The World of (Hybrid) Event Production
By: Yana Verbitskaia
It is either an event planner’s favourite part of the job, or a nail-biting, nightmare-inducing ultimate fear: producing a show. Some of us thrive off the adrenaline rush that comes with counting a tech team down to the next cue. Some of us would rather delegate that responsibility. There’s always that flutter—the sudden rush in the half-second before GO LIVE, waiting to see if your exhaustively rehearsed show will kick off and run without a hitch. That rush is something that, despite two years of restrictions, lockdowns, and a hiatus from in-person events, really hasn’t changed. Producing a virtual show has much of the same adrenaline, just in more comfortable pants.
But before you get to showtime, you must select a technology partner that you can trust, which can be pretty difficult without an existing relationship. And after two years of virtual events, it can be even more challenging for some vendors to show you what they can really do in the virtual (or hybrid) space, as digital events have not been able to produce the same portfolio of flashy photographs of past in-person sets. You may also be limited to a vendor based on the venue and/or property you’ve selected, your destination, or a unique scope of services. No matter who you work with, there are some key considerations that will help you and your production partner build a strong foundation as you work together towards a successful event production.
We decided to leverage some expert insights and sat down with one of our own most trusted partners to talk about how those considerations have (or haven’t) shifted over the last two years. Mark Hartshorn is the National Sales Account Manager at CCR Solutions, Inc. and has almost 30 years of wisdom to share on the critical things to keep in mind when planning for your future event productions.
Give Yourself Time (and Budget)
With the lifting of restrictions, in-person events are back and companies are booking up dates at venues quicker than you can say ‘social distancing’. The same goes for vendors and production teams, whose calendars are filling up fast! Reach out to your preferred partners as early as you can to avoid disappointment. No one wants to turn away business, but (especially as they recover from two lean years) teams and resources are limited in how many concurrent projects they can take on. As Mark attested, “Now that everybody’s starting to consider getting back to live, the gates have opened, and it’s getting crazy. We are seeing a real, real deluge of RFPs coming in.”
That aside, you’re going to need more time than before to consider all the things that are new to your project plan and your budget. Distancing requirements in your venue might mean smaller audiences in larger rooms, so, as Mark warned, “Now you need the massive ballroom, bigger screens, more speakers, more lights. And the tech table used to be two six-foot tables with a couple of guys. Well, now it might be four tables, meaning we need Clear-Com to talk to each other. There’s also so much unknown with travel of participants and speakers, and then the whole virtual element. I think a lot of customers realise that they have to really think this through a little bit more than in the past where they knew they just needed two screens and a mic.”
Things like freight costs have also more than doubled as a result of rising gas prices, so increases in shipping and travel costs will have to be accounted for. Mark told us “That’s going to take some educating for a lot of customers, I think, because it’s just a fact of life and we can’t do anything about it. It’s really having an impact.”
A Hybrid Show is TWO Shows
In 2019, depending on the scope of your program, adding a ‘virtual element’ to your production in most cases meant just putting a riser in the back of the room with a solitary camera operator and livestreaming your sessions online. Maybe you’d get really impressive and have more than one camera angle. But hybrid event production (after two years of seeing virtual events become increasingly sleek and well-produced) is no longer as simple as just tacking on a broadcast to a standard in-person event.
“Just about every project that comes in has a virtual component to it. Clients want an in-person meeting, but they also want that virtual element. And one thing that we’ve noticed that a lot of planners don’t fully grasp is that in a case like that, we are really producing two shows. What you see on the screen in the ballroom is completely different than what somebody on their computer is going to see. It doesn’t double everything, but it does mean a whole new set of equipment, a whole extra set of technical support, and you can’t really combine jobs because it’s two shows. I’ve found that educating clients on that is an ongoing thing. It’s not just an add-on. You don’t just order a couple more pieces of gear and now you’ve got a virtual meeting. That’s been a big thing.”
Mark emphasized that between broadcasting sessions virtually and incorporating remote presenters, it can take a whole separate team to mimic what people are used to seeing now from virtual events. “Unfortunately, or fortunately, most people are getting used to a Zoom production. They don’t want to feel left out and just see a live stream with audio. We can, of course, still do that. However, from a technology perspective, if you have a lot of offsite participants, like in panel discussions or the speaker on stage is interviewing someone remotely, behind the scenes, you might have 10 or 20 computers set up, each pinned with different people. And all of the audio routing. We want to be able to talk to all the technicians, then we want to talk to the people in the green room, then we want to talk to the remote presenters. A lot of programming and networking goes into that. And obviously, you need somebody who is focused on that during the show. It really requires dedicated personnel.”
A Bulletproof Plan is More Important than Ever
Every planner knows a run of show (ROS) is key for a smooth production and always has been. But in the age of hybrid event production, where not only do new considerations have to be made in-person, but digital layouts also need to be programmed in advance, a strategic and detailed run of show has never been more critical to ensure your program execution matches your vision.
“COVID has changed things all over the place. In relation to live events, some things that planners have to consider is things like microphones. In the past, we’d have six lavalieres for eight speakers, and we’d just switch from speaker to speaker. Well, now you can’t do that without a break because you have to wash them and sanitize them. And so, when you look at your show flow, you can’t have a panel of four, then a panel of five, and expect to do it with five microphones. You have to stick a single person in the middle there. That’s something we’re now always thinking about.”
And virtual events are similarly reliant on a strong plan, Mark says. “It’s critical to really know what you’re planning to see and what you expect to see on screen. We program the broadcast looks based on your show flow, so if we have four people and a moderator or whatever it is, that’s all going to be done in advance. In a live scenario, if there’s another person that wants to get on stage, you just say ‘Okay, here’s a chair. Done.’ Virtually, not so much. The show flows are critical and really impact the equipment. If all of a sudden you say you’re going to have a panel of nine people, that means I now need six more computers, a different switcher and more audio. So something as small as that, that would have been easy in the past, can really impact the equipment needs and it might even require extra personnel. One Zoom tech can only manage so many computers before he runs out of real estate.”
Plans and documents have to work for both sides. Don’t be shy—share things in advance and ask for validation from your production partner to ensure that the way you’re sharing information and working together is optimized. We smiled from ear to ear when Mark said “And you guys, honestly, have been the model for me anyway, because your show flows are amazing. You’re the best.” Thanks, Mark!
As an added tip, Mark recommended pre-recording content where appropriate and possible. It gives you a back-up in case of internet troubles or technical difficulties on the speaker side and makes your show much more predictable to time. It may require some extra investment and effort in the pre-planning, but come showtime, Mark says, “It’s very reliable. We don’t have to worry about 200 presenters from around the world and their internet or equipment, whatever that might be.”
Check, Check, Check
There is such a variety of virtual event platforms in the market now, and while many seasoned presenters have used a whole range of them, there are still many for whom the process of presenting remotely feels new and somewhat daunting. On the flip side, there are some speakers who have become so confident that they maybe miss a detail or two that they’ve started taking for granted.
Rehearsing for an in-person event was always a given—your speaker arrives for their soundcheck and gets a feel for their environment before retreating to their Green Room for some final preparation. When it comes to virtual events, though, we have to be so much more intentional about scheduling a separate and dedicated run-through with every individual speaker.
As Mark says, it’s “not so much a cue-to-cue rehearsal but getting your speakers to log in prior to do a couple of things: make sure their lighting and audio is good and that their internet is good. What we’re really finding is that a lot of presenters, although they’re comfortable with Zoom, don’t necessarily know how the technology is going to flow for a show. So, it gives us the opportunity to say ‘OK, so you’re going to be in this Green Room, I can talk to you back and forth, and then we’re going to give you a 30-second warning before we move you over to the live session.’ That at least takes the worry out of their minds so that they can just focus on their presentation.”
The most critical piece of a successful run-through is making sure the presenter is in the same location as they will be on show day so that you and your production team can properly check their sound, lighting, and internet connectivity. “It happens a lot.” Mark joked, as he told us about presenters doing their tech checks from a boat in the middle of the lake or on the ski slopes.
Communication is Key
The last piece of advice, and arguably the most important, is something that hasn’t changed at all over the course of the pandemic. Over-communicating was, and still is, always a good idea. You need to have a good handle on what it is you want to accomplish so that your production partner can recommend, quote, and implement the right solutions.
“What exactly are you trying to achieve? What do you want your audience to see, in the room or on the digital broadcast?” Mark shares as the key questions that can start your back-and-forth. “A lot of planners, or customers that maybe aren’t full-time planners, don’t fully understand what is and isn’t possible. So, the communication from me to a new client has become more important. I spend a lot of time walking through exactly what has to happen, or what can’t happen for a given budget. Getting communication from the client is of course key so I can quote properly, but my communication and dialogue to make sure that we’re all on the same page is just as important.”
A trusted and reliable partner will take the time to ensure you are aligned on your goals and vision for the event—don’t be afraid to hold them accountable to making sure you understand how that vision will be executed.
So, what’s next?
As Mark sees it, “I don’t know that we’re just going to get back to everything’s fully live and once in a while we can stream out. I think that moving forward, or at least 90% of the time, there will be a virtual stream going out. But the upside to all of that for us is that as these platforms develop and as we develop our skills and you develop your creative visions, well, we can actually make very, very cool engaging productions. With enough pre-planning and thought, we can make a really cool program that engages those people sitting in Vancouver and keep them from walking off to play with the dogs. But mainly? Our teams just want to get back out there and unload a truck.”
We at LOMA Agency couldn’t agree more and can’t wait for all the innovative hybrid productions in our future. If you’re starting to think through a program for your own organization and want to chat, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org! Happy producing!
About CCR Solutions
At CCR Solutions, it’s all about people. We are a diverse and talented collection of problem solvers, imaginative thinkers and caring individuals brought together by our passion for technology and hospitality. We remain devoted to assisting companies and individuals in telling their stories, educating others, inspiring change, celebrating life, and shaping the future.