Virtual Moderator Dos and Don’ts by @PYMLive

You no longer need a budget of $20,000 to stream your conference content virtually. But you do need to have a firm strategy in place, especially if you’re trying to do it all yourself. Recently, I acted as the virtual/social media moderator for the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference in San Francisco. Over the course of three days, we streamed and archived dozens of videos, created a living document of session notes and reached more than 440,000 people virtually. Here’s what I learned trying to do it all myself.

1. Don’t attempt to be your own technical director.

Depending on the venue and the A/V team you’re working with, you may not have one point person for your Internet, sound and video needs. At the venue we used, I had five different contact people, and no one was given the authority or the knowledge needed to coordinate all of us in advance. As a result, people kept coming to me for answers that I didn’t have, and it took us a long time to learn how to work as a team. Had we a technical director to create and communicate a shot list, oversee the tech-throughs and problem-solve for us, the process would have been much smoother, and there would have been a clear chain of command.

2. Don’t try to be the broadcast operator and moderate social media at the same time.

If you’re focused on whether or not the camera guy is following the action and why the sound isn’t synched to the picture, you’re probably not going to be able to follow the live comment and Twitter stream, too. In an ideal world, you should have one moderator per audience channel: One for the video chat, one for the event page, one for the conference app chat rooms and one following the hashtag on Twitter, Instagram and/or Facebook and G+, etc. That way, you have at least one person on the side feeding you audience questions during breaks and responding to the rest on their own while the broadcast is in session.

3. Do map out the broadcast strategy in advance.

Not every session during a conference needs to be shared with a virtual audience. And not every moment of a broadcast needs to be trained on the stage. Make sure you work with the conference organizer to identify which sessions should be broadcast. Then talk with the speakers from those sessions so you can identify how they’re delivering content and if there will be any moments where the camera will have to follow action “offstage.”

4. Don’t assume that all content can be broadcast in the same way.

Once you know which sessions will be broadcast, when you’ll have breaks from broadcast, and what the content of each session will look like, determine which is the best platform for each broadcast. For #GMIC2014, I used a mix of YouTube Live, G+ Hangouts on Air and Google Glass uploads directly to PYM’s YouTube channel. I also put aside time for private Hangouts, but ended up cutting them, because I realized the virtual audience would be better engaged during that time through Twitter and the conference app’s conversation streams, and reading the notes I was taking in a shared Google Doc.

5. Do plan for moments that are for virtual eyes only.

Think about how you will engage the virtual viewing audience before, during and after each broadcast. Sessions very rarely start on-time, so the dead time between the virtual “go” and when the speaker starts can be used in a variety of ways. At #GMIC2014, I used that pre-show time for recaps, guest commentary and  sponsor interviews. If there was a five-minute break for groups to work together during a session, I would cut away and fill that gap with attendee interviews, personal recaps, guest commentary or virtual audience Q&As. I also captured impromptu videos that helped our virtual attendees see what was happening onsite, meet who was exhibiting and hear from our sponsors.

6. Do create online repositories for the content.

What I love about streaming content via G+ Hangouts on Air and YouTube Live is that it’s automatically archived on a YouTube page. Another video capture company, SnappyTV, was able to parse short excerpts from my broadcasts and share them on YouTube channel, so I was able to add them to one playlist people could reference post-event. The collaborative Google Doc I created and shared served as a Cliff Notes version of the educational content. To capture the social media chatter, I created several Storify recaps, and our conference app Topi is exporting the public content people shared in the mobile chat rooms so it can be shared with a wider audience. The result? GMIC has a massive amount of content they can repackage, repurpose and use to engage attendees all year round.

7. Don’t give complete access to your collaborative documents.

During the last day of the conference, I stepped out to grab a cup of coffee and returned to find someone had deleted all the content from our Google Doc. Luckily, I knew how to revoke general editing privileges and revert the document to a previous revision to restore its content. But I learned my lesson. I’ll never share a link to a “anyone can edit” document on Twitter again. In the future, I’ll either share only with registered attendees, restrict editing privileges to “comment only” or require contributors to sign in.

8. Do act as the virtual audience’s advocate.

During the last day, there was a lot of group work and things — like offsite tours — that the virtual audience couldn’t access. When in-person attendees broke into private discussion groups, or were queuing up to have their “commitments to change” photographed, I used the back-of-house “voice of God” mic to remind the them about the virtual audience and invited them to share their thoughts and findings with me. As a result, there was plenty of fascinating attendee stories and materials the #happyhybrids got to see, and fun discussions that bridged the disparate audiences.


Have you attended an event virtually or hosted one? What would you add to this list? Answer in the comment section below.


Add A Comment