Promote! If your attendees only get one event reminder a week before it starts, you’ll probably have a disappointing turnout. A thoughtful cadence of promotion across all your appropriate channels is your opportunity to tease — as well as set expectations — for the event. And don’t be shy to promote even as late as the day-of the event. I’ve seen a significant number of last-minute attendees and registrants with this strategy, and I’ve personally registered the same day for webinars. The point is, meet your audience where they are in the moment. It’s easy for even those day-old invites to get lost in the mix.
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 Tim Bradley, Executive Producer and Vice President at Matter Communications.
Tim Bradley has been helping brands achieve their business goals using video for over 15 years, producing branded content, commercials, documentary films, virtual events and reality television programming that drive results. Since 2011, Tim has been pivotal in instituting award-winning video production and virtual event services at Matter. From strategic and creative direction to production, distribution and measurement, Tim works diligently to help marketers attract, capture, nurture, convert and expand their brand through captivating video productions.
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 a very small town approximately three-hours west of Boston. We would say the town had 300 residents in the summertime and 100 in the winter. My two younger brothers and I used to pass the time by creating video stories using our parents’ VHS camcorder. We’d create and direct action hero movies and stop motion Lego adventures. A lot of my inspiration came from being outdoors, exploring nature and of course watching lots of movies. In middle school and high school, we used to watch a lot of ski and snowboard action sports films and those were a big motivator for my pursuits in videography and filmmaking.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I always knew I wanted to make a career in some form of communications medium. I attended a small liberal arts school in New Hampshire where I was able to explore the radio department, print journalism and video production. I had the opportunity to produce my own radio show, I was the editor in chief of the school paper and I took as many video production courses as I could. While there, it became clear to me that video was the medium of choice for me. I just loved the creativity of visual storytelling paired with the technical expertise; the balance of left and right brain. After graduating from college, I moved to Lake Tahoe, California where I wanted to combine my passions of snowboarding and video production. I bought my first camera and MacBook Pro — putting way too much debt on my credit card — but I was compelled to pursue video production as my career.
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?
Most of my mistakes were around the usual stuff, like forgetting integral pieces of equipment or just largely being under prepared for the dynamic of a location or the situation. That said, I always tell my junior staff that you’re going to make mistakes. And you’re going to make a lot of them. However, the best thing you can do is make all of your mistakes as quickly and early as possible to become that well-rounded professional you aspire to be.
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?
I became most interested in storytelling through video during college when I watched some of the best documentaries of all time during my courses, like Grey Gardens, Nanook of the North and The Thin Blue Line. That longform documentary storytelling is arguably still my favorite, with Man on Wire, Blackfish, Searching for Sugar Man, Before the Flood, Free Solo and The Social Dilemma being more recent favorites. I strive to watch at least one documentary a month.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”– Robert Louis Stevenson
The quote infers that it will take time to reap your harvest. By focusing on the planting, you help to insure the harvest, even if you aren’t there to see it. And I think that’s especially true in the creative field. We’re constantly looking for new inspiration, coming up with creative concepts and pitches, and planting many seeds along the way for future opportunities.
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?
I’ve been part of production teams broadcasting live events for nearly 15-years. The early days were pretty bootstrapped. It was 2007, with the emergence of streaming video and YouTube, my friends and I were the first to broadcast some pretty premier skateboarding events. Because they were not network TV but still had a passionate global audience, the action sports world really gave us the first opportunities for live streaming and producing virtual events. We learned a lot during those events about creating a good run of show, production value and streaming distribution best practices to ensure a quality program that audiences would enjoy and clients could be proud of. Now, having been at an agency for nearly 10 years, I’ve seen all shapes and sizes of virtual events. From large-scale tradeshows to awards galas, and customer experiences to product launches. And, of course, the tried-and-true webinar series.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
As I’ve been producing virtual events for more than a decade for brands in nearly every industry, I’ve gained a lot of varied experience about the success of a virtual event. One of the things that makes an event most successful is ensuring that the brand’s personality really resonates and comes through to the intended audience. Recently, I helped produce an awards gala with a venture capital firm. The annual event is typically an in-person event, but then the pandemic happened. What I appreciate about this project is the client thoughtfully threw caution to the wind and dove in headfirst to the virtual event experience. They really honed-in on a fun, slightly ironic theme, “There’s No Place Like Home.” The Wizard of Oz set designs and overarching aesthetic was not only exciting to produce, but very fun for the audience to watch and participate. I think that’s the best thing an event planner can do is bring personality through as much as possible, keeping that human element front and center, virtually.
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?
There are many companies that put on impressive virtual events, but one that often comes to mind for the B2B marketer is Wistia. Wistia provides video hosting services for businesses, and their recurring episodic shows as well as their live virtual events and webinars are always very thoughtfully constructed. Expectations are clear at the outset, the takeaways are very thoughtful and deliberate, and the production value — maybe at no surprise — is always top notch. Plus, they bring a lot of humor to their messaging, which I find makes for a fun watch and helps humanize their brand. I can always expect a laugh. That, and their company mission is about helping companies achieve brand affinity with their audiences through marketing, which is crucial today.
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?
There are several common mistakes when it comes to running a live virtual event, and the three main ones for me include time management, the quality of the storytelling, and production value. For time management, the best solution is to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. The more you can lock in your run of show to be thoughtful to your audiences’ time, the better. For storytelling, it’s all about how can you tell your messaging in as succinct and creative a way as possible. For example, does it have to be live? Or should it be pre-recorded content that’s more compelling and engaging? And with regard to production value, yes it’s easy to assume everyone is accessible and technically savvy in 2021. However, pitfalls like Wi-Fi stability and general familiarity with video equipment can be detrimental to a virtual production. The best thing I recommend to support all three of these common pitfalls is to work with a trusted partner or vendor. They can help with the logistics, creative and technology solutions to produce the best show possible for your brand and audience.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
We’ve had great success with BrandLive which allows us to centralize nearly every aspect of a virtual event. It’s a sandbox for arranging your event destination page, live broadcast and breakout sessions, and you can easily integrate polls, contests, info boxes and social media feeds. And from a branding customization standpoint, you can design nearly everything with custom graphics. The backend UX is pretty intuitive and has an easy-to-use process for registration, the live show and post-show analytics. I’d recommend it for small to mid-sized virtual experiences that you want the custom-tailored experience for your public or private audience.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Sometimes my Matter team builds custom event pages via WordPress, or we’ll broadcast straight to our clients’ YouTube or social accounts. The beauty of today’s webinar tech is that it can scale to any situation.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
I’ve always enjoyed Trello — it’s super simple to create check boxes for each step of your project, and reminders for when to check in on each action item. If you’re doing multiple virtual events at once, and want more granular time tracking for your team, ClickUp is the way to go. My video team has been using it for several months, and it’s given us some great insights into our live workflows.
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.)
- Get creative! Throw out the typical welcome-housekeeping-presentation structure. Start with Q&A, or a pre-recorded skit. If you have the budget, invite a celebrity spokesperson to be the MC. Live audience polls, Q&A and games work wonders in keeping folks engaged. Also, consider using physical props, hand-drawn slides, or dressing up your “set.” While hosting the 2020 International Microwave Symposium (IMS), we had one presenter stand in front of a topographical map, show a physical product in front of camera and use a wireless mic for freedom of movement. Many people told us it was their favorite part of the event.
- Prepare! Double up on rehearsal time. Most importantly, flesh out your run-of-show as early as you can. This will affect all things to come, including remote guests, pre-recorded content and tech specs. We’ve been in a few tight situations where our run-of-show was not confirmed until the last minute and our shows were delayed because of it. Sometimes, that’s unavoidable, especially when there are several parties involved. Do your best to over-communicate about the run-of-show and think, how will this look live?
- Determine what needs to be live, and why. Most virtual events are not 100 percent live; in fact, most contain pre-recorded content, simply played back live. It takes practice to memorize, improvise and be at-ease before an audience, so consider that with your talent. I’ve had presenters who were concerned about their performance, or needed to get the messaging just right, so the team pre-recorded and edited their segments. If someone’s not ready, that’s okay! Just make sure to pre-record and approve their content ASAP.
- Promote! If your attendees only get one event reminder a week before it starts, you’ll probably have a disappointing turnout. A thoughtful cadence of promotion across all your appropriate channels is your opportunity to tease — as well as set expectations — for the event. And don’t be shy to promote even as late as the day-of the event. I’ve seen a significant number of last-minute attendees and registrants with this strategy, and I’ve personally registered the same day for webinars. The point is, meet your audience where they are in the moment. It’s easy for even those day-old invites to get lost in the mix.
- Take a breath. Instinct tells us to panic when something goes wrong during a live show, but it’s best to slow down for a moment and think. As long as the audience is informed, they don’t mind a little waiting! My production team has certainly had our share of delays and connection issues — that’s the beauty of live — and the best thing to do is calmly coach our presenters through the next step via a private earpiece (a must-have for remote folks). We all know live isn’t perfect, and that’s the point, really. A little human error humanizes the experience.
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?
The easiest first step is to attend and review other virtual events your peers are producing. Watch them in their entirety and take notes about what you like. Then, cross examine your own content strategy and ask what’s missing. Maybe take a survey of your community. We can all do general thought leadership, but targeted, timely thought leadership will resonate the most. Once you have your “wish list” of event themes, pick 1 or 2 and outline what you want people to know. Then mess it up! Move around the show order, add a poll or a game, and anything else that would excite or inspire your community. And lastly, examine the run-time for your show. If it feels too long, it probably is. Consider carving it into two or more shows that are individually targeted and niched by subject matter. The episodic cadence will work wonders for your brand affinity, too.
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 would love to inspire people to think more creatively, regardless of their industry or experience. There’s a misconception that only artistic folks like video producers or painters are creative, when in fact everyone is creative. Social creativity, technical creativity, logistical creativity — no matter what you do — there are opportunities to think outside the box and channel that part of yourself. All it takes is a little empowerment and the will to workshop ideas.
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 have to say the filmmaker and co-director of the Oscar winning documentary, Free Solo, Jimmy Chin. I’m always inspired by his approach to adventure photography and filmmaking. I’m often blown away by the incredible production value he and his team are able to achieve in even the most challenging of environments. If you haven’t seen his climbing expedition film, Meru, I highly recommend it. Jimmy’s passion for adventure and the outdoors combined with his creative and technical prowess are what inspire me the most.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Thank you for the opportunity. I hope this helps marketers in their future virtual event experiences!