The livestream is, arguably, the most important part of any virtual event - and, for many of us, the most unfamiliar component to plan and execute. We field many requests for advice on where to find AV help and how to evaluate prospective candidates (paid or volunteer) - this article shares what we've learned from the customers that have gone before you.
Assess Your Needs
You can't recruit or hire until you know exactly what you need help with so the first step is to first define the minimum production value you NEED for your livestream (what you'd "like" can be an additional list):
Do you NEED:
- Multiple Cameras (with broadcast switching from one camera to another)?
- Pre-recorded Videos (with broadcast switching between live camera feed and pre-recorded segments)?
- Motion and/or Chyron Graphics (dynamic transitions, title pages, and/or banners of info/highlights)?
- Picture within a Picture (broadcasting split screen or main image/feed plus secondary image/feed)?
If you need any of the above elements, your AV person/team will need to use additional software/service to combine multiple elements into the "single feed" to display on your Virtual Event screen.
If not, your AV person can use the simplest option: Single Camera: a webcam or external camera that continuously broadcasts whatever it is filming with audio from built-in or external speaker.
Do you NEED:
- To use a recording studio? A good studio provides the most controlled environment (known acoustics, lighting, reliable internet), appropriate backdrops and ease of communication among your team during the broadcast - but usually costs money and may require a contract with a professional AV service.
- To livestream from multiple locations? Multiple locations may provide more visual interest/variety - but they also require more equipment resources (complete lighting/audio/camera/internet set-up and testing for each location); more variability (lighting/audio/internet reliability); and more challenging communication between sets.
When assessing needs vs wants - remember that content is a critical element of the livestream. A simple, one camera feed of engaging and delightful content will almost always be more successful than an elaborate production of dull, "talking head" or disjointed content.
Pre-recorded "guest" segments are often cheaper to produce and higher quality than livestreaming "guest" segments from another location. Not only does it eliminate the coordination and equipment issues inherent with multiple locations, but pre-recording takes the pressure off the guest speaker (who is unlikely to be a professional actor), allows editing to ensure production quality and can often be handled in-house, ahead of the event.
Assess Your Resources
There is much more to a livestream than the cameras, microphones, and software - the best camera crew in the world cannot make a blockbuster movie without a script, cast, director and producer .
Since few non-profits have the budget to outsource all of these responsibilities, you'll want to inventory the talents/availability within your team/community to determine which could be handled in-house:
Producer: Creates a detailed timeline for the entire livestream, works with AV team on content/messaging for any chyron or motion graphics, keeps all elements of project on schedule, coordinates budget (and any necessary adjustments.)
Director: Works with each presenter on messaging/scripts and coordinates editing of any pre-recorded videos.
Videographer(s): Coordinates the filming and handles editing of pre-recorded videos
Set Designer: Provides a visual backdrop and sources any props needed for Auctioneer/Emcee/Presenters
AV Crew: These elements can be handled by different people as long as someone is clearly coordinating/in charge:
- Controlling the Broadcast (mixing the feed, if nec).
Set realistic expectations for an amateur/volunteer crew - resist the temptation to include elements they are "pretty sure" they can handle. This is not a figure skating competition - no one gets credit for attempting a triple salchow if they fall on their butt. Concentrate on planning a simpler program that you are confident your crew can execute with aplomb - or invest in the services of a professional.
Find the Right AV Help
There is often a gap between what your event needs and what can comfortably be handled "in-house", so most events need to find some outside expertise.
Depending on your budget, you may be looking to fill relatively small roles for a relatively simple production or a professional service that will take the lead on the entire production. Here are some tips for finding the right resource for your budget:
Finding Professional Services:
- Check with other non-profits or schools that have held Virtual events for recommendations.
- Check with A/V services you've used for past Gala events to see if they Livestream or can recommend a Livestream service.
- Do a google search for "Livestream Production + Your City"
Tips for Evaluating Professional Services:
- Ask to see examples of their previous work to evaluate the production value. Keep in mind that they will likely share the examples they are most proud of, which may not be attainable given your budget/time frame. Ask follow up questions: how many hours did this take to produce? Is this what we can expect for our event?
- Ask for references from organizations/events that are as similar to yours as possible.
- Ask if they have experience with Virtual Auctions. If not, proceed with caution: you only get one shot at your live webcast. What lessons have they learned that you can apply to your event?
- Providing a detailed Request for Proposal/Quote which clearly delineates the services you require will allow you to accurately compare quotes from multiple candidates.
Finding Community Resources for relatively simple productions:
- Community, College or High School Theater groups may have a stage/studio with lighting and microphones onsite as well as a stage crew that is familiar with the setup.
- Churches and Congregations have been livestreaming their services for almost a year now - and may have resources/expertise available.
- These days almost everyone has the ability to film short videos on their phones - and it's relatively easy to find individuals that enjoy (and have the skills) to edit gathered clips into effective and enjoyable pre-recorded videos.
Tips for Evaluating Community/Amateur Services:
- For setting up and broadcasting the Livestream: if your livestream will use more than a single camera, how familiar/comfortable are they with OBS, StreamYard, or ManyCam software for mixing the feed? If their livestream experience is solely via another platform (such as Youtube, Facebook, Vimeo), their experience won't necessarily translate - they must be willing and able to learn how to set up and use one of the recommended apps that are compatible with our software. Make sure they understand that our platform uses different technology than higher latency streaming services and REQUIRES different settings than they may be accustomed to using.
- If setting up the Livestream: how familiar are they with the actual equipment that will be used for the livestream? Do they own it? Will they be renting? Borrowing? Attempting to configure, set-up and synch unfamiliar/rented/borrowed equipment ALWAYS requires more work and time than expected. ALWAYS. If you have ANY budget at all - hire a professional to provide and set up the equipment. If you don't use a professional - insist on set-up and a complete test AT LEAST 24-48 hours prior to your event.
- Ask to see examples of their previous work to evaluate the production value. Keep in mind that they will likely share the examples they are most proud of, which may not be attainable given your budget/time frame. Ask follow up questions: how many hours did this take to produce? Do you have an example of that would be comparable to what you would produce for our event?
- Try to ascertain a realistic estimate of their availability. When would they be able to get started? Can they commit to delivering their product at least X days prior to the event (if appropriate) or can they commit to participating in at least one dress rehearsal at Date/Time?
- Try to ascertain how likely a volunteer is to follow through on their commitment (with a minimum of follow-up). Did they raise their own hand - or were they volunteered by a spouse, parent etc? What else is on their plate?
Tips when relying on volunteers:
Schedule a full dress rehearsal at least 24 hours prior to the actual event. Not only does it serve as a critical test of your AV equipment and broadcast, but it also creates a self-enforced, hard deadline for the completion of assignments.
Avoid overloading the willing. Break assignments into small discrete pieces and prioritize. If you are hoping for 5 pre-recorded videos, assign one per person, in the order of importance. When one assignment is completed, they can be given another. This avoids the awkwardness of having to reassign projects that aren't on track for completion and ensures the highest priority assignments are the ones that get done first.