Make attendees feel like a real part of the event.
As a live stream host or meeting curator, you can recreate some of that electric energy by calling out the names of participants at your event.
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 Paul Richards.
Paul Richards is the Chief Streaming Officer at the StreamGeeks and the author of “The Virtual Ticket: How to Host Private Live Streams and Virtual Events” and “Live Streaming is Smart Marketing.” Richards teaches over 20,000 students on UDEMY on live video production, mobile streaming, and much more. He has hosted the official NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) show in Las Vegas and continues to be a thought leader in the industry by producing and hosting the annual StreamGeeks Summit.
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 in West Chester, Pa., where I attended a private Quaker school called the Westtown school. The Quaker philosophy was a strong part of my upbringing. Quakers value all people equally and oppose anything that may harm or threaten others. Quakers seek religious truth in inner experience and place great reliance on conscience as the basis of morality.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I started my career in the professional audiovisual industry in a B2B sales position. After only a few years, it was clear to me that sales wasn’t going to work out. After pivoting to marketing, I was able to get involved in many new, exciting projects. In 2013, I oversaw the integration of an ecommerce platform as a sales portal for audio visual technologies. From there I was able to dedicate my time to creating content as an influencer in order to market our technology offerings. This led to the creation of live streaming and video conferencing brands HuddleCamHD and PTZOptics.
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?
On the very first live stream I ever produced, it happened to be Halloween and yes it was scary. At this time, audio quality was not something I understood well, and we were using a run-of-the- mill audio conferencing speakerphone. At the start of the live stream, I thought it would be a good idea to play spooky music. The music was on full blast, and the audio from the speakerphone was mediocre, and my voice couldn’t be heard over the background music.
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?
Joseph Pine’s book “The Experience Economy” is almost 20 years old, but the concept of an experience economy is so relevant today. I was lucky enough to have Joseph Pine as a keynote speaker at our virtual event, The Presence Summit. Joe has modernized his concepts to fit today’s digital world, and his premise is simple. As consumers, we relate to the things we buy and the services we pay for based on the experiences we have. Experiences are something that every business should be focusing on today. Thinking about the experience economy puts goods and services in a totally new perspective for me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A quote from Barack Obama that I connect with is this: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.” I also find strength in my ability to ask for help, and I try to help others feel more comfortable asking me for help. In my own life, I have been able to ask God for help during difficult times, and this has helped me gain confidence in times of weakness.
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?
Since 2015, I have been organizing my team’s attendance at major events such as The National Association of Broadcasters show, InfoComm, and the International Broadcasting Convention. As an attendee of major trade shows, I know what it’s like to review contracts, set up a booth, and do everything possible to maximize the return on investment. In 2019, I helped organize and host our very first in-person event, the StreamGeeks Summit in New York City at the Dream Downtown Hotel in Chelsea. This was my first experience promoting an actual in-person event from an organizer’s perspective.
In the virtual online world, my expertise lies in live streaming and video production. In 2020, I published a book, “The Virtual Ticket,” which draws upon my experiences hosting virtual events. I have hosted multiple virtual events with thousands of attendees, and our post-event attendee surveys suggest that they are some of the most engaging in the industry. Our company uses a combination of public, live streaming content and video conferencing. In this way, we can provide large audiences with highly shareable and consumable content on social media, while at the same time inviting smaller audiences to highly interactive and collaborative environments within a video conferencing setting. This has worked out very well for our Worship Summit Live events, The Presence Summit and our fully virtual 2020 StreamGeeks Summit.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
As an organizer of virtual events, the video production side of things has become second nature. This allows our team to think outside of the box because we are already comfortable with the technology. In fact, it’s part of our job to push the boundaries of live streaming and video communications so our audiences expect it. Some of the best experiences may be our IRL (In Real Life) live tours. For example, during the Worship Summit 3.0 we hired Ariel Viera, known as ‘Urbanist,’ to do a tour of several historic New York City churches for our live audience on social media. During the StreamGeeks Summit 2.0 we hired him again to do a tour of the world’s largest camera store in New York City: B&H Photo.
Other interactive ideas we’ve initiated include having a dedicated social media representative join the live show to act as a liaison with the online world. During the Presence Summit we had an influencer come on the show periodically to share comments from social media outlets including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Twitch. Having a person come on the show to share viewer comments was a great way to bridge the gap between the virtual event and people watching via multiple social media platforms.
Another innovative thing we did at the StreamGeeks Summit 2.0, was to provide our audience with a fully controllable behind-the-scenes camera. We use a PTZOptics PTZ camera connected to Twitch, which the audience could actually control to look around the room. This type of application works really well during rock concerts or events where celebrities are on site.
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?
I found Zoom’s Zoomtopia to be one of the best virtual events of the year. I like how Zoom put together a totally custom website that allowed viewers to choose their own journeys. Each virtual attendee’s journey could be unique. In this way, it was fun to hop around from different Zoom meetings and webinars that were happening. I also enjoyed taking a break from the webinar environments in order to spend time simply researching curated content and watching videos in this new type of online environment. I was also invited to speak at Zoomtopia and share our live streaming studio during the Epic AV panel. This allowed me to see firsthand how much preparation work went into each session.
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?
I don’t recommend hosting webinars because they can be boring, and attendees can’t view each other. This type of one-way experience should be left in the past. Also, not leveraging popular social media outlets is another huge mistake. Virtual event planners need to find a way to host a free version of their virtual events on YouTube and Facebook. Event planners don’t have to give away the keynote for free, but they do need to engage audiences on social media in order to upsell premium experiences on Zoom and other platforms.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
We really like Zoom, which has a 500-person limit, with the capability to create up to 30 breakout rooms. Hosting a premium experience for up to 500 people has been a sweet spot for us. For larger events, using the webinar function is an option. Virtual event platforms can offer gated content, but the reality is that you may lose a large potential audience when gating events. Engaging non-paying audiences on YouTube, Facebook and Twitch is the way to go if you want to win in the virtual event space.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
We use vMix as our video production tool, and we bring Zoom into that platform. Fully understanding vMix is the job for a professional video producer, but fully understanding Zoom is something almost anyone can do. Zoom offers great training sessions that meeting curators should attend. Security tools, meeting participant controls and breakout rooms are important features to understand when hosting large-scale Zoom meetings.
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.)
- Make attendees feel like a real part of the event.
As a live stream host or meeting curator, you can recreate some of that electric energy by calling out the names of participants at your event.
- Use what your attendees create.
Using vMix Social, our team can select and display curated chat comments from social media. With the click of a button, we can share comments and profile pictures to viewers. Engagement is key. On the live stream there are multiple ways to connect with your audience, no matter how large.
- Deploy the “freemium” model, with a free on-way broadcast and live interaction as the premium experience.
In the Zoom meeting format, there are multiple ways to spice up the meeting to make it more entertaining. Most importantly, we always position our Zoom meetings to be the premium experience that viewers can enter to upgrade from the one-way broadcast experience offered on social media. This sets a precedent that the meeting is reserved for an enhanced experience. Zoom meetings are amazing because they can connect people from all around the world.
- Don’t over-structure the live interaction.
As a meeting curator sometimes it’s important to simply recognize publicly how amazing the event is by saying: “Wow, look at this. We have people with similar interests from all around the world collaborating at the same time.” Beyond simply recognizing the power of getting people together with collaboration technology, it’s important to let the meeting be collaborative. This type of premium collaboration experience is the best when it provides people with the ability to answer their own burning questions in a group setting. Trying to over structure the Zoom Meeting with an agenda can ruin the experience. We help our audience get right to their questions and let the conversation evolve organically.
- Deploy breakout rooms thoughtfully to facilitate conversation.
If there are too many people trying to get a word in at once, we create Zoom breakout rooms. As an event organizer and meeting host, you can decide to randomly assign people into breakout rooms or selectively set up people of similar interests. For example, we always ask our live stream presenters to join the Zoom breakout meetings to answer follow-up questions. If there is already a great conversation going in the main meeting room, we will create a breakout room just for the speaker to engage audience members interested in speaking with them in a smaller setting. We also almost always use breakout rooms at the end of each event in what we call “Virtual World Cafe” sessions. These sessions randomly mix up attendees so that they can decompress and share the best takeaways they learned during the event.
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?
Watch a couple virtual events that are available on YouTube, and see what you like most. I also suggest reading my book, “The Virtual Ticket,” which highlights some research I have been doing in the space. Finally, during the making of The Presence Summit with Joe Pine we created a virtual event guide that is totally free. It’s based on Joe’s work from the Experience Economy and it’s really worth checking out. A free PDF is available for download here.
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.
Somehow I would love for people to become better collaborators. Like the quote I shared from Barack Obama, I would love for people to feel more connected and comfortable asking for help. By feeling comfortable asking for help, we can overcome our fears and accept that we are in this together.
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 have a Zoom meeting with Bill Gates. The way that he has gracefully transitioned his career with a focus on philanthropy is inspiring. I want to know what he draws his inspiration from.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.