Create excitement. I think the easiest and best way to keep people engaged is to give away prizes. One of my live events, featured giving away donated items like “Lunch for two”, tickets to a show, etc. every few minutes. The sponsors gave away items in exchange for the advertising and people LOVED watching.
As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Davis.
Donna Davis is a former television news anchor and reporter who is now using her television background to help companies create live, interactive television-like. shows online. She has a video production and live streaming company in Atlanta, and she’s the founder of the Atlanta Internet Video Marketing Association, which has more than six hundred members. She has live streamed for small companies as well as large organizations including Harvard University, Elmer’s Glue, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and WellStar Health Systems. Video examples can be found at www.LiveStreamingAtlanta.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up painfully shy. So, it was difficult moving across the country every three years because my dad changed jobs often. My mother had dance studios, and through her, I learned gymnastics as well. That helped to build my confidence, but my world still felt very limited because of my introverted nature.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
Interestingly enough my desire to overcome being shy played a big role in my decision to pursue a career in television news. I had no gifts for the profession, a strong southern accent and very little confidence doesn’t get you far. But, I do have persistence. After three non-paid internships, I finally landed a 13k dollars a year job in El Dorado, Arkansas as a television news reporter. Before I could land the next job, I went to a voice coach who helped me overcome the accent and to at least “fake” my confidence.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I love the question, but really looking back, it was hard to laugh at my mistakes early on. During a job as a television anchor at a Florida station, I once blanked out during a particularly annoying interview that was purely product promotion. My mind wandered, and that’s a terrible mistake for an interviewer. The interview subject was asking me a question. My producer was yelling in my ear to answer her question. I looked so stupid as I fumbled around, and it was obvious I had zoned out. My producer showed the video to everyone who would watch. I learned that no matter what, you never stop listening. I am so glad youtube.com wasn’t a thing then. But, it’s really funny to me now.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There are so many books that have changed my thinking, but one film in particular, sums up how deeply I feel about the role of journalists in a free society and the importance of courage in our decisions. The movie, The Post, which tells the story of publishing The Pentagon Papers, really exemplifies how important a free press is to democracy. The decision took a lot of courage, and I strive in my work and in my relationships to live with the courage to meet challenges head on and not let fear be the driving force. Those journalists could have faced dire consequences, but their decision to show courage and do what was right, and not easy, made a huge impact.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Guess my best life lessons have come from my mother. It seems so simple, yet it’s powerful. She told me when I was in junior high to never tell someone something bad that another person said about him or her. She said, “think about what they used to do to the messenger”, the ones with bad news. From junior high through my life today, that advice has served me well. When you think about it, there is no point in sharing the nasty things people say about one another. It only serves to hurt a person’s feelings. Constructive criticism can be helpful. But, I am a big believer in making sure that if I give criticism that it’s something I think. I never say, this person says this or thinks this. I had bosses who would say that kind of thing, and I would always say well, “what do you think?”
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?
My experience organizing events really started after I got out of news and started my own video production company. I had a prospect that needed live streaming, and this was in 2008 when few companies were offering the service. I pursued this opportunity vigorously as I felt live streaming would take off. My background in television news gave me the perspective on how powerful “live” is. My company began consistently creating live events for this one organization. It proved very powerful, as the organization grew by 400% in about five years.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
My experience with doing live event production was limited until 2015. I had started my company with a business partner who felt that live broadcasting was just too stressful. He did not want to go after that business. In 2015, I started my own company and have been pursuing live streaming ever since. I absolutely LOVE live streaming. It’s exciting and exhilarating. You are producing an interactive experience, and anything can happen.
One funny story arose from a live panel discussion for Harvard University. Things were going well, and then suddenly my videographer tripped over his tripod. The camera, as it was live, was falling over. Fortunately, he managed to grab it, as the director switched to the other camera. The trip resulted in 1–2 seconds of seeing the camera move. The panel members looked up, but it was all over quickly.
We went on with the broadcast, and of course, edited out the mishap on the video we provided. But, in a way, these mistakes are part of the reason people watch live video four times longer than they do something that’s been produced. They want to see the unplanned things that make it spontaneous.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?.
Two things come to mind, NASA and The Home Shopping Channel. First, NASA is great with live events. They interact with the audience, provide great commentary, and produce exciting content. But, they are NASA and have access to high end production staffing and equipment. What any company can take from them is the interaction they offer. They reply quickly to comments. They promote events well, and they provide great commentary.
The Home Shopping Channel isn’t really live streaming, but they are doing a lot of things that streamers can emulate, especially anyone in e-commerce. They have interesting guests, use live customer testimonials, and they demonstrate products. They interact with both new and former customers during the broadcast, and they keep the energy level up with talented hosts as well as live graphics showing how many items have sold, how many remain and how much time is left before they are on to the next product. They get the value of adding excitement to the experience. You don’t need all their production expense to emulate these things. But, I expect e-commerce sites to offer this live interaction online at some point. If you sell cookware, you can do live demonstrations. You can get customers to do videos or call in or comment about their experiences.
Also, Soil3 Organic compost is a small company on a limited budget that does great educational live content. They simply use a television monitor with a PowerPoint presentation and a nice decorated set to produce a live show that looks really good. It’s something almost any company can emulate.
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The biggest missed opportunity in my mind is to have a live event and to avoid interacting with your audience. If you just want to have one-way communication, why not produce a taped piece. Live gives you the chance to have immediate answers or reactions with your viewers. I’ve seen a lot of interaction when organizations invite questions or have giveaways during the broadcast. Even having a beautifully produced live video to me doesn’t make sense if you aren’t interacting. At least making sure that comments are answered immediately gives you some interaction. But I really think the host interacting with the audience is what is vital to a great live stream.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
My favorite interactive platform for live streaming is Facebook. Having produced live events since 2008, the challenge was always promoting the live event and creating interaction. Facebook is great because users already know how to use it. They can easily comment and share or just like the broadcast. Facebook also allows you to set up an Event and invite people to it. Facebook is a game changer for live events.
I also like Zoom for bringing people together. Zoom is especially great to use as an element in a live video hosted on youtube.com. For a local marketing association, we brought in all the presenters on Zoom and then used youtube.com for the hosting platform. We embedded the youtube.com video on the client’s website. So, viewers watched from a webpage and chatted via the youtube.com embedded chat on the webpage. Having both the presenters and viewers on Zoom would have kept us from being able to add branding and graphics to the video. We used Wirecast solftware to encode the video and send to youtube.com.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
I think event organizers should at least be aware of Vimeo’s live streaming platform and of Wirecast software. If you want a true televisio- like experience, with the ability to bring in produced videos, graphics, pictures, social chats, and switch from multiple cameras, you would want to know what these tools can do and how powerful they are.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) Make your live event interactive. I have done many live events with no interaction
And really, if that’s the case, you might as well video the event and then upload a video.
The whole point in going LIVE is to react and interact with your audience.
The video link below is taken from a 90-minute educational live stream about live streaming. The expert can answer specific questions to an audience member, which is the great value in going live. In this video, Thomas Wallis, a live streaming technical expert answers a viewer’s question about using platforms like Skype for live streaming.
2) Create excitement. I think the easiest and best way to keep people engaged is to give away prizes. One of my live events, featured giving away donated items like “Lunch for two”, tickets to a show, etc. every few minutes. The sponsors gave away items in exchange for the advertising and people LOVED watching.
Another live stream featured trivia questions. The first person to chat in the right answer won. Everyone on the call said it was by far the most fun virtual event they had attended all year. This live stream used Zoom to bring in presenters and viewers watched on the organization’s website through an embedded link.
The video starts at 14:30 — the slate is up first
At 22:00 you can see the first trivia question and then the prize giveaway.
3) Engage with your audience and participants and use good visuals to keep them engaged. That means when someone makes a donation, call them out by name and say “thanks”. When they comment, read the comment and maybe ask them where they are from. The more you can show interest in your audience, the more you can expect interest from them. Also, remember that if you can show good video and or nice photographs, those great visuals will help to keep your viewer engaged.
Below is a video taken from a live stream. This one features an Atlanta deck builder who went live answering viewer questions. The live included showing some drone footage as well as live shots of the deck and porch. In this video, you’ll notice the interaction with the audience member’s question and the use of visuals during the live event.
4) Go professional. Nothing makes an event more difficult to endure than bad audio. Be sure to use a wired connection on your laptop and test it. Your upload speed should be 5 megabits per second. Please don’t count on a wireless connection.
Adjust your lighting to have light coming in on your face. Light behind you will look terrible. A pro-microphone and pro camera can make a huge difference as well. As you go up on your virtual budget, you can also add visuals, videos, polls, etc.
This video featuring an Atlanta real estate agent shows professional lighting and sound for the host. But, the interviewee at the real estate office is using a laptop. But, the lighting is good, and the sound isn’t bad. It took a lot of positioning around the office before we went live with the shot.
5) Have something unexpected during your event. Create some kind of “surprise” or shock that people will talk about when the meeting is over. People love watching LIVE as opposed to tape because anything can happen.
In the video below, the Atlanta Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry did a “surprise” award for the Executive Director. The E. D. actually organized the visuals for the award ceremony and had no idea he was getting an award. My company produced a taped video of the president of the association talking about the recipient. It just happens that the award recipient is loved and admired. It was really a heartfelt moment and one that would keep people watching to the end.
Would you rather watch a video with the 5 Virtual Live Event Tips? Click below.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
- Consider the goal of the live stream. Everything you do should center around this goal. So, is your goal to increase sales of a product? Consider using video testimonials both live and pre-produced. You’ll want to think about what your budget should be if you want a return on investment, and the budget will drive many of your next steps. The goal of many of our live streams is to produce quality video content. So, we focus on topics that would be of interest to our target audience. We also make sure to keep each topic short. That way, we can produce about 15 videos from a half hour live stream. If we were doing a “how to”, that might require watching the 30 minute video.
- Create Engagement. Once you think through the goal of the live event, consider what visuals you will use. You’ll want to think about how you can keep people engaged with interaction, visuals, and or prizes.
- Consider which platform suits your goal the best. Do you want a private setting with your associates? Maybe you should choose Zoom for that. Do you want your event to include your branding and maybe the branding of your sponsors? The best way to meet that goal might be to go live on a webpage, either your website or one created by the company you hire. The video can be embedded in a webpage and you can include a chat box as well. Are you looking for great interaction? Consider going live on Facebook. And, if you use a professional company, you can go live on Facebook and Youtube.com at the same time.
- Do you want to DIY or hire a professional company? The expense for a live stream can vary greatly. You can always go live from your cell phone or your laptop. On the other end of the scale, you can hire a company to help you. What you will get with a professional is good lighting, sound, and visuals. Professionals can use multiple cameras, bring in pre-produced videos, use graphics, texts, show websites, split the screen, and really just about anything that a tv station can do. You can also hire professional on camera talent to host your event.
- Consider your audio. Many people focus so much on visuals, they don’t think too much about the audio. Audio is, in my opinion, more important than visuals. If you have bad audio, people will tune out your video or virtual meeting. To ensure a strong internet connection, good visuals and quality audio, have a rehearsal or at least have a test meeting with anyone who will be on a laptop.
- Summary: Start to finish — keep your goal in mind. Make sure whether you go pro or DIY that you have great visuals, quality audio, and engagement with your audience. Also be sure you use a wired, not wireless connection. Choose the right platform for your audience and your goal.Interact with your audience. Consider giveaways or contests to keep things moving and add an element of competition. Think about how reality shows use competition, drama, and surprises to keep people drawn in. Save one small thing as an element of surprise. That might be a prize, something funny, or even an award that no one expected.
Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d love to inspire a love for investing for people who think it’s out of reach. Young people who are just starting out or even kids in school as well as people who think they don’t have enough to invest. It would be incredibly rewarding to help people get started with investing. Every investment ad targets wealthy people. But, you can get started with 100 dollars or less. I’d love to inspire students with investment contests and give away cash prizes.
Growing up with no knowledge of the stock market, I worked as a trainee in Morgan Stanley’s Financial Advisor program. As a business owner, I quickly started investing. I now help my relatives and some of the freelancers I hire with starting investment accounts. As it turns out, many of them have never had conversations about investing with their parents. It would be really fun to teach online live courses about money, credit scores, buying a home, and investing. Learning to build wealth and making smart decisions about money can mean the difference in a lifetime of struggle or one of independence and peace. More of the population deserves that.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I’d love to meet Warren Buffet. He’s such an inspiration with his insights about investing. He’s a true icon who is amazingly down to earth. I also admire his charitable giving.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.