Online Events: It’s Time for Us All to Start Thinking Like Broadcasters
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the events industry to drastically change our business model. But if I may be so bold, we haven’t gone far enough. It’s not enough to just change our business practices. As event producers, we have to change our mindset as well. In the rush to move events online, event producers seem to think that we have to reinvent the wheel as well. But nothing could be farther from the truth. For example, imagine we’ve been traveling by train for decades, and all of sudden we’ve been asked to fly. It’s a daunting prospect, for sure, but we don’t have to invent a way to fly on top of everything else. Planes already exist, and for event producers, that plane is called broadcast.
This is the mindset that our industry needs to adopt if we are to make this transition a smooth one. Thankfully, there are signs that we are already moving in that direction, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I strongly believe that when we start thinking about online events in terms of broadcast, a world of opportunities will open up, including better production values and more control over the final product. More importantly, it means that instead of having to forge our own path, we can take our cues from television and other screen media who have been there before. This is especially true when it comes to the following core concepts.
Broadcast Does Not Mean Lost Engagement
Let’s address the elephant in the room up front. Yes, live events do create magical moments that are impossible to recreate when people aren’t in the same room together. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t engage with people in other powerful and impactful ways. How many times have you been riveted in front of a broadcast show, unable to tear your eyes away from the screen? Engagement is still possible, it’s just a different type of engagement, not a less effective one. Just look at the recent political conventions as an example of this.
This year’s DNC and RNC were held either entirely or partially remotely. They were also clearly produced by people who have adopted the online events as broadcast mindset, because that’s exactly what they were. What were previously live events were now presented as nightly broadcasts, and as a result, the content of these conventions was tailored to the majority of their audience. Prior to 2020, the people who watched these conventions at home wildly outnumbered the actual attendees, and yet the content was produced for the in-person minority. Those at home were forced to watch lengthy keynotes that were often drowned out by screaming crowds. Programs ran all day, making it extremely difficult to see all the speakers.
This time around, however, everyone was watching from home, and the content reflected this. The speeches were kept short, and they were addressed directly to the camera. A full day program became a two hour broadcast, meaning people could easily watch and listen to all speakers. Unsurprisingly, people liked this new format, and engagement still happened. It may not have been as exciting as being in the room, but that moment was only ever going to be experienced by a finite number of people. Now, anyone with an Internet connection can be a primary participant instead of a secondary bystander.
Project into a Screen
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, speakers often have impressive resumes, but they are rarely professional performers. In the past, the excitement of seeing them in-person may have been enough to overcome any charismatic shortcomings on their part, but not anymore. In a broadcast world, projecting energy into a screen is everything, and it’s imperative that you work with professionals. In particular, professionals who understand that they no longer have to reach the back of the room, but rather reach into a screen.
The producers of the DNC understood this, and they hired professional actors to emcee each broadcast. Speeches were kept to broadcast length, meaning short, and they were amply rehearsed and produced. The broadcast mindset means that every decision should start with the idea that the content will need to be projected into the screen. This means hiring professionals, both in front of and behind the camera.
Curate Content, Don’t Just Produce It
A common image of broadcast television is someone lazily surfing through the channels. As an event producer, you clearly don’t want someone to surf away from your broadcast. That being said, what if you leaned into this idea and began to embrace it? What if when people surf away from your broadcast, they simply switched from one of your broadcasts to another? What if you could create an entire ecosystem of content that people could easily flip between? All of us engage in this behavior all the time, so why do we have to stop? Why can’t we, as event producers, use that behavior to our advantage? Just think about the inherent possibilities if we thought about building a channel and not just a single show.
Events online are no longer confined to a specific time and date. It is now possible for them to be accessible for as long as you want. Instead of creating one-off convenings, you can produce a global series of events that inform and promote one another. Platforms like YouTube make it easy to do this, so don’t just limit your thinking to one event. I predict that in the next couple of years, event producers won’t just be producing content, they’ll be curating the ecosystems of content as well. The broadcast mindset can do all of this and more, including creating trailers for upcoming events and featuring credits at the end. For us! Imagine seeing your name scroll by after pulling off another successful broadcast. Wouldn’t that be a very welcome outcome of this trying time? We actually get a literal… credit.
Let the Plane Work for You
Bottom line, the change currently sweeping the events industry is not in-person to online. It’s in-person to broadcast, and the sooner we all adopt this mindset the better. We already have the plane. Now all we have to do is jump in and fly it.
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