Production Values for Virtual Events

Just because you’ve got a webcam, doesn’t mean you’ve got a virtual event!

We have all spent hours on Zoom calls over the last few months; they are the equivalent of hiring a board room at a venue or hotel. You’ve got a table and chairs, perhaps a flip chart and plasma screen. For the purposes of bringing a group of people together to discuss certain issues, it’s perfect, but an Event, it is not…

At an Event, you would have professional staging, sound, lighting, you may well have a production company running it, creating stings and graphics. It looks and feels professional and slick, creating the right impact for the audience, be they staff who have to attend, or paying delegates.

Virtual events demand those same production values, and doubly so if your event is a revenue centre attracting sponsorship and paid attendees. For virtual, you are your own AV person!

If you’re just using a basic platform like Zoom or Teams, spend time exploring the features so the audience experience is as focussed as possible, and do have someone dedicated to run it whose not presenting. Like the original analogy, auto mode is fine for a simple meeting, but an Event demands more.

The more bespoke virtual meeting platforms of course have additional features built in, while production companies can offer a whole range of solutions which at the top end will make your event more akin to a TV programme, but with the added benefit of interaction that online offers, be they polls, chat boxes and the like.

Top Tips

  • Setting – Clean and tidy is the order of the day, but for organisers trying to get a cross a unified theme, think about investing in some cardboard backdrops which your contributors can erect behind them so to ensure a consistent visual message. In the case of paid for events, this can also give sponsors exposure in much the same way they would at a physical event.
  • Lighting – More really is more when it comes to lighting. The light source needs to be in front of the presenter and evenly distributed. On a test call (yes, you do need a test call!) try out different settings, and do it at the same time of day as the presentation. Ideally source a portable lamp to have in front of you; Anglepoise style are brilliant. If you’re a professional speaker, or someone likely to do lots of online presentations, consider investing in some professional lights from a photographic supplier, or if you’re on a budget, a day light used to treat SAD is remarkably effective. Also, be warned strip lights can strobe on webcams, so just using stand alone lights with the strips off might be best.
  • Webcams vary greatly in quality. Do make sure it is clean (seriously, a wipe with a dry clean cloth can do wonders!), while professional/regular speakers should seriously consider upgrading to a professional quality one; ditto mics, which in the case of a lapel, could free you up to move around a bit.
  • Broadband - If you're going to be presenting regularly, do think about investing in a dedicated line at home, so you're not constantly battling for bandwith with memebrs of your household.
  • Positioning – if you would normally move about the stage, why not virtually? Experiment offline to see how far you can move around while staying in shot. But DO make sure the camera is at the same height as your head, and DON’T be looking down at the camera. As a general rule, your eye line needs to be about ¾ up the screen.
  • Sightline – we’ve all been taught to maintain eye contact, but with a webcam that means looking directly at the camera, not at the screen of people you’re looking at. It takes a bit of getting used to but makes all the difference.

Virtual events are going to be a necessary reality for the next few months, but with the proper production values, brand and event integrity can be maintained and even enhanced. When physical events finally return, they will likely take a hybrid form with a combined physical and virtual audience, and these offer great opportunities to segment, tailor (and in the case of paid for events, further monetise) the user experience.

Content will always be King, but production values are Queen…