Staging virtual events
Content is king. Production values make the experience.
Let’s be honest: we love live events. They allow us to connect with co-workers, business prospects or listen to an inspiring speaker. The taste and smell of catering. The latest immersive tech to touch and play with, shape the experience. The prestige and excitement of international travel. Even the background music: the acoustic signature that subliminally resonates at annual events. And if the location is right, like a New Orleans or Barcelona, the local chefs probably get a hive five too.
Can virtual events be a substitute?
True, you can’t replace all those sensory experiences, well not yet. Ask us in 3 to 5 years the story might be different but right now, virtual events have limitations when thinking about those aspirational values. However, with creativity and attention to detail, you can create an inspiring experience with exclusivity.
It starts with content and creating virtual teams and activities but, that alone doesn’t create the experience. Consider the following:
- Think like a TV producer
Virtual events (or webcasts) are very similar to TV productions. The laws of physics don’t necessarily apply. Today you can sit in a virtual TV studio in London or Singapore and have an armchair interview with someone in Paris, or in a forest or on an oil rig. Other experts can join the discussion from anywhere in the world and appear to be in the same room. All in real-time. So, how is this being achieved?
Physical set: The most traditional option, much like the ones we know from TV. Think of any breakfast or evening news programme, a set is designed for a round-table interview or talking via screens to journalists on location. The big advantage of this set up is the presenters and moderator will feel more comfortable in a familiar, physical environment. You can dry-hire a studio and design and build your own stage, set and furnishings, to be on-brand.
The downside: if you are only doing one webcast, it can be a lot of effort to build and then tear down and recycle. It’s a better format if you are planning a series of webcasts from the same familiar, brand setting. If you want to bring in immersive experiences using augmented reality, this can be more challenging. Which brings into focus greenscreens and virtual studios.
Green-screen environments: Would you believe it, this technology is 100 years old? Who’d expect it to be used in the events industry in the 21st century? A green-screen studio is easy to arrange, in any location. It does require a bit of preparation from the speakers and host-moderator though, as the green screen environment does not feel natural for everyone. Indeed, it’s advisable to provide either coaching, training or hiring a profession TV anchorperson who will have experience, working with this format.
On the upside, it does allow the context to suit the topic. So, if you are talking about carbon capture, as an example, the backdrop to the interview could be a carbon capture installation. You can also have people appear in the same space, for an interview, from the other side of the world. It’s versatile and relatively inexpensive format. It’s easily set up in an office.
Virtual studio: 3D virtual studios offer an infinitely flexible canvas to create an environment of your choice. You could create the impression you are on an oil, conducting an interview, or in a meadow, surrounded by a forest. However, the true beauty of this tech is the introduction of augmented reality artefact. This combination of advanced broadcast technology, combined with computer gaming software, provides a highly versatile digital canvas. It’s a fully controllable virtual environment.
So, for example, if you’re talking about using drones in an oil rig to survey structural damage after a storm, you can appear to be on a rig and drone can fly into the space. This gives you an opportunity to create breath-taking visualizations and experiences for an audience.
Unlike the green-screen, where presenters and the host have to imagine the backdrop, in the virtual environment the setting and any augmented reality elements or speakers introduced in a Zoom-style fashion from remote locations, are visible. It’s easier for the host and presenters to orientate.
- You can stay at home
A well-produced virtual event does not have to be staged in a studio. Your speakers and technical crew can stay at home. Plug-n-play, sterilized, HD pro-camera, lighting and audio capture, can be delivered to the presenter’s home and connected to their PC/laptop. An auto-connected remote technician, with direct communication to presenters, will take care of the broadcast quality. This solution allows vision mixing, multiple camera feeds with built-in redundancy if connections fail. Content is served from the cloud, ensuring the quality, stability and security of the broadcast.
This solution requires some extra care when it comes to branding. You can send printed backdrops or green-screens to presenters’ homes. So, when speaking to the camera there is a cohesive look to the event. A green-screen set up would enable backdrops to be remotely superimposed to reflect the topic.
- Enhance the virtual experience with second screens
Watching on a laptop has its limitations. Indeed, we often recommend the pre-event communications to encourage the remote attendee to use their home-cinema, IP-TV to watch a webcast that’s over 2 hours long. A virtual event can be truly immersive if you consider part of the program using VR or 360° recording.
Depending on the size of the event, the participants can be sent a VR headset similar to Google Cardboard, with your branding printed on. This would allow them to completely immerse themselves. It does not only create an enhanced virtual experience but also adds a “sci-fi” factor to it.
Staging a fully 360° or VR experience is easy: using a QR code on the screen, captured with the camera on your smartphone or tablet activates an augmented reality or 360° experience, which can be watched with narration or listening webcast. Executed well, it will definitely leave your audience impressed.
- Keep it real
Tactile experiences can signal to the delegate the webcast is more than a casual webinar or video-on-demand. On registration or in the webcast site links to online swag providers, like YR, can provide personalized, event branded give-aways: everything from personalized face-masks to re-usable water bottle. Or, for example, if the event is a breakfast webcast, a foodie-goodie bag with organic cereal bars, speciality, fare-trade coffee and event-branded mug can be delivered to the delegates home the day before the virtual event.