Behind the scenes at the simplysummit

The technology we used for our virtual event in November was a careful combination of different platforms and tools. In this article, Marc Wright, founder of simplycommunicate, explains why a single technology solution might not be enough to create an event that truly reflects your organisation’s culture.

There are many out-of-the-box platforms you can use to host your virtual event and I have written a guide to some of them here. But for our own simplysummit we chose to mix and match a bunch of tools to get the result we wanted.

To start with we were frankly fed up with presenting from our own homes. The pressure to assemble that perfect bookcase background and banish Amazon deliveries for a day was getting too much.  When you have 600 people at an event you really don’t want to rely on home broadband to keep the show on the road.

We needed to get ourselves into a studio. Lockdown rules in the UK allowed TV and film studios to stay working, provided we kept social-distanced, so we booked ourselves into DRPGroup.

We really liked what the DRP Group had been doing with their own – and their clients’ – events during lockdown. They are an event and video production company based in the Midlands who have been producing classic shows for over 40 years. But with lockdown they had to retrain their staff, build 4 TV studios and become experts in virtual event production in just a couple of weeks. They were still building parts of their Master Control area when they took on the staging of our event. Since March 2020 they have produced over 500 broadcasts to over 1 million corporate viewers, so we knew we were in safe hands.

The contributions and interviews that made up the event had to be beamed in from remote homes or offices. For these contributors, it was a simple MS Teams call. A Producer connected them up and talked to them prior to coming ‘on-air’.  They could see what was happening in the show before they were cued in, which allowed them to feel less nervous and be more informed about any context before they appeared. We had learned from our May virtual event that no likes being launched from a dark hole straight into a transmission. The studio team ensured that images were cropped correctly, the lighting looked good and the sound crystal-clear. They could even run their slides for them from the studio, which made for a more attractive TV News look onscreen.

In the case of June Sarpong, Director of Creative Diversity at the BBC we were able to go a step further by beeming her into the studio using green screen technology.  She presented live from a studio in Covent Garden but appeared side by side with Birmingham-based interviewer Jenni Field. We are even able to include simply’s question wrangler, Jonathan Phillips, who was relayed in via Teams onto the on-set monitor. Hard to believe from the transmission that Jenni and June were over 100 miles apart.

Losing control of the slides sounds like any presenter’s nightmare, but globalcue is a free piece of software that allowed them to cue their slides remotely using their mobile phone. Because the slides are coming via the vision mixer there is no embarrassing wait for the presenter to share their screen and the result is laid out on screen in a form that is much more professional than a Zoom call.

During the interview and Q&A the remote presenters could be integrated into the set and appear onstage to be quizzed by the hosts. Here is Lisa Pantelli asking the questions:

The video output is streamed via Vimeo rather than MS Teams or Zoom.  Vimeo have improved their streaming capabilities during lockdown. Not only is it very reliable but the latency (the time it takes to go from the studio to appear on your laptop has been reduced considerably. Back in May I was very aware that the audience were a good 40 seconds behind the output from the studio, which was a bit of a problem when we ran polls that were virtually instantaneous.

Talking about polls, these were managed through the Slido system and the interface was embedded beside the video feed. We like Slido because it is easy to use with polls being created in seconds: very useful if you want to poll delegates about something that has just come up in an interview. Jonathan pumped them out through the day and we had an incredible 2772 votes from delegates.

We also used Slido to handle the questions for our remote delegates. They typed them in and Jonathan promoted the popular (and trickiest) ones to the iPads we had onstage so we could ask them of the guests.

Sli.do is very slick and is easily integrated into your event portal. The analytics are comprehensive with reporting on the most popular questions, the most influential users – and of course everything is recorded if you want to go back and answer questions after the event.

The portal we used for the event will be very familiar to our members as it was our own simply community. We did this so everything would be in one place and it allowed us to engage with members before and after the event took place. The technology is provided by Zapnito, and it is first and foremost a networking and membership platform. But it does have certain features that proved very useful during the summit.

Firstly we could allow non-member to enter the community for the duration of the conference. That meant they could try out the community and see some of the networking and resources in place. Not all the content was unlocked to non-members – just enough to give them a taste of what the community provides.

Zapnito provided rooms where you can meet for particular subjects and we used these to run our Round Table discussions. Up to 20 delegates can chat together in a video ‘Panel’ led by a subject expert. delegates could also have 1 on 1 conversations with other attendees. This was a feature that was released just days before the event, just in time to encourage networking on the day.

Are you looking to host your own internal event? If so, why not get in touch to see if we can help?

THE AUTHOR

Marc Wright, simplycommunicate founder & consultant

Marc started his career in television. He wrote and produced the drama 20 Steps to Better Business for the BBC, and his passion for the way organisations work led him to run a series of agencies including Crown and MCA which was sold to WPP in 2001. He is author of the Gower Handbook of Internal Communications and is a former President of IABC EMENA. He founded simplycommunicate in 2005.

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