10/27/09

Live Streaming Conferences — Learn From My Mistakes!!

They say that "practice makes perfect"... so, I guess that means I need more practice.
Last Friday, the Special Libraries Association Texas Chapter (SLA-TX) hosted an all day conference at the University of Texas campus. We had a packed house, and I decided to also stream the conference in order to allow those that could not attend a chance to sit in 'virtually.' We used UStream as our free streaming provider, a new Logitech QuickCam Orbit MP Webcam, and Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder 3 to take advantage of the high quality camera functions through UStream.
Although things went pretty well, there were a few mistakes on my part that I'd like to share with you in case you decide to stream a presentation.
1 - If you have a chance to "hard wire" your Internet connection, do it!!
The night before the conference, I tested the streaming capabilities at the SLA-TX board meeting so that we could talk to board members that couldn't make the trip to Austin. We used the WiFi through the hotel, and quickly discovered that weak WiFi causes bad streaming. The slowness in the WiFi connection caused the audio to chatter, and the lag time in the video became huge (around a 10 minute lag time.) When I got to the conference room the next day, I quickly found the network plug and hard wired my Internet connection.
2 - Bring an extension cord and a long network cable!
I actually did bring an extension cord with me, but the network cable I brought was only 12 feet long. Because the network plug was in the corner of the room, this meant I had to shoot the video at an angle. It would have been much better to have shot the video from the audience perspective with a straight on shot. Next time, I'm bringing at least 50 feet of networking cable, and 50 feet of extension cord... just to be safe.
3 - If you want to show both the speaker and the presentation, darken the room!
Apparently, a well-lit room and a bright projector screen are not a good combination. I noticed in the Internet Librarian live stream, that you can see the speaker and presentation just fine if the room is darker. Next time, we're turning off some lights in the conference room!
4- Understand that the "Chat" function may be blocked by some workplace networks!
This problem I actually knew about before I started streaming on Friday (since my workplace blocks 'Chat' functions for security reasons.) Your audience will not be able to 'talk' to you, so the only way the can ask questions is to either sign in on the chat function (if they can), or you can set up a Twitter hashtag (we used #slatx09), and monitor that via the UStream widget. If all of that fails, give your audience an email address to send their questions and monitor that during the presentation.
5 - Want to record the presentation? Then read the instructions!!
I know, I know... this goes against the guy code and Toby has asked for my man card for even suggesting reading instructions but I really screwed the pooch on this one. We had a great keynote presenter in Gary Hoover who I promised I would record the presentation and send him a copy. Now I have to send an apology note to Gary that explains that, while I did press the "record" button, apparently, it was the wrong "record" button. Now, I have nothing for him but excuses. Turns out that I needed to use the record function through the UStream dashboard rather than the record function through the Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder.
I'm sure there are many, many more mistakes that I made while live streaming the SLA-TX conference last Friday, but these are all I'm admitting to at this time.
Despite the fact that I didn't record the conference, I'd still say that the live stream was an overall success. At one point in the conference (while discussing the hot topic of the SLA name change and alignment project), we had more people watching the live stream than we had at the conference. We handled questions from the remote viewers, and were able to expand our audience beyond those that could travel to Austin. That, my friends, is a win-win for everyone. I hope that some of you reading this are now inspired to live stream your conferences and seminars. If you do, please let me know so I can tune in and see if you've learned from my mistakes.

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2 comments:

Matt Riley said...

Interesting post, Greg. Mistakes are inevitable, but it sounds like you gave access to a big group of people who wouldn't have been able to join in otherwise.

We've been doing live webcasts at the SC Bar for several years now. Our solution to #3 is to run a second video feed from the laptop showing the powerpoint slide so that we can switch live between the two different sources. It requires some extra hardware, but the end product looks great.

Good luck with future conferences!

Greg Lambert said...

Thanks Matt. I've looked at some good products that combine the presentation and the video (like Podcaster from LiveStream.com). I've also looked at the on-the-fly editing software that interacts with UStream and others called VidBlaster (vidblaster.com). Hopefully, I'll be able to experiment on some other presentations soon to test out my ability to do more than one thing at once.

 

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