So You Want to Host a Virtual Event?

The Coroneconomy (Yes thats Corona and Economy… because I’m creative) has the live event industry in shambles. Conference centers are closed, stages are shuttered, and banquet halls are shut down. And yet we still need special events even, in the midst of the global pandemic. Whether it is making sure your board meeting is effectively seen by the right people, or giving your students in the theatre program a chance to perform. For event planning and producers, making an event virtual presents a brand new set of challenges and expenses that may fall outside the norm. Even the most experienced may have no experience in the virtual world. I hope these tidbits here can help you as you begin to plan your next event.


Does it need to be live?

While this may seem fairly obvious, the answer to this question is extremely important. What we are talking about here is the difference between a “live broadcast” and a “pre-recorded” broadcast. Remember when NBC started the Live Musical broadcasts? The reason that gimmick is so difficult is because you have to get it right. Right on the spot… like a live performance! “But Gordon! Thats the same for an audience who attends a show in person too! So what does this matter?” True, part of the live performance is the “warts and all” mentality… but it will frustrate you AND your audience if the warts are on the technical or presentation end. The reason NBC is so good at it (besides being one of the largest broadcast companies), is they spend weeks rehearsing with the technical crew just like they do with the actors. The other option is to do your own “Hamilton”. Radical Media spends the time to plan, rehearse, and capture a musical over multiple performances, then edits it together to still present you with a “live event” as they did with Disney’s “Hamilton”. The show still feels live, but it is captured first, edited and mixed, and then released. You can still pre-record your full event “live” – in that you will do no re-taking of what is said and done on stage – but then you have time to be sure the presentation medium is beautiful and effective. The only major reason an event needs to be live is if there is direct audience interaction or an imperative for a first time view. If you are simply presenting, consider pre-recording your whole event and editing it to be just right. However, if you need to do live polling, zoom call questions, or have the audience applaud in the room. A live stream will be necessary. There is also the gimmick of everyone being there at the same time… but then again… how would they know? (Without the crowd… how does anyone know if that Lions game is live?!?!?!?!)


This can be a big question. And it has much to do with what you are going for with your live event and how important quality is. We’ve all seen our friends “go live” with their phones… and every so often it can look great! So at the very least – a descent cell-phone with facebook will get you the basic stream. But lets assume you are looking for something a bit more professional:


The camera is your first need. A nice computer cam or descent webcam is fine, a newer iPhone is better, but a professional camera would be best. You will want to be positioned on a tripod or stand in a location that can capture your intended stage. Then you will need proper lenses for your distance and check to be sure it’s focused. If you are comfy with a still, full-framed “stage” for your whole performance, you are all set! But if you want someone moving the camera… make sure they can handle the movements without wobbling and jerking. If you have only the single camera… you are stuck with whatever that one shot is… but if you are adding more cameras, you will need to get a switcher (see below)


Don’t forget the audio!

It is very easy to overlook audio… after all you can’t see it! (get it… overLOOK). But some of the most beautiful looking events (both live and virtual) can be ruined by terrible sound. In the simplest setting, most cameras have some sort of built-in microphone that can pickup the area around it. While this is “Okay” it is not ideal. If you are working somewhere with an in-house audio system, use it! Lavalier mics, podium mics, handheld mics. They all lead back to some sort of audio mixer. A simple feed from there into your camera (or better yet into your switcher- see below) is a good start. Having someone mixing the audio and monitoring specifically for your stream is best. Remember, your audience isn’t listening in the room or through the speakers in the room – so be sure to put on some headphones and listen to whats happening in the stream!


You’ve gotta be able to see your subjects, so streaming in the dark is a no go! But it can be as simple as some living room lamps, some overhead lights, or just plain sunlight. When you want to get into the more artistic and beautiful presentations, you need to start considering stage lighting or lighting specific for video. If you are able to hire, your video crew and director should be able to tell you what you need for your situation. But if you are going it alone, try to remember a few things. Don’t light from behind – all you will see is a silhouette. Don’t light from directly above only – this will cast dark shadows down faces and look a bit creepy. And don’t light from right behind the camera – nobody likes to see their presenters constantly squinting.


A switcher is a device which allows you to… well… switch. Between a variety of camera shots or other inputs. Other inputs could include a feed from a computer, a Blu-Ray player, or a tablet. At the most basic level, a switcher will allow you to swap between these feeds, but often, switching systems allow you to have some sort of transition. From the standard cross-dissolve where one image fades into another, to some of the more silly ones like an image flying away. They will also sometimes include “Picture in Picture” or PIP so you can show two shots at the same time (think of your the powerpoint filling the screen and the camera shot of the presenter small in the corner). Some switching systems will also allow downstream and upstream “keying”. This allows you to overlay a graphic (such as a “lower third” or a logo “watermark”) with information for your audience while still showing the event on the full screen. Switchers can be all in one small box or be as big as a whole room with multiple monitors and computers. You will often get two options for viewing. At minimum they will have a “program out” which is the final output if what you want to show. Some of the nicer ones will also have a “Multi-view” output or screen for your director/producer. This image will contain all the inputs, various options and settings, as well as a preview of the “program out”. Multi-view is always a great tool to have!

Broadcast Video Switcher used for live events and television production, with colorful lights and buttons


Keep in mind that the switcher only gets you to the final edited show, you still need to get it to your chosen audience. For a virtual event, this is where the streamer comes in. This device will send your final program out to a YouTube/Facebook/Vimeo/etc stream, or they can often be used as a “webcam” so you can show your event via Zoom/Google/Teams/etc. Streaming to the big platforms usually involves typing in a code you receive from the platform that connects you to the proper place in inter-web-space-land. While they have tried to make it fairly easy, it can often take some testing with that code to be sure its going to the right place. For the webcam style, you will need to be sure your streamer has the feature allowing it to be “seen” by your computer as a webcam. In that case, you choose it just like you would any camera for your video conference call. Its also worth noting that today, many brands have released switcher/streamers as an all-in-one setup to make things easier!


Remember events like sports-casts, broadcast news, the grammy’s, or even TED talks have been doing this for years. You could spend into the $$$$MILLIONS$$$$ to have quality production like that. So you need to decide how important the quality of the event is to you and your audience. Will they tune out or get upset if they can’t hear or see well? Is the art of cinematography going to move them in a way thats helpful to achieving your goals? Does the music need to be pristine sounding for musical acts? Do you need to show sponsors and other graphics? All of this will help answer this question. Going it alone will save you lots of money, but there is a reason video production is done in large teams (does anyone take the time to read those credits at the end?), and human labor does cost money (especially from trained professionals!). But by buying your own equipment, you can save money and only spend in the hundreds range. When looking to book a team for a half day event, plan on spending $1k-$3k depending on how many cameras/microphones/lights you need. And even there, a half-day event can often involve MUCH more than you think. Trying to cram it all in may end up hurting the production more than helping. If you can, plan for at least the full day. Getting time to setup, test equipment, run rehearsals, and even get a break before you start can be invaluable to the final product. In those cases, plan on $3k-$6k per day.


Shall I put my plug in for reaching out to here? :-) . Depending on how much time you have, ask for help from a consultant. People study IT and Video in school for 4+ years before they receive a bachelors degree, so don’t feel bad if you don’t understand it in a day. If you want to learn, great! Start doing some searches for the equipment you want, and watch lots of tutorials. If you have a staff member or friend to do that for you, even better. But if you want it done well, hire in a staff to do it professionally. If you are looking to do this daily, weekly, monthly, it may be more cost effective to hire in a director or team on salary and to buy/lease/rent the gear you need. If you are looking to do a one-off or even a once-in-a-while event, having a team of pros who can come in and take care of everything is going to save you many headaches. Consider using a team that you work easily with, understands your vision, and will stay on top of all aspects of the services they are providing (… overneath anyone?). Also consider using the same team for all your events to keep your look consistent and somewhat branded to your vision.

Good luck in your endeavors to go virtual. I know it may be new territory, but you can do it! Reach out to me or my team if you have questions. We are here to help!