What is it like to facilitate a live video broadcast?

I’ve worked with the Charity Learning Consortium for a little while and whilst chatting with CEO and Founder Martin Baker, we somehow came up with the mad idea to live broadcast the presentations from a members meeting in London, up to the members in Scotland, so that everyone is included without the time and cost of travel.

You can read here about some plans we had before the day.

Fast forward a lot of work from a lot of people, and we were D-day!

The live streaming broadcast was TV quality and provided by Colin Steed of Learning Now TV.

I flew to Edinburgh to be the local facilitator. This is an important role to make sure that both geographies were connected. In an ideal world, we would get the full experience of the speakers in London. If all failed, it was my job to make sure that the Scottish members still had a great learning day. No pressure!

It’s not just me and the CLC that were excited, the Scottish members were too!

 

Setting up the technology

It’s a separate blog post to focus on the specifics of the technology we used, how it worked together (or didn’t!) and the various plans we went through before it was working.

Whilst we had planned, discussed, researched and tested, obviously when you are at the venues with all the variables, things are different. There were also bits of technology we weren’t able to test before hand as well as assumptions made that we didn’t realise about – as always!

It took about 90 minutes or more to get both London and Scotland events set up ready for the live stream. This included Colin recording and the live stream, the communication between Scotland and London, and the connection Scotland to London.

In London we had the CLC’s Harri Le Claire on to be our Scotland voice. In Scotland there was me to facilitate with everyone as well as setup all of the technology. Louise Houston was the CLC representative as well as supporting me in the facilitation and communication with Harri. Complicated? A bit. The important part was the right communication all round.

Long story short – whilst the live streaming from London to Edinburgh was working, we couldn’t get decent video and audio the other way round. As I say, that’s another blog post on what we tried, learned and what we could do next time.

 

The streaming experience for attendees

I think I meant a “quick” brain quiz!

 

Facilitating the streaming experience

Again it’s the topic of another blog to go into the detailed nuts and bolts of how I facilitated the day. At it’s best, I was there to smooth the ride between the live streamed sessions and make sure that the technology kept working.

However we all know that technology doesn’t necessarily behave!

When there was enough bandwidth at the London venue the streaming worked brilliantly – the LNTV broadcast visual and audio were excellent. The audio we had in the Scotland room was set up really well so it was good quality.

I had local copies of the slides and a second computer/screen setup to display those for the local attendees. When Colin was first filming the speakers he was focusing on their upper body and face, so we got a got quality picture of them, which was great. However as we didn’t have any technology that allowed mirrored slides (so that when the speaker clicked next in London, we saw the same in Scotland) I had to do that locally. And I couldn’t always see when they changed slide!

Once we realised this, we got Colin to zoom out. The attendees in Scotland really appreciated seeing a bit more of the context and I could follow on better too. There are technical options where we could have done this. However what we decided to do, knowing this was a huge first, was to focus on doing a couple of things well and not over-complicating the use of technology.

There were some other challenges with the slides – such as speakers changing them last minute and me not having the right slides. I also had some local problems in showing them, which was entirely due to me trying to do two or three things on one laptop. Eventually I dedicated one to just slides and it worked much better.

When the live stream failed, which it did, it was my job to keep things going in Scotland. As I jumped up I joked the first time, “this is where I earn my money”.

I had the slides locally and had prepared beforehand, so I knew what was being covered. Also we planned ahead on all the activities so not only did we have the right materials in Scotland, but I also knew how to facilitate them and we could feed back to London too.

The local facilitation model we used worked really well. The delegates said that, had they been at home/work and just watching the live stream, after a certain number of problems they would have logged out. By having me and Louise from the CLC all in a room together, not only could I continue delivering the content, but also we could have conversation together.

This was a significant challenge for me as a facilitator. We had speakers covering topics on engagement, internal communications and neuroscience, as well as shorter lightening talks on a variety of subjects, and some CLC member specific updates. I had to be prepared to step in on any or all of these and deliver value. I couldn’t have done that without Louise, as she knew the CLC-specific material, whereas I focused on the L&D elements.

There was only one presentation I felt I didn’t cover well when we had more serious streaming issues in the afternoon. Whilst I had prepared and looked at the slides, I hadn’t done the extra research that meant I was super confidant.

We got through it fine, it certainly wasn’t a failure, but it highlighted how important this role is to be prepared in depth and breadth. Louise and I thought that, next time, the CLC staff member would concentrate more on the shorter presentations and the facilitator on the larger L&D topics, so both played to their strengths.

Several of the delegates said a version of, “we’re all trainers; none of us wanted to be standing where you were!”. That made me feel better.

Whilst the day as a whole was a stressful one and I had to keep many plates spinning, all of which were wobbling, there was only one moment where I truly started to hyperventilate. The live stream of the neuroscience session failed, so I had to start that off. I knew the speaker, Gary Luffman, so I could do him a certain amount of justice as an introduction. Whilst I’m no brain expert, I know enough to facilitate a session.

The hyperventilating started when even my local slides failed on me and I had nothing to refer to and nothing for the delegates to see. Whilst PowerPoint slides aren’t everything, in the moment, it was one fail too many! Luckily breathing kicked in, I made light of it, realised what the technical issue was and got that fixed very quickly, and then the live stream started working again. And I sat down and relaxed!

All my webinar, live event hosting, technical knowledge and facilitation experience was drawn upon that day!

At the end of the day we did a short Periscope live video broadcast with some of the Scottish attendees on what they thought:

 

Summary

Were there technical issues? Yes, of course. The live streaming from the London venue was troublesome due to bandwidth and other technical issues, despite our work with the venues ahead of time.

Were there local technical issues in Scotland? Again, yes of course! You can plan and prep all you like, but then in a different venue and doing it live, it’s always different.

Was it stressful? Hell yes! But, it was also fun and a great learning experience and I enjoyed the challenge of bringing it all together.

Did people learn something and get value from the day? Also yes. There was an acceptance of the experimental nature of the live broadcasting we were doing. People were just happy that they didn’t have to travel from Scotland down to London. Not only did that save people effort and time (I basically had most of the day before getting to Scotland and got home very late the night we delivered), but it saved the cost and time out of work/life too.

Delegate feedback from the Scottish attendees about yours truly:

  • Having Jo and Louise available
  • Having Jo and Louise here to fill in when IT was an issue. Still felt part of London event
  • Jo was great to make the conference more ‘real’ and keep us engaged
  • Jo was fabulous as always – both as a facilitator and managing the tech
  • Jo’s facilitation was fab x2
  • Jo the facilitator was fantastic, kept the event lively + discussion going despite the tech glitches – well done!
  • Good but IT failed 🙁 Jo was great 🙂
  • Jo the facilitator was fantastic, kept the event lively + discussion going despite the tech glitches – well done!

And lastly, Louise Houston and I had an exhausted but happy journey back down south!

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