Sunday, May 27, 2012

10 Tips for Producing Live Events

Over the last twenty years of producing live events 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. I've worked on this post on and off over the past years adding a bits and pieces of what I've learned that's helped 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 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 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, projectionist and webcast or videoconference producer 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 amont 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 they 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 walk-on music, on screen graphics, or need Internet access? 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 your

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." But the key is to keep a cool head, don't let them see you sweat and be a leader.

1st draft - 6/22/08
Final draft - 5/27/2012

Update 6/9/12: I forgot to mention how important it is to feed your crew. Bring snacks and plenty of water to keep their energy up, and be sure to budget crew meals on those long production days. That's the best way to keep them happy and on their toes.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Videoconferencing Best Practices: Designing Graphics For Effective Use in a Videoconference

It's often a challenge for presenters to design graphics effectively for use in a videoconference. Many presenters overdo it on slides and tend to cram as much information as they can on each slide, rather than follow the "less is more" approach. I've seen a lot good, bad and ugly graphics in my time, and this post focuses on tips for creating more compelling graphics for videoconferences. This post is also a follow up to a series of articles on Videoconferencing Best Practices, which includes: 12 Tips for Moderating a Panel Discussion10 Verbal and Nonverbal Communication Tips and 7 Presentation Tips for Speakers

Graphics work well in support of your message, but be careful you don’t become too dependent on the slides. Your audience should only see slides about 10% of the time you are speaking. If your audience is watching on a single screen, think of the how the 6:00 o’clock news is paced, and alternate between speaking, graphics, video and then back to speaking. No segment lasts very long – use this as your role model. The ideal ways to show slides are directly from the computer, and most all videoconference rooms have a PC connection for both in room and remote presentations.

For broadcasts, meetings and instruction the same rules apply when you prepare your slides.
  • Keep things simple and concise
  • Use a horizontal format
  • Use a large sans serif typeface (Arial Bold)
  • No less than 30 point size fonts
  • Follow the 6 by 6 rule (6 words per line, 6 lines per page)
  • Leave border room around the edges
  • Fill the screen with the image
  • Use simple graphs, illustrations, scanned images
  • Use restraint with colors, high contrast works best
  • Avoid transparencies and small type written pages
The take home message is that presentation materials need to be as clear and concise as possible. Unlike meetings or instruction, a broadcast is not two-way, so you can’t get instant feedback from the viewing sites on visual clarity.

The rules for producing successful computer graphic designs for video are the opposite of desktop publishing. Choices in text, color, and design varies between the two because they are very different mediums and different rules apply. Graphics for use on television should conform to broadcast guidelines.

Sans serif typefaces (Helvetica, Arial) are more legible than serif typefaces because of their clean letterforms. They are used where quick legibility is vital (street and highway signs), or to catch one's attention with short bursts of type (newspaper headlines). Serif typefaces (Times, Garamond) tend to be more readable for large amounts of text on paper. However, they are ineffective to use as text on the video screen.

The most basic rules for preparing presentation materials are to Keep It Short and Simple, and Keep It Large and Legible. The following tips should provide you with a basic set of graphic guidelines.

1. Keep primary text in the center
Although "dead center" is usually an area to avoid in print media, viewers are used to watching video this way. Don't crowd the screen, instead use several screens to focus attention. Use a horizontal page format, and use six words per line and six lines per screen {Rule of Six}. (Figure 1)

2. Work within the STA (Safe Titling Area)
The STA is the cut off area for all screen images.The screen size between computers and TV monitors is not equal, and things can be cut off if they get to close to the edges. Leave at least a one inch border of empty space around each side of the page to be safe. (Figure 2)
3. Avoid thin horizontal lines, single dots, busy patterns and finely detailed grids
Always use 2 Pt. lines or larger, thin lines just don't cut it. Lines need to be thick and bold or they will flicker. Like thin lines, fine grids, patterns and dots cause flickering and picture distortion also. Avoid shading on printed hard copy because it creates buzzing patterns on camera. Supply details verbally, making charts and graphs simple (Figure 3) . Also, use clip art and flow charts sparingly, remember less is more.

4. Avoid highly saturated colors
Chroma crawl can be seen when two neighboring colors (text and background) bleed into each other. . The more saturated your colors are the more chroma crawl is added to the image. Don't overdo your use of color.

5. Make text large and legible

  • Use 30 Pt. for body text, and 40 - 48 Pt. for titles.
  • Use no more than two typefaces per presentation
  • Use drop shadows to add depth to text, drop shadows help separate text from the background (Figure 1)


  • Keep text large and legible by using 30 pt for body text, 30-45 pt for subtitles and 40-48 pt for titles
  • 48 pt serif title: Times Bold
  • 30 pt sans serif-body text: Helvetica Bold
  • Use sans serif typeface for body text and serif typeface for titles (the opposite of desktop publishing)
  • Use no more than two fonts and only one background per presentation
  • Use white text on a dark blue to black background, this works the best readability from across the room
  • Use drop shadows to add depth to text, drop shadows help separate text from the background
  • Use a Truetype font like Monotype Sorts as bullets, it's more expressive than Option-8 (•)


  • Don't use Script fonts, they are too fancy for presentations
  • All caps works only for TITLES, but not recommended