Communication is Critical

By Maggie Barton Baird.

Recently I attended a virtual event that began with a dreadful moment we have all seen throughout the past year: a blank stare from the presenter. The glare that makes your stomach drop when you realize they have no idea they are live. This is a scenario that all virtual event planners dread; despite preparing months for an event, a moment like this can undermine the entire event experience. One way to avoid this disaster is by having a direct, and clear communications (comms) system.

”My colleague, Alex Lindsay said it best, “Comms is at least half the show”.

When it comes to events with a virtual aspect, comms is your main driver to success. It is the tool that will ensure no presenter, talent or speaker looks into the camera with that confused, “Are we live?” expression that instantly communicates concern to the viewer. It also ensures that your tech teams across the country are on the same page regarding when to go live, when to switch cues and how to problem solve in real-time.

In-person events allow for simple comms tools: hand signals, texting, walkie-talkies, phone calls. Traditionally, we have someone cue presenters–the talent can hang out, relax and wait backstage for someone to usher them onstage. With virtual events, our team and presenters are spread out across multiple locations and battling latency, which makes some of these traditional tools less fitting. This is why virtual comms tools are vital–but be warned, you need to assign a single main comms source or else you will be dodging between multiple chat functions and are bound to miss something integral to the event’s success.

Our main tool of choice is the comms app, Unity, with support from Tucker Dragoo. Much like many television studios, we have chosen this as our main comms driver because it works on all smartphones. More importantly, it allows us to create a multitude of channels with various listening and talking permissions that facilitate smooth and integrated communication.

Coming from a theatre background, this type of comms system felt like a throwback to my stage management days. It is something I feel comfortable using, but you need to remember that is not the case for everyone. I was reminded by a client recently who, in our post-production meeting, requested we do a deeper dive into the system in the future. It’s important that we take the time in advance to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the system, so it works as it should: a simple-to-use communication tool to ensure the event is executed seamlessly. If anyone is confused or unsure of how to use it, the system can fall apart entirely.

If you are just starting with formal comms, here are some best practices we like to use:

  • Remember, the energy you put out on comms will ripple through the entire production
  • Assume the client can always hear you
  • Have a ‘production’ channel where the virtual show is called and everyone can only listen
  • Have department and/or location-specific channels where people can appropriately talk and cue  
  • Have a help channel where the team can go to get comms support
  • Have talent-specific channels where they can easily listen for a simple “GO”
  • As Tucker Dragoo likes to say, “Brevity is good — be concise.”
  • When beginning a conversation, say, “YOUR NAME for THEIR NAME on CHANNEL NAME, then once the other person is ready to listen, they can say, “Go for YOUR NAME”

A special thank you to Tucker Dragoo for his help with this article.

About the Author: Maggie Barton Baird is the Principal at MB & Company, an event planning firm based in Edmonton, Alberta, which is dedicated to crafting unique gatherings and experiences both in-person and virtually. For over ten years, Maggie has been working in events and experiential marketing, primarily with tech and innovation companies. In November 2018, she was named Top 40 Under 40 by Edmonton’s Avenue Magazine and regularly contributes to CBC and 630CHED as an event expert.

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