Featured image for “Re-imagining Live Events”

Re-imagining Live Events

By: Conner Galway

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, and if that’s true, the needs that have been created by the global pandemic are one of the greatest sparks of creativity we’ve ever seen. The Internet, as a communication channel, has been growing and developing over the past 20-30 years, but always as a supplement to the real-world experience. Now, the experiences we’re having through our screens are sometimes the only interactions that we’re able to have.

Virtual events are poised to step into the void that has been left by cancelled conferences, festivals, and concerts, but as I think we’ve all experienced over the past few months, you can’t just point a camera at a stage and call it an event.

The reason that we all used to hop on airplanes and spend thousands of dollars to attend physical events was because of all of the other stuff we get from them: meeting people, interacting with vendors, discovering things by chance and, of course, the happy hours where we let down our guards and sometimes get the most real work done. The fact is that the virtual event experience will likely never be able to compete with that, so any good live event planning needs to start with the foundation that it must find new and creative ways to offer value. We can certainly be inspired by what we loved at those live events, but when it comes to virtual we are not adapting them, we are building something brand new.

Last week I was invited to share my thoughts on exactly this topic with BC’s Tourism Resiliency Program. I’m going to break down what I shared with them below and, if you’d rather watch, I’ve embedded the recording from the event here:

The first thing to figure out when planning live virtual events is, why are we planning a live virtual event? Going live takes a lot of work, it has a risk of technical issues, and it limits the quality of the show because there’s only so much editing you can do. In many cases, it makes much more sense to simply record the show, polish it up, and share the video with our audience.

Take the example of TV content: The vast majority of what we watch is pre-recorded, then edited and published. In some cases, however, there’s a magic to the live experience that no amount of editing can replicate. Have you ever tried watching a recording of your favourite sports team’s game the next day? Somehow it feels more ridiculous to yell at the referee, or cheer from your home when you know that the rest of the world already knows the outcome.

When it comes to events, there are a few reasons we should consider going live:

1. It’s interactive — Forums, expert talks, wine tastings, and live music are all made better when the viewer can be interacting with the on-screen show.
2. The outcome is unknown — One of the reasons why “reality” is still must-see-TV is because it gives us an opportunity to collectively speculate about an unknown outcome. Panels where experts debate topics are a good example, so are contests and live interviews.
3. It offers real-time updates — Why would someone watch a live music/wine/literary festival when the Internet already has so much great content on that topic? It’s for the sense that they’re seeing and hearing from experts or entertainers about what’s happening right now.
4. You have an audience — Unlike most other types of content, live events are difficult to use to attract new people. In most cases, the people who log on to your live event are going to be people who have been following/subscribing already. This is your opportunity to provide value, drive conversions, and deepen relationships, but rarely is a stream going to acquire a large amount of new awareness for you.

Alright, so you’ve decided that a live event is the right choice for you. Here are a few things to start thinking about:

The Two Types of Virtual Events

There are fundamentally two different formats of live virtual event: Social and Owned.

1. Social – Social events are the ones that we’ve been seeing in our newsfeeds. They are hosted on a social media platform and are distributed through that platform’s algorithm. The benefits of social events are that there is no cost for hosting, the setup is minimal, and there’s an audience already there; all you need to do is convince them that your live stream is more interesting than all of the rest of the content flowing across their screens.

Social event platforms include:
* Facebook Live
* Instagram Live
* Periscope (Twitter)
* YouTube Live
* Twitch

2. Owned
Owned events are produced on platforms where we can control the access. They can be embedded onto our websites, or live within a provider’s application. They often provide more features for interaction and control of their viewing experience. Typically, brands choose to go with an owned event when they want to be able to restrict the audience, or when they want to use the show as an opportunity to collect leads. B2B marketers have been using this tactic for years in the form of free webinars. Now, B2C marketers are starting to catch up. Wine clubs are collecting emails in exchange for virtual tastings, golf courses are building their lists by doing lessons with their pros, and music festivals are selling tickets to virtual shows.

A few owned platforms worth checking out:
* Livestream (acquired by Vimeo)
* Vimeo Live
* Zoom
* GoToWebinar
* DaCast

Driving Revenue from Live Events

A common question that’s been coming up as businesses are transitioning to live events is how they can continue to generate revenue from them. There are several ways that we can use live events as revenue drivers and, of course, the simplest is to sell tickets. The good (and the bad) news about virtual event ticket sales is that there is no magic method—you probably already know how to do it.

Recently, a few services have sprung up that promise to offer live event ticketing in a variety of ways, but when we peel back what they’re doing it’s as simple as:

1. People buy a ticket online.
2. They get a private link to a stream.

You can accomplish that by using whatever online ticketing service you previously used (ie. Eventbrite) and simply sending private links out to the people who paid.

That being said, there are cases when it makes sense to explore the software options out there, so here’s a list of a few good ones:

* Eventbrite
* TicketSpice
* GoToWebinar
* SimpleTix
* BandZoogle (built for music)

Beyond selling tickets, there are so many more creative ways that we can think about generating revenue from live virtual shows. The principle to keep in mind when building any monetization plan is the simple fact that we are creating our own media channel. Whether our audience size is 50 or 50,000, we now have the opportunity to do any and all of the things that other media channels do to make money. Here are a few that we’ve seen work well:

Order curated packages – There may be food or liquor delivery that goes along with your live show, supplies to make things at home, or other purchases that will enhance the virtual experience. Sometimes the best time to sell these packages is in the days or weeks leading up to the show.
Drive Ecommerce – You can be your own infomercial and drop product placements here and there. Use the Chat tools to link to the page where people can buy the thing that’s on their screen for themselves.
Sell subscriptions/memberships – Your virtual event may just be a tease of more benefits that you offer to your clients or online subscribers. If that’s the case, let them know about how they can continue to receive that value, and consider a promo code or a value-add for event attendees.
Ask for donations – If you don’t have an obvious way for people to do business with you, but people are loving what they’re seeing, they may want to support you by making a financial contribution. YouTube and Twitch have this feature built into their platforms, and you can also send people to Patreon or even a simple PayPal page.

Your Live Event Gear

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we come to the equipment you’ll need to produce a high-quality virtual event. Of course, there are many different types of events that require a whole array of gear, but I’ll get you started by focusing on the most basic setup. The same categories and principles that go into a single person webinar can be extended to just about any scale of show.

Your Internet Connection
There is nothing more important to a virtual event than a rock-solid Internet connection. The best-produced event in the world is unwatchable when half of the time is spent waiting for the feed to buffer.

This piece of advice is non-negotiable: Have a hardline ethernet connection with no less than 25mbps upload speed and 50mbps download speed. Sure, you could try to get by with a super-fast Wi-Fi connection, or a slightly slower hardline, but if you’re going to bother putting all of this effort into a live show, you should really make sure that people can watch it smoothly.

Before you go live, test your connection three times with Speedtest.net and record the lowest values. That’s what you can rely on for your production.

We live in the golden age of video equipment (so far). Your iPhone has a high-quality camera, and your laptop’s webcam probably isn’t bad. Increased investment in camera equipment will, of course, produce an increased quality of stream, but perhaps counterintuitively, this is the last area that you need to be going crazy spending money. Keep it simple for productions like webinars or cooking classes. As you move up in production quality, the best thing you can do is add additional cameras that you can live-switch between to create a richer viewing experience, and even with those cameras, quality is great, but the two items listed below should be where you spend your money first.

My recommendation for the best camera quality and value is the Logitech C922 Pro. It’s become the YouTube vloggers’ industry standard, and it has a pretty decent mic built in. Price = $129.99.

This is the unsung hero of virtual events. We call them “video streams” so we think about what we’re taking in with our eyes first, but whether the event is a speaker series, educational content, music, or entertainment, the most important information is being conveyed through our ears.

The difference between good and great audio is the ability for listeners to understand clearly what’s being said without having to strain, and the difference in perceived quality, whether we realize it or not, is dramatic. Notice when you watch an amateur IG Live how the degraded audio quality is frustrating to listen to and is exhausting for more than a few minutes.

Fortunately, the fix is simple and doesn’t cost a lot. You can use a variety of devices, from desktop podcast mics to lav mics or shotgun mics. My recommendation is simple, easy to use, and has settings for single-person shows, interviews, and even groups: It’s called the Blue Yeti and it goes for $179.99.

The Set
Last, and certainly most under-rated, is your set. This is everything that’s going to be in your frame except for your subject (i.e. you). There are two things to consider when creating your set: 1. What’s going to be in it? 2. How will it be lit?

For the items in your set, the simpler the better. Keep the lines clean and uncluttered, and be intentional about what your audience is going to see. This is an opportunity to get creative, and to have a bit of fun—put your favourite books on a shelf, bring in a bobblehead or something that will make your audience smile, and plants are always a plus. If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out the Twitter account Room Rater, which has been judging people’s home setups long before COVID-19.

As for lighting, if you don’t have a kit, then the more natural light the better. Most of our home lighting is pretty yellow, which creates a dingy frame. If you are looking to spend a few dollars, a simple ring light will go a long way. Sets of all sizes should have at least some lighting on hand, so to get started, I recommend the Westcott 18? ring stand & tripod – it will run you $199.90.

Of course, all of this planning and gear and software is only going to be as good as the content you’re delivering, so as you’re planning, always return back to the question: Why will people watch this live? You should have a clear and obvious answer, and that will make the promotion of your show that much easier.

If you’re on the fence about whether your event should go live, and what the value could be to your business, you should give our live streaming primer post a read, it’s called Staying Connected With Live Streaming Video.