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If people can’t attend your conference in person, they can still participate virtually by watching livestreaming broadcasts of your opening and closing general sessions as well as select educational seminars via the Internet. If you decide to charge a fee to the viewers, the content can become an additional revenue stream for the event. But even if you make it free to everyone, like the organizers of the popular TED conference do, having a way to connect people who can’t physically attend the event with the educational content you offer is one of the best ways you have to grow your potential audience, drum up excitement for upcoming live events, and engage those people who didn’t have it in their budget to travel to the face-to-face meeting. Here are some tips for livestreaming events on a shoestring budget. If you want to learn how to use Google Hangouts, a free platform that launched after we wrote this article, read best practices and troubleshooting tips here.
Tip No. 1
Use a free broadcasting tool. Robert Swanwick, the founder of twebevent.com, an online event portal, and speakerinteractive.com, which provides virtual speakers and produces collaborative media, recommends several free online tools planners can use. Procaster.com allows you to capture and broadcast content that’s coming from a live video feed or playing on a computer desktop (think PowerPoint presentations, audio and/or visual presentations). You can start the broadcast with one click or opt to mix multiple inputs to create picture-in-picture and 3D layout effects like TV studios do. Procaster gives you an HTML embed code that you can cut and paste into an event “channel” or Web page. Another free tool is ustream.tv, which offers many of the same mixing and broadcasting features as procaster.com, but with the additional capacity to broadcast content directly from your mobile phone. Qik.com is a mobile-only option for capturing content and sharing it across social networks.
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Tip No. 2
Create an event channel by embedding your live webcast on a free online platform. Swanwick says livestream.com, which owns procaster.com, allows you to create a free event channel where you can embed your broadcast in a window surrounded by event information. An integrated social media component lets you moderate real-time chat and promote your broadcast on Twitter. The free version contains advertising; if you prefer ads not be embedded and want to create a white label event channel, the monthly charge is $350. Another free alternative is twebevent.com, which allows you to create a channel with all the features livestream.com offers without the intrusive advertising component. Swanwick says he is currently working on a way for event promoters to sell channel ads to sponsors and gain access to the e-mail addresses of those tuning into the virtual event for a small additional fee, so stay tuned.
This twebevent page was created for EventCamp 2010. On the left you can see the embedded livecast (and Robert Swanwick leaving the session); on the right is the real-time Twitter feed.
Tip No. 3
Quality is key. Even though you can broadcast your opening general session on your iPhone, it doesn’t mean you should. The higher quality camera you use, the better the image will be on your broadcast. If you want to pull out all the stops, use HD cameras. But if you want to save some money, a traditional DV camera will work fine. Don’t use webcams or cell phones unless you’re into gritty pictures or going for a casual, cinema-verité feel (which may work for candid on-site attendee or speaker interviews).
Tip No. 4
The better the bandwidth, the better the broadcast. It’s not going to matter much that you’re using an HD camera if the Internet connection at your venue is spotty. If you want a clear picture that doesn’t hiccup or drop out, make sure that you are broadcasting from a venue with high-speed, and dependable, Internet connections.
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Tip No. 5
Don’t forget your production values. Cameras don’t see things the same way people do, so be careful about broadcasting from dimly lit rooms where the main source of light is from a slideshow — you may end up with a broadcast where the audience won’t be able to see the too-dark speaker or too-light slides. Make sure speakers are properly lit and consider mixing the video feed so the broadcast cuts between the speaker and the desktop images of the slideshow. Also be aware of natural light: Don’t ever position a speaker between a light source and the camera unless you want a darkened silhouette or someone with flares coming out from behind their head. Instead, move the podium or the camera so that the light illuminates the speaker from flattering side or front angles. And, whenever possible, get an audio feed directly into your camera so that the sound quality is as high as possible.
Tip No. 6
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The Live Streaming Checklist
What you need to make your next live stream a success.