Over the last twenty years of producing live events and webcasts, I've learned a lot about how things can go right and wrong, and from good to bad, and from bad to worse. Most problems stem from the things that have fallen through the cracks. Forgotten tasks that didn't make it to a list or get delegated, and either creep up on you or blow up in your face. But you can avoid most problems with proper planning and clear communication.
The best shows are the ones where everyone knows what to do and the show comes off without a hitch. Whether you are in studio or on location, the same rules apply if you want to be successful.
Ten Things I've Learned for Producing Successful Live Events:
I've worked on outlining these learnings over the past few years, adding a bits and pieces of what I've found helps make my shows successful, and now present it as my ten tips for producing live events.
1) Know your client(s)
If you are the event producer you need to communicate directly with the main client. Most executives and professional speakers have handlers, communications staff who write their material and maintain their messages, admin staff who directly support them and maintain their schedules and a variety of reporting staff, directors, managers, leads, you get the point. There are layers between you and the main client, who in the end, is whom you are working for.
Whether you are planning the event logistics, identifying the technical requirements, working on content or estimating the budget - all things flow from the wants and needs of the main client. You can save your self a lot of work if you can get a meeting with the main client in advance and discuss staging, presentation style in advance. With all the handlers, you get a lot of filtered information and waste a lot of time getting through the layers.
2) Conduct a site/venue survey
Knowing your location is your best defense against failure. Not only are you able to assess the space for room dimensions, ceiling height, power needs, lighting, noise, Internet connections, access to loading dock, etc... you also get to meet the people who manage the venue – and who will ultimately be the ones that support you and your production. Some venues will let you bring in all your own gear, without any buy-out fee – but some venues have exclusives on lighting and audio, and can even be within the jurisdiction of a local I.A.T.S.E. union, like Local 16 in San Francisco, and you'll be required to hire union labor. If you're a producer, it's best to work with a meeting planner who can deal with the hotel contract so you can focus on the AV and event production.
But be sure to make friends with the venue, both the in-house AV and banquets staff. Don't forget that you're in their house and they are key partners in your success. The two most important aspects of your site survey are to gain intelligence and build relationships.
3) Have a plan
With every live event there are various templates that can be applied to the production. While each set up is distinct there are standards to follow when the space allows. Most live events takes place in an auditorium, conference room, convention center or ballroom. Video village, as it's called, or video control is back stage and is where the director, technical director, producer, engineer, graphics, protectionist and webcast or videoconference producer are, and that's the central nervous system of your equipment set up, signal flow and distribution, connectivity, interactive tools and lots and lots of cabling. Go into each set up with a game plan on how you will set up video village, where each station will be and what needs to connect to what.
4) Have an A-Team
It goes without saying that there's no "I" in team, and the best way to achieve your results is to be surrounded by people you trust, people who are professionals and experts in the field, and people you can rely onto do their jobs. With so many moving parts of your live event, you can't micro-manage, or keep track of every detail within each department. So that's where your team comes in to help you be those extra eyes and ears to catch any issues and ultimately get the job done right.
5) Stick to budget and deadlines
It's easy to go over budget when you start adding extra wireless microphones, Internet and power drops, cameras, and probably one of the biggest cost over-runs is not correctly estimating the amount of time it actually takes to produce your event.
In most cases, labor can be your biggest cost, and if you don't account for overtime, and even double time, you run the risk of being way over budget. Having the proper staffing ratio is crucial to staying on time and budget. You need to have the right amount of labor to get the job done, and not either under or over staff. If you're producing a video webcast with a live audience, you'll have core costs that will cover equipment and labor.
6) Stick to the plan
Go into each show with a scripted game plan. Even a simple a simple agenda can be something that your crew follows, but a detailed run of show document that maps out the show flow is the best document to use.
Your plan should also include set-up diagrams that shows signal flow; floor plans that shows the room layout and location of AV, cameras, lighting, catering; and, any other documents like webcast information, call sheets, production schedules and checklists for both the crew and clients to follow.
7) Plan a rehearsal
The more you know, the better the you do... and the best way to know is to practice. Aside from presenters being able practice clicking through their slides and getting comfortable with the environment, you need to know their transitions, cues for videos, music, camera angles and blocking, along with how the show will open and close.
- Will your presenters have videos, screen graphics or need Internet access?
- Will there be walk on music?
- Is there an announcer or VOG?
- How will Q&A be handled?
It's best to have that all figured out in advance and rehearse with your presenters and crew. If time permits, try to gather the crew together for a show flow meeting, then go through a tech rehearsal with the crew, followed by rehearsals with each presenter. Beginnings, middle and ends, along with transitions, video rolls, lighting changes, and every audio and video cue should be rehearsed.
8) Avoid last minute changes
Last minute changes can be either highly disruptive or no harm at all. Fixing a typo on a slide or slight change to an element on stage usually won't upset the apple cart. But adding new content at the last minute, like a brand new slide show or video, should be avoided. Especially, if you don't get time to test or practice, that last minute change could blow up in your face, and make your presenters and clients look foolish. But be prepared for last minute changes and if there’s time – update your script, rehearse if possible, but say, “No, we’re out of time” when you have to. Really, there’s nothing worse than a major on-air blunder.
9) Be prepared, and always have back up
As the Boy Scouts' motto says, "Be prepared." Not only for emergencies, but, "for any old thing." Live events are just that... they're live. Anything can happen. The presenter's wireless microphone could go out. You could lose power which could effect audio, lighting and the live feed.
Make sure you have back up microphones and a reliable power source. If you have a lot of lighting, make sure you have a head electrician who can manage the power needs for all the lights so you don't trip a breaker or blow a circuit. For graphics, it's common to have a primary and back up computer to run your slides, and always wire the stage. You never know when a presenter will come with their own laptop and have videos they want to run, so having the cabling already set will save time.
10) Roll with it
The old show business phrase, "the show must go on" applies here. Regardless of what happens, there is an audience out there waiting to be educated, informed or entertained, so you have to deliver. The that the fact that a live event is "live" makes it both easier and more difficult at the same time. There are no second takes. When something goes out live that shouldn't have, there are no take backs. So, when you're live you have to roll with it. That means when presenters are late or go off script, or when there's equipment failure, or a crew member calls in sick, or any unplanned situation you have to roll with it. When you're video recording, you can always "fix it in post."
The key is to keep a cool head, don't let them see you sweat and be a leader.
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