5 Ways Covid-19 has Changed how Conferences Collect Video and Presentation Content

by Jim Donnelly | May 5, 2021

Web Summit’s Mark Teeple has seven understated words to describe the disruption Covid-19 has wrought in the events and conferences business…

“It has been a really big adjustment,” explains the Executive Producer (Broadcast) for the Dublin-based events and conferences company known for hosting the world’s largest technology conference (along with other big events such as Collision, which just took place in Toronto on April 20, and Kuala Lumpur’s RISE). Speakers include the likes of Ryan Reynolds, Fidji Simo, Head of Facebook App at Facebook, and Malala Yousafzai.

“We were used to people and suppliers being onsite to solve a lot of small issues that we know crop up, but don’t necessarily need to be planned for,” adds Teeple. “Especially when you get to an event the size and scope of Collision or Web Summit, there’s just a level of planning that is impossible to do at that scale.” 

Teeple works with the company’s production teams to generate video content for each conference, along with receiving video content from presenters. The latter is an especially important function during virtual conferences – recent Web Summit conferences, like most marquee events around the world, went totally virtual in 2020 and 2021 as the pandemic brought business travel and in-person networking to a standstill

Empty conference chairs as in-person events came to a standstill in 2020

That has had a massive impact on the industry at large: According to data from UFI.org, the events and conferences industry has lost around $16.5B USD due to the pandemic. 

But while most event professionals remain positive that in-person events will return in 2021 – and if this year’s Oscars are any indication, they’re probably right – that doesn’t mean the age of virtual events has been a total wash. Around two-thirds of event professionals surveyed by industry resource EventMB say they’ll continue to hold hybrid (partly virtual, partly in-person) events after the pandemic. And 71 percent of planners surveyed said they’ll continue using a digital strategy “to maintain their virtual audience” once in-person events resume.

Indeed, many shows – including Web Summit, Collision, and RISE – have found success in the virtual world. And why not? Virtual and even hybrid events can have several benefits, including lower overhead costs, a smaller carbon footprint, and even increased attendance in some cases. 

They’ve also forced production and video teams at event organizations to adjust their workflows around everything from handling speakers, to receiving large video files for presentations, to the level of planning required to run a smooth show. 

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Here are just a few ways events and conferences have adjusted to the virtual era – and how they’ll continue to evolve going forward.

1. More concise content.

Virtual events are sometimes more challenging in that instead of a captive audience jammed in a conference room, virtual attendees can easily leave if something more interesting comes along (or if they get busy at work). Content should be tailored as such – think short, zesty video segments that illustrate value quickly as opposed to one-hour presentations with super-detailed slides. “Being concise and thinking of how to get speakers get to their points as fast as possible is important,” says Hootsuite’s James Mulvey in Forbes.

2. No more last-minute content submissions.

It happens at every in-person event: A last-minute presenter rushes the A/V desk, a thumb drive containing their presentation content in hand, as they’re about to go onstage. That’s simply not possible with virtual conferences, which require a much more detailed level of planning and often feature a combination of live and recorded video that must be prepped and ready to go well in advance.

“The phrase that I like to use internally is that for the first time, we have to be a hundred percent delivered before the event ever starts,” Teeple explains. “Everything has to be complete before an attendee shows up. That’s a big shift for any event producer. We’re used to dealing with last-minute bookings and changes up to stage time, but with virtual events we can’t flex anything in and out, and essentially 24 hours in advance we are a hundred percent locked. If the content isn’t ready, it doesn’t get played.”

3. The first (online) impression is everything.

“Content is king for digital events, and design is queen. Be mindful of the experience you deliver to people,” says Hootsuite’s Dianne Semark. The same principle applies to event speakers, and Teeple says the first interaction of any of Web Summit’s presenters is the site they’re asked to use to upload content. “It’s typically one of the first things they experience – submitting a video or presentation by pulling up the URL to upload their content,” he explains, adding that many presenters in the Covid-19 era produce their own presentation videos at home.

“Our ability to make the file upload experience look professional is really important.”

Web Summit uses MASV Portals – nearly 250 MASV Portals running concurrently, to keep their many content streams separate and organized – to collect large video files from its dozens of speakers for multiple events. Each MASV Portal has custom branding, colors, and messaging to correspond to the conference and function to which it is associated. “That flexibility of branding on each Portal is surprisingly important,” he adds. “It’s a seamless experience.”

4. A large file transfer tool is now a necessity.

Event and conference teams have always had to receive files in advance. But virtual events are driven by deadline-oriented video content, both recorded and live, which has made reliable, fast large file transfer a must-have tool for conference production teams. Running a large conference with dozens of high-profile speakers means producing and receiving thousands of unique assets, with each asset often having several RAW files attached. To be most effective, large file transfer solutions should be as fast and reliable as possible with no file size limits.

5. Simplified file transfer workflows are also key.

The sheer volume of files many event producers receive from speakers means large file transfer workflows must be easy to use for anyone – even non-technical folks. Teeple says drag-and-drop file uploads and automatic file transfers to cloud storage has helped eliminate dozens of tedious steps. “The idea of asking a high-profile speaker to upload the file, put in their email, go get the code from their email, do all of these steps – that was just a no-go for us. We needed something that was drag and drop.”

Removing time-consuming steps is also a godsend for video editors and producers often dealing with hundreds of files per day, usually on deadline and – during the pandemic, at least – always remotely. “In our first remote cycle (last year), key attendees were uploading their files to a file transfer service. Whomever was receiving them was then manually downloading them. They were then getting re-uploaded into a Google Drive or Amazon bucket. Then someone was downloading those files again, and then re-uploading them at yet another location. And then when the editor got them, they would download them again, locally, create the edited asset, and then re-upload that.”

It’s exhausting just thinking about it – but Teeple says that using MASV’s file transfer service with simplified workflows and automatic cloud integrations has removed nearly “every one of those steps.” 

Despite the massive disruption to their business due to in-person events going virtual, Teeple says many of these changes will “a hundred percent stick around.” He says they’ll continue using large file transfer once in-person events come back, which could even help during those last-minute thumb drive situations we mentioned earlier.

“So even if we’re on-site and someone walks up with a USB key, we can still use a large file transfer tool to upload that file into whatever cloud server we’re using. It’ll help make that entire process as seamless as possible.”

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