After the initial shock of the COVID19 Pandemic -- and upon hearing from our clients for the next 6-12 months that all our gigs were cancelled -- we knew we had to make a decision for our business:
We could either A) stay in bed and cry all day, or B) pivot.
We know what you’re thinking. If this article uses “COVID buzz words” like pivot, unprecedented, and new normal, I’M OUT. Us, too. We promise we just got them all out of the way and won’t be using those terms any longer.
After a few weeks of being locked inside and constantly attempting to guess what might happen to the economy, we discovered something monumental: events still had to happen. Businesses and organizations still needed to reach their audience, and people needed social interaction. In fact, they needed it now more than ever.
So we transformed! Instead of filming live events, which is what we had grown our business doing, we were going to produce online virtual events.
WHY VIRTUAL EVENTS?
When you think about in-person events, what comes to mind?
Hours and hours of prep
Developing a run of show and schedule/programming
Setting up the location
Organizing food, beverages, and waitstaff/workers
Enjoying the event (well, trying to enjoy because really you’re doing 10,000 other things at the same time-- that doesn’t even take into consideration the stage fright and anxiety if you’re the one to give a speech)
Cleaning up after the event
Sleeping for 2 days straight to recover from the event (....just us?......)
It’s a lot of work!
But with a virtual event, you can cut out any location-related duties (set up, food/beverage, clean up, and so on). You focus mostly on the content. All of your work (scheduling, scripting, filming, editing, and so on) is done before the actual event.
And when the event occurs, you are in the comfort of your own home, wearing whatever you want (pajamas, maybe?), and all you have to do is sit back, relax, and engage through your computer. Plus, perhaps the biggest bonus of all, not having to rush and sit in LA traffic to make it in time to the event.
Pretty fantastic, right? We know. Why haven’t we been doing this the entire time???
CASE STUDY: EXP’S 2020 OCEANS OF OPPORTUNITY GALA
One of our clients who we’ve worked with for a few years now, reached out to us about finding a way to make their Annual Gala a new and improved, elegant and high quality virtual event. Just like that, we had ourselves a mission.
Quick shoutout: EXP is the Opportunity Engine. EXP is a non-profit that helps young people gain experience, unlock doors and build the confidence they need to succeed in school, career and life. Aside from being continually inspired by the work they do for the community, we are also grateful to have them as a recurring client.
Okay back to business. In this experience, we learned the essential elements of producing a virtual event and broke them into three categories: Logistics, Platform, and Production.
GATHER INFORMATION / DEVELOP RUN OF SHOW
We started the production process by discussing with our client what their ideal in-person gala would look like. What segments would they have? How many people would come? How would they sell tickets? etc. In this specific case, they wanted to include: a fancy dinner, an opening ceremony, awards & speeches, scholarship highlights, and a live auction.
Upon getting all this information, we went one-by-one to see how we could turn each of these segments into a virtual segment. We developed a Run of Show to organize the segments in order with length, who we need to complete, and any other important details.
FIND A HOST
We decided that a host would really bring this whole event together. At typical in-person events, there is almost always a host or MC who is guiding the audience to the next portion of the event. So we would do the same.
In this case, it made the most sense for CEO, Amy Grat, to fulfill the role. She’s great in front of the camera, and very witty! So that was a huge plus.
PREPARE YOUR TALENT / AT-HOME VIDEO CHECKLIST
This, some would say, is the trickiest part. For this gala, we needed Award Presenters, Award Recipients, Scholars for Scholarship Highlights, and a few Sponsor Representatives.
We were looking at about 30 people. Not to mention, all of these people had to understand how to record video at home, do it right, and then email their videos to us.
So, we created an At-Home Video Checklist.
We sent it out to everyone and their moms. This checklist included DIY tips on how to set up your phone or computer camera at home, how to set yourself up in the perfect positioning, and how to make sure you look good, sound good, and feel good.
Now, even though we were walking people step-by-step through this process, that does not mean it was perfect. We still got a lot of unusable and/or challenging videos back. Some were vertical, some had very low volume, some were overexposed…. You get the point.
So we weighed our options. Was it fixable? Was it worth asking someone to re-record their video? Well we’ll dive deeper into that later..
Choosing the platform is vital. The platform can make or break your virtual event, so it’s important to consider all your options. We’re going to talk briefly about our top 2 choices.
Why not premiere your event on the 2nd largest search engine platform and the largest video streaming platform in the world?!
If we didn’t sell you from that idea alone, we’ll try to convince you more.
Youtube Live, by definition, is “an easy way for Creators to reach their community in real time. Whether streaming an event, teaching a class, or hosting a workshop, YouTube has tools that will help manage live streams and interact with viewers in real time. Creators can live stream on YouTube via webcam, mobile, and encoder streaming.”
We premiered EXP’s Gala on their Youtube channel. Not only was it a great way to be able to promote the event in advance (once you schedule a Youtube Live, you can create a countdown effect on the video which will countdown to the live event-- and you can brand it), but also it is a great way to bring your audience and traffic to your Youtube channel to gain more engagement.
It boosts your organization’s SEO and is an accessible, free, and high-quality way to premiere your event.
The best part (as we mentioned above), while the event is live, you can sit back and engage with your viewers on the live stream chat, and even drop links in there for them to click, donate, share, etc.
A few notes:
A Youtube Live can only be scheduled at certain times. Last we checked it was every 15 minutes. (Meaning if you wanted to schedule a live stream for 5:05 PM you won’t be able to. It’d have to be 5:15 or 5:30, for example.)
A Youtube Live Stream can only be done via a mobile device if you have more than 1,000 Subscribers. You can Live Stream from a laptop or desktop with any # of subscribers.
We all know what Zoom is by now. If you didn’t, we’d be slightly worried.
While Zoom would have meant “the noise a car makes when it goes by quickly” one year ago, we all know it now as one of the biggest webinar and video conferencing platforms today. Over the course of this year, they’ve grown to make the platform very user friendly, accessible, and customizable (depending on the plan you’re on).
Zoom is our second favorite option for Virtual Events. It’s a great way to connect with your audience a bit more intimately. Once again, depending on the plan, you may choose to have everyone in attendance able to show their faces and engage in conversation, or you may have them all hidden, but still allow them to “Raise their hand” and ask questions in the Q&A chat box.
The options are great.
The reason why we were against Zoom, initially, was because it wasn’t great at premiering previously-recorded video footage. The image was very blurred/grainy and laggy. The audio was warped and would drown out.
BUT! They’ve made it better. While the image is still distorted (not horribly, but for us film people, it’s enough to bug the heck out of us), they developed a new feature that when you share your computer’s screen, you can choose to use the computer’s internal audio as well, which fixed the warpy noise problem!
And as we all know, sound is arguably more important than the visuals. Take that with a grain of salt, but this new feature makes it workable.
So you’ve planned your event, gathered all the pre-recorded video segments, and chosen a platform for them to premiere on. You’re almost there!
If you have video editing capabilities, then great! Get to work! If not, you might want to hire a professional editing company (such as ourselves) to put it all together for you. Some say (aka we say) that editing is the most important and intensive part of the entire filmmaking process. You want to give yourself enough time, especially if there are any technical difficulties (which there always are)!
TEST & ASSESS
One of our biggest issues when we began putting this virtual event together was the quality of the Host’s video. It was shot on a cell phone and so it was a little grainy, the lighting was off, and worst of all: there was this nagging ticking sound in the background throughout all the segments.
After some troubleshooting with the Host, we discovered that it was her ceiling fan making this noise that, in person, you would never notice. But the video picked it up right away and it was difficult to drown out in editing.
So we had a two options:
Have her re-record all her video segments and hope that it works better this time.
We would record socially-distant, high quality videos for her.
Pro tip: Never be afraid to re-record or reassess a situation. Especially for virtual events that will live online past their event date, it’s important to make high-quality content for people to enjoy long after the event.
SOCIAL DISTANCE FILMING
We organized with the Host to come to her home and record a socially-distanced video. We had Natalie, our Lead Cinematographer, on site and Meredith, our Lead Director, on Zoom.
Natalie, a few days prior, took a COVID test and tested negative, and arrived on site with mask on, gloves on, sanitizing wipes in hand, and stayed 6 feet away from anyone in the house.
Meredith stayed in the office, Zoom-Directing (which is a term we created for this new and exciting process).
SIT BACK AND RELAX
That’s right. The hardest part is behind you! Once the event arrives, enjoy yourself and engage with your community. Be one with your people.
And when it’s all done, get ready to plan your next event.
If you’d like to hire us for your virtual event, fill out our Strategy Session Survey to get a free 30-minute consultation call about you and your event. We’d love to meet and work with you!