Video Essentials

Best Practices for Live Events in the Enterprise, Part 2


In part 1 of this series you learned the five essentials for streaming live video from the workplace. Now, learn how to tell a story and keep your employees engaged with the presentation.

Live events in the enterprise often include an online component such as a web conference or webcast to a targeted audience within the corporate intranet. Webcasting tools have become easier to use, and, with the development of interactive and social media tools, they’ve evolved from one-way broadcasts into two-way conversations. But just because you have myriad bells and whistles at your disposal doesn’t mean you have to use every one for every event. as i said in Part 1 of my article, “the key is to use the right technology to make it easy to reach the live audience and virtual attendees and provide them a quality and worthwhile experience.”

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Waiting for the big event to begin, in person and online.

Back in the early days, webcasting was more of a novelty with a poor end-user experience, says nick Balletta, CEO of TalkPoint. But today, webcasting live events may finally be reaching a tipping point.

“We see webcasting more as a business tool, a workflow tool,” says Balletta. “Years ago it was something nice to do, but now it’s become a critical part of people’s businesses. Now it’s either driving revenues, supporting their brand, or communicating with their different constituencies, whether they be shareholders, clients, employees. We also see a trend towards much more adoption of video, both [in terms of] making it easier to view and easier to present.”

The Medium Is the Message

We’ve already established that you need the right team with the right tools and the right capabilities at your live event venue. But what are the secret tricks to creating an engaging experience for your audience with streaming video, audio, graphics, and real-time interaction to move them from passive viewers to active participants?

If you only take away only one thing from this article, remember this tip: Don’t let your online audience be an afterthought. You need to cater to their needs by making their experience as engaging as the live audience’s, but in a different way.

Look no further than popular culture to see what “American Idol” has done to capture its live audience. The producers were deliberate with their intent, because they knew that the real show was on the screens of millions of TV viewers; it was not for the hundreds of people in the live audience. They didn’t skimp on production value, and, from the start, they introduced an audience response text-to-vote system that gave the audience the power to influence the outcome of the show.

Just think: What if you put that capability into the hands of your online audience? We’d be able to vote off every boring presenter known to mankind!

Corporate communications departments are seeing the shift as well. Donn Kanagaki, senior manager of IT communications at Kaiser Permanente, oversees the employee outreach events for the CIO and senior IT leadership, which incorporate a combination of a live event, webcast, WebEx, and telephone bridge in order to reach more than 6,000 employees across five time zones. About one-third of the IT employees are able to attend the event live via webcast, but the online numbers are growing. Kanagaki says, “We have to recognize that the majority of our employees that participate are watching online, so we need to look at ways to better engage them.”

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While Kaiser Permanente CIO Phil Fasano addresses an in-person audience
of several hundred, the live webcast reaches thousands of employees who can watch the event online and submit questions directly to the CIO and senior leaders.

In the words of Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message,” and the message can be delivered more effectively using the latest interactive technologies. You may have to use a hybrid approach with a combination of tools based on the capabilities of your webcast or webconferencing platform. Beyond content design, it really does comes down to pushing the limits of any platform and streaming technology to achieve the best two-way experience for your attendees and yourself.

TELL A STORY

The plain and simple fact is that no technology, however great it is, can make a boring presenter better. You have to design your presentation to the right audience using the best set of tools and production value to carry your message. But beyond any technology, presenters need to connect with their audience.

All the great presenters, from Steve Jobs to Gary Vaynerchuk to Isabel Allende, use storytelling to convey their messages. People respond to personal stories because they convey emotion and a universal message.

According to Tim Schmoyer, producer of The Reel Web for ReelSEO.com and one of the most diversely skilled and knowledgeable people in the online video space, storytelling is important and the best way to get your message across. “Stories are something that everyone enjoys and appreciates, and there’s an emotional connection to stories,” says Schmoyer. “What we really believe in is that stories are much more compelling, especially if you can tell a story that answers the ‘why?’ question.”

We use our words to carry our message, but, as with all social media tools, words only go so far, because ultimately people want to see you. Faces show emotion, and our body language tells the rest of the story. We’re used to seeing things visually through television and movies.

Think about how we watch movies. We’re used to more sophisticated viewing experiences, because that’s what we grew up seeing. We know what a close-up is, we see multiple camera angles, and we can hear the dialogue.

So what better way to tell a story and connect with your online audience than by video and audio? But the question comes down to budget: Can you afford video? How does that impact your budget? How much return on investment does it bring?

Let’s look at how the current webcast tools we can help us increase engagement of our online attendees.

Interactive Tools to Increase Audience Engagement

VIDEO

It may seem as if this one goes without saying, but in fact, it must be said: Sometimes, you really have to sell your clients on the value of video to get them to invest in it. For online video marketers, this is a no-brainer. We all know that video increases audience engagement, and live video creates even greater engagement. Keep in mind that the camera can zoom in and get close-ups and a variety of shots that the live audience can’t see, and this allows your online audience to achieve a greater connection to those on camera.

Look at any TED talk video, and you’ll see multiple camera angles, because they strive to create an engaging and cinematic experience. They’ve even developed a guide for would-be TED video producers that speaks to the value of multiple camera shots.

Also, from a business perspective, a report by Polycom and Wainhouse Research that surveyed almost 5000 users worldwide found that 94% of the respondents said that “increased efficiency and productivity is the #1 benefit of video.” Additionally, video increased the impact of discussions by 88% and accelerated decision making by 87%.

You can use these resources when you’re trying to sell your clients on video and describing the value that multiple cameras bring to an event. Of course, they’ll focus on cost, but you’ll have to remind them that every expense is adding value.

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Kaiser Permanente uses Cisco’s WebEx Livestream webcast platform, which can stream in Windows Media at bitrates as low as 150Kbps in an enterprise network environment.

AUDIO

Always strive for great audio. Make sure that your webcast audio feed is clean and audible, and test every microphone. You’ll lose your audience with bad audio. Use fresh batteries for wireless microphones, and give your audio engineers enough time to deal with any wireless frequency interference when you’re at a new venue. Also, be sure to test with any remote presenters, because in most all cases, they won’t have a sophisticated audio setup like you have at the host site, and it’s likely that they’ll use a headset microphone or even a telephone connection. Nobody wants to listen to bad audio, and they’ll abandon ship quickly if audio problems persist.

According to Casey Wilms, product manager at Zencoder, audio can be more important than video. “The best practice from an audio production side is to manage how you’re placing the microphones and the tools you’re using to capture the audio,” says Wilms. “The best step you can take is to provide the audio in a really high quality format to either a cloud or local encoding solution.”

This is outlined in Zencoder’s white paper “Encoding for Quality: How to Deliver the Best Online Video Experience Every Time,” which states that “the differences between good and bad audio encoders are even more pronounced than those among video encoders. The AAC audio codec, offering higher efficiency than MP3, has become the dominant choice of video publishers.”

PRESENTATION CONTENT

Keep your online audience’s attention by using slide builds and refer to the graphic as it changes on screen. Use video clips to capture people’s attention and trigger the discussion. One tip for presenters is to mention what’s on screen, whether it’s a picture or slide data points. That will make multitaskers click back to look at the slide.

The online audience won’t see the dramatic lighting changes and big screen experience that the live audience in the main hall sees, but they will be able to watch the same video at the same time, and more likely have better control of the picture and sound, both of which can be adjusted on-the-fly.

CHAT

While not all webcast platforms allow for two-way chat, and may be limited to one-way Q&A, you can have a highly interactive experience with your attendees using the chat feature. Platforms such as WebEx allow you to manage chat between attendees and your presenters, host and panelists, and other platforms such as Ustream and Livestream integrate Facebook, Twitter, and real-time chat.

A key tip for managing chat is to always have a dedicated webcast moderator or a community manager to manage the social stream. Be sure to have a subject matter expert available to help field questions. You need to monitor the backchannel and feed that into the main channel when it’s appropriate. See Ustream’s “Tips for Doing a Great Ustream Live Chat” for more chat best practices.

Q&A

One of the best ways to engage your audience is through Q&A. If you have both chat and Q&A, you can use a combination of the two to provide updates to the online attendees on the status of their questions, since the Q&A facilitator on stage is balancing the incoming questions from the live and remote attendees. A best practice here is to give your Q&A facilitator access to the online Q&A module through a tablet or iPad on a Wi-Fi connection, so they can scroll through the questions themselves and decide the best questions to take in the interest of time and the direction of the event. Since most webcast-producer tools are based on HTML, it should be no problem for you to test this function and make it available to your clients.

POLLS AND SURVEYS

Polls and surveys are integrated into WebEx Meeting Center, WebEx Training Center, Citrix GoToTraining, and Citrix GoToWebinar; they can be used by presenters to gather intelligence and important information and demographics of your audience. Polls can be created in advance or on-the-fly, and they can help add interactivity and audience participation for your virtual attendees. Other platforms platforms Poll Everywhere and SMS Poll can replace the traditional audience response systems by allowing live and virtual attendees to submit their responses using their mobile devices. Real-time data can be shared on screen so that all attendees can see the responses. And don’t forget that you can launch a survey using any of the popular survey platforms, such as SurveyMonkey, to capture feedback from your online audience.

GET SOCIAL

While it’s been a bit of struggle for compliance and legal departments to see the value of social media in a corporate webcast, many younger employees disagree and are connected on social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare, to stay updated and post their own updates. Many webcast platforms incorporate the ability to make Facebook comments into the social stream and allow you to embed your webcast and chat on your corporate website.

Some platforms, such as SnappyTV, have integrated with Twitter to give users the ability to edit video highlights of a live stream in the cloud and create real-time video promotional messages through social media channels. SnappyTV CEO and co-founder Mike Folgner says that people have a short attention span for live events, and social media helps bring in social interaction. “One thing we saw is that every video has 100 stories,” says Folgner. “But it’s not just about the highlights, it’s about how you’re distributing and who’s your audience.”

GET MOBILE

Corporations are adapting to the changing environment, as mobile devices replace desktops. Many platforms and enterprise streaming products — such as Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite Recorder and Polycom RealPresence Capture Stations — now have mobile delivery, either through Apple HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) or a mobile-ready version that works on iPhones, iPads, and other mobile devices. Survey your audience to find out how many people will join your live event through a mobile device to determine if you should go that route. You might be surprised at how many more people would attend if you give them the flexibility and the choice to go mobile.

TRACK ATTENTIVENESS

Some platforms, such as WebEx, provide a real-time tool to track the attentiveness of your online audience, which is great tool to see if people are multitasking or paying attention. Some sessions can achieve a 75% attentiveness rate with live video and real-time chat. You can see the meter go up and down and use that data to develop your future presentations to help keep people tuned in.

Studies have show that using a variety of media types can keep online viewers attention.

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Platforms such as WebEx provide a real-time tool to track the attentiveness of your online audience.

Real-World Video Strategies

But what about the live and on-demand video generated by the event? Here are some best practices for making sure your video delivers maximum value for your audience and maximum ROI for your client.

RECORD IN HD AND CREATE CHAPTERS

The best practice for on-demand video is to record and archive your live webcast or web conference for immediate replay, and record in HD so you can edit the event into chapters and short sound bites for later use.

Harvey Louie, technical director, producer, and consultant of the webcasting company Event Compression Group, works with his clients in advance to plan out file segments.

“We always like to get an agenda for every room we webcast or do digital presentation capture in,” says Louie. “Adobe Flash H.264 F4V files made with Adobe’s Flash Media Live Encoder (FMLE 3.2) can not be edited down to clips. With an agenda in hand, we can make plans to start and stop and encoder to create session clips.”

Event Compression Group runs concurrent encoders for redundant backup recording and streaming. Louie always captures video at the highest quality before it gets encoded.

“One of my primary tools on all webcast jobs is to use Microsoft’s Windows Media Encoder 9 to make high-quality, high-speed archive files that can be edited down into clips natively in Windows,” says Louie. “In HD we make 1280×720 files encoded at 1500 Kbps or higher, then transcode these file into .mp4 files using Handbrake or Freemake transcoding apps in 2x to 4x faster than real-time. Adobe F4V files can also be transcoded into .mp4 video files, and using Handbrake, [you can] selectively pick precise start and end edit points in the master file to render out a finished .mp4 end file.”

TO HD OR NOT HD? THAT IS THE QUESTION…

While you’ll want HD for the archival version of your event video, you’ll likely want to stay away from it for the live feed. Bandwidth is always a concern in the real world, as TalkPoint’s Balletta says, and while HD video quality is great, it’s not going to make it through corporate firewalls and proxy servers. So what the audience sees from a video encoding perspective is bitrates of 150Kbps to 500Kbps, with most events clocking in at 300Kbps.

“At the end of the day, we’re in a mission-critical, actionable, information environment where the messaging is more important than the pixelation on the video,” Balletta says. “People are watching video on their computers, so although HD video and HD cameras are great, in the enterprise, it doesn’t really bode well.”

Also, depending where you’re at, you could experience a significant bottleneck trying to get your stream out of the venue and up to the cloud, and then back down to your online viewers. So be sure to test the network to see what it can yield to get the best end-to-end live streaming experience.

What Works Best

As we’ve seen, you can combine several platforms to create hybrid events that are live and captured for on-demand viewing, which can extend your reach:

  • Webcast, WebEx, and videoconference
  • Keynotes and plenary sessions
  • Leadership and project updates
  • Moderated exhibitor preshow content
  • Facilitated breakout sessions

You also can create special online-only content and features for your online audience to keep them engaged and coming back for more:

  • Highlight reels
  • Real-time commentary
  • Attendee chat and Q&A
  • Social media streams

A few more parting tips before going live:

  • Set a lockdown on your shows no later than 45 minutes before start time; accept no changes after lockdown begins
  • Do station and facility checks at 30 minutes before each show
  • Make sure you have the final set of slides for rehearsal; avoid last-minute slide changes whenever possible
  • Hire a stage manager whenever there’s a stage
  • Go over stage direction with presenters, as well as transitions, camera blocking, and short answers
  • Do a run-through of the slides with the clients, tech rehearsal with all elements
  • Have your clients proof all titles and on-screen lower thirds
  • Always wire the stage for computer and audio connections
  • Apply makeup to presenters who’ll be captured on HD video
  • Train your mic runners on how to get people to speak into the microphones
  • Watch mic placement so that jewelry or clothing doesn’t muffle or hit the mic
  • Test all microphones
  • Monitor all your feeds: webcast, web conference, videoconference, and telephone
  • Restart computers and free up RAM

In closing, the take-home messages are simple: hire the experts, focus on your business model, and create great content to engage and retain your audience.

This article appears in the August/September 2013 issue of Streaming Media magazine as ” No Second Chances: Best Practices for Live Events in the Enterprise, Part 2.”




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