I just discovered a promotional video on the INXPO page for their XPOCAST webcasting product. Although it is presented as a standard marketing case study, the video includes "behind the scenes" action you don't normally see in vendor promo pieces. I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at what is going on - ignoring the case study and product for the moment. I will try to offer some commentary and insights for those who are considering offering a live webcast and are not sure what is involved.
Caveats abound… I was not involved in any way with the webcast featured in the video. I haven't talked to anyone at INXPO about it. I am just using the video as a jump-off point to talk about typical considerations for webcast organizers. There are many options available to producers when putting together a webcast. What you see here is by no means the only way to do it, or even necessarily the best way to do it. Each situation introduces its own unique needs and constraints. Available budget, hardware, and personnel play a big part in guiding how an event will be run.
Since INXPO published the video to YouTube, I was able to embed it here. You can follow along and pause at the time codes I mention to concentrate on the action.
0:20 - Why is there a bored woman sitting by herself on the presentation stage? Audio and video setup is crucial to a good broadcast of any kind. That woman is probably acting as a tech stand-in to check lighting, sound, and focus. Don't make your presenters be the guinea pigs for this boring process. They have other things to worry about.
0:27 - Should speakers present to a local audience as well as to the remote web audience? You can see that this room was set up that way. This is often easier for presenters, as it gives them faces to look at and feedback from real listeners. It is definitely harder from a tech perspective. You need to watch out for camera sightlines getting blocked by audience members standing up or coming in late. You can easily pick up room noises. You will also have to deal with the potential problem of feedback coming from room audio getting picked up by your microphones. And if your presenters take questions from the room, the questions need to be spoken into a microphone or repeated for the web audience… Your room mike will never pick up audience questions clearly or loudly enough.
0:29 - I like the furniture they used on stage for presenters. Chairs without armrests help to keep posture upright. Speakers often slouch or tilt to one side to rest an arm on a chair with armrests. Tall tables help to keep papers and water bottles handy without the speaker having to bend down awkwardly or out of camera frame. But I think it looks a little classier to have water glasses rather than plastic bottles. No ice, please! Ice makes noise, numbs the tongue and lips, and constricts the throat.
0:37 - "Wow, do you really need that many people on tech?!?" We will be able to isolate some of the roles later, but the INXPO crew is set up so each person can concentrate on their specific responsibility. You want one person clearly and unambiguously in charge (here it's the woman in the blue blouse) so there is no question who is the point of reference for the speakers and who gets to make decisions about crisis management resolution. Yes, it is possible to run a webcast with fewer people (and that is probably more common). But it means that somebody is doubling up on tasks, and they can get distracted or delayed in dealing with one area while coping with another.
0:40 - One tech member has cue cards for the presenters. You can see "LIVE" being shown. There are others on the table. I would have cards for "LOUDER", "TEN MINUTES", "FIVE MINUTES", "WRAP UP", "REPEAT", and "HIT SPOT". Make sure your presenters know what each one means for them and that none is a surprise. They should also be briefed that they do not need to nod or respond to the card-holder.
0:43 - Note the shadows on the white screen behind the speakers. That is hard to prevent in a live-audience setup like this one. In a controlled web-only environment the tech folks could have set up diffused lights with a backlight to help prevent distracting shadows.
0:52 - I can't guarantee it, but there's a good possibility that the four women at the foreground table are working audience support and question response. If you have a large remote audience, it can get overwhelming for one person to try to keep track of everything coming in. Those team members need to be prepared and coordinated so they know how to identify what questions are being answered or have been answered by others, who is responsible for prioritizing questions for the presenters, who answers tech problems, etc.
0:58 - Here we have the question moderator reading a question for the panel. This person needs to know what topics (if any) are taboo. She should be comfortable paraphrasing for conciseness or clarity if necessary. And she should have seed questions ready in case the audience is not forthcoming. By the way, one way to handle local audience questions in this situation is to let people text their questions to the moderator in the back. That avoids the problem of getting them on audio and lets the moderator triage the questions for priority.
1:04 - INXPO is using a multi-camera setup. Cameras are on tripods for stability and one or more camera operators can make sure they have focus, framing, and exposure correct for closeups when panelists move and speak. One camera is no doubt reserved for a wide shot of the entire stage. The operators here are on headsets and the professional knows to cover his mouth and speak very quietly so as not to create a distraction. Inexperienced camera operators are found at far too many events and they can create terrible headaches for a producer!
1:06 - Here we can see the mixer with screens showing closeup and wide shot. He can switch the feed that is going out to the remote audience. He is also monitoring the audio. I would also have somebody logged in as an attendee to make sure the received audio and video is coming through correctly. [Question: As director, what do you do in the event of a technical interruption? Tell the presenters to pause while you reconnect, or continue for the local audience? You'd better have the answer determined ahead of time and let the presenters know what the emergency response case will be. It happens.]
1:18 - One or more people on the tech team are responsible for bringing up the right polling question in the software at the right time. How will results be shown? Can you show them to the local audience in the room? There is also a Twitter stream for this event. One or more of those ladies at the forward table may be making tweets and monitoring the stream for interesting comments from the audience.
1:42 - What are those slackers doing standing against the back corner? I'll bet they are part of the hardware setup crew. They are properly standing by, bored by the content, but waiting and ready in case a wire gets loose or a light burns out or a feedback screech starts. The majority of their job was done earlier, but I like having my guys ready for an emergency.
This is a glimpse into just one of the many, many ways that a webcast can be organized, staffed, staged, and run. Events get more complicated than this and far less complicated. If you have never tried running a live, hybrid local-remote event, this is excellent food for thought and a nice indication of what you should expect to think through with your vendors and support teams.