6 Thoughts on Running a Live Event on a Shoestring Budget.
I recently had the opportunity and pleasure as a freelancer to be part of a very small team that ran a Global Live Streamed Event. Unfortunately, because it wasn’t an advertised event, but an internal one meant only for students and alumni, I will have to omit the name of the organization and the names of the people I worked with, simply to maintain their own privacy. Thankfully the overall experience and lessons learned from it will not be hindered by this necessity. To offer some context for it, it was an event that was streamed from 5 different time zones and viewable to anyone in the world that was given the link. The event itself lasted for myself and a colleague from 7:30 am to 22:30 pm, this included pre-event checks and post event closing down. As we were the Producers/Organizers of the event ours was the longest day, the various teams in the various locations were only required pre- and during the scheduled live events, so they were mostly on call for 3–7 hours during the day. Due to certain internal constraints and requirements, the overall event was done on what can be best described as a shoestring budget, especially if you compare it to something like TedTalks. Despite this, the overall production and execution were done with a very professional air and therefore I believe you can benefit from some of the learnings I got on that longish day.
What this piece is & isn’t about…
What it is: This piece will try to recommended what pre-production planning is recommended. Even though I wasn’t present for every step of the way in terms of the planning (various other commitments) many of these points will still hold true. Along with that I’ll write down the various things I experienced and learned on the day and recommend a few tips on what future things could be done and what you as an individual should do while working with a team. What it isn’t: I won’t be breaking down the process into a step-by-step guide, as this would be tedious and a waste of your time, but also because every event is its own unique beast that you will need to tackle. All I can do is offer advice and general concepts about how you can better approach your own event.
1. A How to on Global Pre-Production
Producing locally is a challenge but having to do it across multiple continents and time-zones can be very tricky, especially if face-2-face conversations are not very doable in the run up to the Event day. Choose a Project Management platform that works for you and is easy to use for your team. Due to the low-budget, the team was assembled out of available people in the company I worked with. This may be true for you as well, as this is generally what happens. And in this case, the platform used was Basecamp. It’s free, it’s easy to use and it can integrate well with other free options such as Google Docs. I highly recommend it as it worked very well with this team of international employees and external contractors. Once the platform is in place you as an organizer will need to ensure that each person on your team gives you twice weekly updates on how they are progressing with the project.
2. What technology to use for streaming
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a Global Zero-Budget live streamed event. There will always need to be some budget, but it doesn’t need hundreds of thousands of Euros, Pounds or Dollars. In the case of this event, due to the number time zones and locations, a few thousand dollars were spent on getting decent live streaming software and hardware, camera’s, sound equipment and set decoration. Some of these can even be dropped in price if you are really strained for cash. What we used, and recommendation for a project like this is Livestream’s Mevo camera. Available from Livestream’s website and from Amazon.com. It’s very easy to use, though you will need an iPad or iPhone to operate it. From our experience, the iPad is better due to screen size and processing power, which is a must when live streaming. The next piece of equipment is a PC or laptop with a licensed version of Livestream on it. As you can imagine Mevo being from Livestream would use its software, however, it does also allow streaming through Facebook Live. Check the recommended specifications of the software and what you’ll be streaming so that you do indeed have a PC or laptop powerful enough to run the event. Apart from that, you should be ready to go. We did have webcams attached to laptops, or extra camera’s feeding in through HDMI as backups and those are also valid options if acquiring a Mevo and iPad are excessive extra costs. If you do go for that option, you won’t be tied to Livestream and can use any service such as Xsplit or another streaming platform. We used Livestream and it’s a very solid and efficient platform at cost.
3. Team preparation for the day
Apart from having a decent technology available, having a team and prepping them is of equal if not greater importance. Hopefully, you will have a long lead time to your event to prepare everything you need, but getting a team on board of people you were given or could choose is central. This is because creating a trusting, working relationship with them is vital. This may seem obvious reading this, but you’d be surprised how many people simply believe that if you work in the same organization everyone will automatically do what is expected of them on the day. If you are producing the stream and organizing it, as I said earlier, have weekly update meetings, skype with them. Remember to be understanding, loyal and strict or goal driven. It’s still a project with a deadline, but everyone enjoying the project and willing working together is the best situation for you. The next piece is simply event prep, like getting them to practice with the equipment well in advance of the day. Checking that they understand how to deal with Speakers when they arrive, helping them if they don’t. Checking that they know what to do if something were to go wrong. I’d recommend checking that each person has some video and IT background, and if they don’t, either replace them early or find them an assistant who can fill the gaps in their knowledge. Support, practice, and preparation are the three key elements in any production.
4. Equipment preparation and check for the day
This point is similar to the one above but is more equipment focused that people focused. One of the most important points to check in advance is sound. You would think video is the most important, and it is, but the sound is the most volatile aspect of any production. People tend to have problems with sound issues a lot quicker than video issues when viewing a stream. If your viewers can hear clearly and see something, then you’ve achieved something. If they can see something and there’s bad or no audio, then there’s no stream. This also includes making sure that the speaker is mic’d up correctly and that camera positions are done intelligently. There is a blog on this that I’ve written with 6 Quick Tips to setting up for a Streamed Live Event.
5. The actual day
For the actual day, all being well, all preparations have gone per plan. The role as Producer and Organizer is to keep everyone focused on the schedule and to keep double checking if there are any unexpected or expected issues. From my experience, I had a brilliant colleague, highly skilled and very calm during some nerve-wracking situations. On the day, we could split responsibilities of what the Producer, Organizer, and Troubleshooter needed to do. For communication with the various teams across the world, we used Skype, creating large groups and sub-groups per region and event. I would recommend using this, but if you have the extra budget do try to find a method that allows direct spoken communication, as for us the delay between typing and seeing action on screen did become frustrating at times.
6. Final points to think about
The final few things I suggest you keep in mind are the following: Make sure that you and your colleagues/team are hydrated and fed well. I know a few things in this are obvious statements, but as someone who’s worked in the industry for a long while now, food and water are things that seem to be forgotten easily. And a hungry, dehydrated crew is not one that will give it 100%. Check, double-check & triple-check: keep checking everything, is might become tedious, irritating and frustrating, but the worst feeling in the world is having something go wrong and a little voice in the back of your head saying “shit, didn’t check that”. Lastly, communicate, constantly. Not just for getting things done but also to explore ideas during pre-production. Someone else might have a flash of insight or remember something that needs to be checked. And communication strengthens a team’s bond.
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