Successful Zooms and Livestreams

 This post grew out of seeing a Zoom presentation that should’ve been quite interesting turn boring from the beginning. As I cringed, I began thinking of all the great examples the host was providing of what NOT to do. What follows is not that, nor is it an exhaustive list of how to run a good online presentation or livestreamed panel. It is some of the tips and tricks learned from all the GGDA Zooms and streams we have conducted. 

A number of standard presentation and panel rules still apply, but audience members physically present are less likely to leave. The rule that you need to hook an online audience in the first 10 seconds is absolutely true. Fortnite is only a click away. However, there are other important differences.

Virtual presentations invite more audience activity than do physical ones, and you should take advantage of it. Your audience IS multitasking! Some have you on in the background while they work, game, chat, go to the bathroom, etc. If you are lucky, they are focusing on you, but they are doing other things as well.

I like it when people look up the topic as I discuss it (maybe they use Duck Duck Go when I talk about online security). I appreciate when they text chat as I talk, be it in the official chat channel or their own side channel. Heck, I like to watch my city council meetings in Zoom while talking about them on Skype. 

This is what I like best about virtual events – the opportunity for the audience to be even more involved. Here are my tips for encouraging that interest. 

  1. People show up late – plan for it. Witb GGDA on-ground meetings, our hour of networking before hand helped ensure the audience was in place when the panel started. When it’s online, people show up late. Maybe they had to stop what they were doing when the calendar alert went off. Maybe they had trouble getting in. Whatever the cause, the bulk of your audience shows up five to 10 minutes late. Don’t punish them by starting with info they need. Don’t punish those who showed up on time by constantly repeating what came before. Wait 10-15 minutes before presenting critical info or asking key questions. 
  2. Reward those who show up on time. We post a starting-soon announcement 10 minutes before the stream starts so notifications go out in time for people to respond. When they do, we greet them in the text chat and encourage them to respond. When the starting time hits, we thank Patreons, make announcements, and try to personalize the session for those in attendance.  
  3. If you start with announcements, use them as the opening act. Just like the first bands or comedians on a lineup have the duty of getting the audience revved up for the headliners, so too should the announcements. Tie them to people by name, encourage questions, and get the chat discussing them. 
  4. Don’t start with your bio but do let panelists introduce themselves. If you are the sole presenter, don’t list your bio. Put the relevant info in the description or a link in chat. On the other hand, do let panelists introduce themselves. These helps the audience keep track of who is who on the screen. 
  5. Make it clear when Q&A occurs. If you won’t answer questions until the end, say so. Don’t make people think their questions in chat are being ignored. If you are more interactive and answering questions along the way, keep encouraging them. 
  6. Your mods are your best friends. It always helps to have designated moderators, even in simple online streams. Your attendees usually want to be engaged and recognized, and the speaker does not have time. Mods can greet, engage and police so you don’t have to. 
  7. Remember you have a delay. You might think a 10-second delay between when you speak and when the audience hears you is inconsequential, but it can be very impactful. Questions and references in chat can confuse you since they may have nothing to do with what you are currently saying. Never just ask if there are any questions, wait a second, and then go on. Most viewers are only hearing your request for questions after you have proceeded to the next topic. The delay is another reason why mods are so useful – they see things at the same time as the audience. 
  8. Give viewers a next step. Other people use the term call to action, but give them something to do next – check out a web site, wish list your game on Steam, like and subscribe to your channel, mark their calendar for your next stream; etc. If someone has watched the whole way through, they want to stay engaged, and you are cheating them if you don’t give them a way to do so. 
  9. Push your stuff. I was amazed when I figured this out, but it’s true – people who have enjoyed your presentation want to support you. Let them. Link them to your website, books, games, Twitter account, Pinterest, whatever. Help them stay involved.

What are your tips for successful virtual events? What have you seen go wrong with such events? 

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