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Then, in 1947, the transistor radio was born. Now, he could listen from work or home—I can just picture him with the one earbud and a fist pump on a great play–while he packed boxes at his day job at the American Bible Society.  So baseball became a “hybrid” event—one that people could experience both live in the stadium and somewhere far away, hearing the play-by-play.  In fact, many people began bringing their transistor radios to the games, because they liked both watching the game live and hearing the lively commentary from the radio. Today we call this “second screen engagement” during live events—see next paragraph for details!

Help Remote Audiences to Stay Tuned In

The biggest challenge of both remote and live audience engagement is distraction. Remote audiences aren’t in the room or stadium. They have dogs barking, kids needing attention, emails to write. So for a remote audience experience to equal that of a live audience, you must work harder to keep them focused. But live audiences also have mobile phones to distract them. So why not use them? Some of the best ways to engage are with live-polling—tools like Sli.do and Mentimeter let speakers take the pulse of audiences both in the room and those joining remotely.

But not every speaker knows how to use these tools. So added speaker training and prep is incumbent upon hybrid event planners to be sure their presenters have a plan for engaging both live and remote audiences effectively.

Another strategy for better audience engagement is to keep speeches short and instead use Q&A opportunities with a host moderating. Having an experienced host interview a major headliner, rather than having that person deliver a keynote, keeps the audience engaged and feeling like they are participating. Pro hosts can also integrate questions from both your live and remote audiences (who can submit via your event platform app). Both sets of questions can be fed to a monitor on stage, thus putting the remote and live audience on equal footing.

Anchor Your Event in the Live Experience

The primary impact of any in-person event, whether it is a conference, a concert or a sports event, is that live in-the-moment experience. Even from the nosebleed seats, live participants feel that vibe of sharing with other humans in a common space. Very few online events were able to capture this energy during the pandemic because there was no live audience. The ones that did focused on these key areas: presenters who were lively, video content that was brief, and opportunities to acknowledge audience members through live chat, live polling, and post-event networking. So whatever you design, be sure that home audiences feel energized by your in-the-room experience.

Use New Ways to Engage

Sports continues to be a groundbreaking area for hybrid events and fan engagement. The NBA has embraced VR as a way for fans to be right inside the game, experiencing plays from new angles. And if you don’t have the budget of the NBA, you can host your event on 3D platforms like All Seated or Moot Up. These virtual spaces allow remote users to “walk through” spaces and meet with people, just as they would at a live event. They can join others who are connecting live.

Ask One Key Question

When building a hybrid event, there is really just one question you need to ask: what story are we telling? Whether your audience is live or remote, they will need to connect with that story.  So before you book speakers or start worrying about live-polling, consider these storytelling questions:

  • What is the story we want our audience to know after they’ve attended our event?
  • Who is the best at telling our story?
  • Are there any communities we are leaving out of our story? If so, how can we be sure they feel included?

This last question is critical. Today, AI-enabled captioning via companies like Rev.com offer live captioning for Zoom, for example, so that virtual audiences with hearing challenges can still engage with your content. But you may also want to engage a sign language interpreter to be live on screen during your event.

Whatever you do, be sure that you are creating a cohesive story that gives all audiences—whether at home or in the room–a reason to learn and connect with your brand story.

For more ideas on how to generate exciting hybrid events, check out my webinar on July 27 at 2pm ET: Hybrid Events People Actually Want to Attend: How to Craft a Compelling Experience that Engages Live and Virtual Audiences’ with Michael Hoffman, CEO of Gather Voices. Attendees are eligible for 1 CAE credit! Get your seat today!

 

 

A few days ago a colleague asked me for my origin story—namely, how did I get into nonfiction video production? I told him this story, and he said “I can’t believe I never knew that about you! You should share that.” OK, here goes.

At first, I was in the location department, here pictured with director Oliver Stone and location manager Peggy Pridemore on the set of JFK. Soon, I moved into art department research, and worked with him on “Nixon”.[/

Back when I was a young production assistant, I was working in the location department for various feature films and commercials that would shoot in Washington, D.C., where I lived. In case you think that might be glamorous, I fondly called it “permits and porta-potties” as securing different filming permits, and figuring out logistics such as where a hundred-person crew could park, eat, and yes go to the bathroom, were just some of our jobs in the location department. Through those contacts, I got myself hired as an art department PA on another Hollywood movie. That meant helping the art director source images to propel the vision of the Production Designer and Director. These images and research documents would then be used to fabricate sets, rent or create wardrobe and props, and figure out the action in some scenes. Some of the images and film clips would be used in actual scenes of the movie.

images and film clips would be used in actual scenes of the movie.

All night long, the list of requests spooled out over the parquet floor of my modest apartment (are you old enough to remember rolling fax paper?).  Ping pong tournaments in China. Running shoes in the 1970’s. Helicopters used in the Vietnam War. One requests was particularly challenging: find a clip of President Richard Nixon, who was six feet tall, shaking hands and smiling with someone also six feet tall. The background had to be fairly simple, such as one of the white shelved niches in the Oval Office, because this was to be swapped out by the team at Industrial Light and Magic.  This was back in the early days of digital compositing when we didn’t have the latitude and sophistication we have today with digital backgrounds.

After a long day of shooting Vietnam protest scenes, Tom asked me if I wanted a photo! He was gracious to everyone on set no matter our rank.

I went through dozens of silent film reels of President Nixon shaking hands with people. The White House film office didn’t record sync sound unless it was a high level meeting. The meetings gave me an entirely new perspective on the role of the President. He met graciously with ladies from the garden club. With children visiting with their school class. With spouses of visiting dignitaries. And then I found it! Pelton Stewart, Boys Club Boy of the Year award winner. He was a young African American guy about the right height and build for Tom Hanks, who I later learned was the star of this movie.  Throughout this months-long project, I was mesmerized by all the hidden stories in these film archives, old magazines and news reels. The seed was planted for me to pursue more “real people stories” in my career.

Working on Forrest Gump was a life-changing project in other ways, too. (And no, I don’t have a credit—that was back in the day when babies born on set didn’t get credits, let alone Art Department PA’s!). I discovered how much I loved a business where every single person on the team had a skill and a craft that they loved and refined daily. I worked under the watchful eye of art director Linda Berger, who started every one of our long days at the warehouse-turned-art-department during DC area filming in this way: with a slew of sticky notes on different piles of photos, storyboards, and papers with the words “ASK ME ABOUT THIS”. I did and learned so much! I was in awe of producer Wendy Finerman–at the time she was one of the only women producers working on major films—who came to the set looking incredibly cool in a beat up black leather jacket. (The seed was also planted here for my activism for more women on set, particularly in technical fields, through my leadership of Women in Film and Video and later, my #GALSNGEAR initiative.)

During filming in DC, I got to watch up close how Bob Zemeckis operated as a director—firm in his vision, but collaborating closely with many department heads and engaging their input.  He was a great role model. One day, I was working fairly close to his position on set during the filming of the Vietnam War protest scene at the Lincoln Memorial. He waved me over to his video assist monitor. I looked around to be sure it was me he was pointing to. “Come on over, kid, take a look.” Later that day, I was invited to join the team watching the dailies from scenes we had just shot, and I heard him discussing the different reasons he liked or didn’t like a particular take, and how it would propel the story arc of the film. It was one of many moments in my real world film school education. And one reason I always reach out to the next “kid” to help her propel her film career.

I worked on art department research for many other feature films after that project. But the thing that really stuck with me was my curiosity about the stories of real people – the lives and moments I unearthed from archives and film reels and newspaper accounts along the way. I’ve been lucky to document nonfiction stories throughout my career as a director and producer for many organizations. But I’ve never forgotten the journey that Forrest and I both took that year.

 

Amy DeLouise writes, produces and directs nonfiction videos for nonprofits, associations and companies with great stories to tell. Book a meeting with her here to discuss a project.

What is “B-roll?”
B-roll is the footage essential to visually accompany the story that may be told through audio on the “A-roll,” which is traditionally interviews. If you want a good laugh, this ancient YouTube video “We Got That B-roll” still resonates throughout the industry. (You gotta get all the way to the famous section at :55 where he explains what is NOT b-roll. And he makes a great point. If your shot list is “too specific” or a historical moment, you might need to turn to archival stock footage. More on that in another post.) All laughs aside, there’s nothing worse than getting into the edit room and realizing you don’t have enough b-roll.

How Do You Plan for Great B-roll?
B-roll doesn’t just “happen,” especially if you are shooting on a particularly time-table. My rule of thumb is to shoot three to four scenes of supporting material for every one to three minutes of finished minutes of story. This general works out to a day of shooting b-roll for every day of shooting interviews. By pre-interviewing subjects so you know what they might be referencing during an interview, you can plan to gather relevant b-roll to cover the story.  This is called a Shot List, and should identify each scene you need to include in your video. One scene generally requires multiple angles of coverage, such as a wide shot, medium shot, and various tight shots.  In addition, on-camera subject(s) also need breaks. So to expect that immediately after wrapping an interview someone will want you and your camera following them around to get b-roll may be unrealistic and stress-inducing.

Scheduling Well for B-roll
Build your budget and schedule so that you give your on camera subject(s) time to decompress—perhaps while the team is picking up an establishing shot that doesn’t require your “talent”. Plan key scenes well in advance: “we’d like to get Sarah hanging out with her school friends—can you invite them all to come to the house at 4PM on the day of our shoot?” And try to work around existing opportunities—“Since you told us you have full office team meetings every Monday at 11AM, can we be a fly on the wall this Monday? And can we get into the room a little in advance to put up a few lights?”

By strategizing in advance, you can ensure you have the optimal footage to tell your video story.  For more detailed approaches, check out my courses on LinkedIn Learning. Or feel free to book a meeting with me to discuss your next video project!

 

Here’s me, taking some scouting footage and photos before a recent shoot

Location production is back! With vaccination rates rising and locations opening up, the need for ample preparation for your next on-location video is critical. As a producer, I spend much more of my time in pre-production than in production. And if I’ve done my job right, post-production (editing, music, graphics) will also go smoothly. Here are some of my go-to strategies to ensure a successful project before we step out onto location.

1. Location scout for audio, not just video
Often when we scout locations, we are looking. Looking for the best lighting, looking for a relevant background for an interview, looking for a great establishing shot to capture the story. These are essential. But we often forget to listen. How loud is the location? Will it be louder at a particular time of day? How will that affect any interview we conduct here? Google maps is helpful to us in many ways, even when scouting remotely for sound. By using satellite view and street view, for example, we can identify high traffic roadways, nearby firehouses, and other potential audio issues like RF interference which is common in tall, urban office buildings (and requires a wired rather than wireless lavalier setup for interviews).

2. Plan ahead to move fast
With more content creation than ever, we video producers need to move fast when on location. But we also need to be smart. Adding just a single person to the shoot—like a production assistant who can refill parking meters or a grip who can set up the lighting for the next shot while the previous one wraps—can allow your team to gather twice as much quality footage in a day. The added expense is more than offset by less frustration in post and less need to turn to stock images or do a reshoot to fill gaps.

3. Make an acquisition and distribution format plan
Decide before you shoot what metadata you want included on files. “Day 1” is not a great tag, FYI. You can also avoid problematic reworking of files if you know from the start what kind of distribution platform you will be using. This might be multiple platforms—like pushing a video to YouTube but also cropping parts of the video to a different aspect ratio for social shares on Instagram. Up-scaling always introduces quality issues, so if you’re not sure about delivery at the start, better to shoot at a higher resolution (aka 4K) and downscale afterwards. It’s also important to consider frame rate (24fps and 30fps are standard, but the latter creates more frames to compress). And, you’ll also want to consider whether to shoot in LOG or RAW and color grade afterwards in post, or to “bake in the look” with a setting like Rec 709. These are all important conversations to have well before the shoot, as they may affect equipment decisions for camera and lighting. And camera equipment dictates audio configurations in many cases.

4. Logistics
Logistical planning ahead of time is part of what allows the creative to happen on a video shoot. Everything from ensuring the crew has a location to park and load-in safely to organizing the lunch order ahead of time ensure your shoot goes smoothly. If you have a whole series of interviews scheduled, be sure to plan a little turn-around time in between so the crew can reset the shot, and stagger your schedule so each person has time for makeup and/or for you to review their wardrobe without a rush.

I’m thrilled to get back out “into the wild” for video creation. It’s going to be a great rest of the year!

 

Feel free to reach out to me about your next video production (see sidebar). 

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.

 

 

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

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