By Nate Hoffelder
Authors need to be prepared to be either the guest or the host of a livestream event, and if you have never done that before, here are a few tips to get you started.
When the US finally responded to the pandemic in mid-March by essentially shutting down, many of us thought that this was a temporary change. The infection rate would be brought under control, we could stop wearing masks, and it would be safe to go to public events again. (Anne even published my post on going to your first book fair around that time because we thought authors would be able to use the tips it contained.)
That has not happened, alas, and there’s no sign that the current state of affairs in the US will ever change. That means that holding events such as readings, book clubs, and cons online is even more important than ever, and I have a few ideas that can help.
Being a guest or a host in an online event will be intimidating to some, so let’s start with a familiar concept:
Have you been on a podcast?
This might sound like a non sequitur, but I have found that livestream events have many details in common with podcasts. You will often use similar tech for both, and have to go through the same basic preparations. In fact, a lot of podcasts are often recorded as video first, before being distributed as a podcast.
This is why my first tip is to point you to a couple posts I wrote on podcasting for beginners:
I have a number of tips in those posts that I wanted to copy into this one because they are applicable to livestream events, but decided it would be better to only cover new material.
I have learned a lot since I wrote those posts, including that a livestream event also shares many elements with conference speaking.
Speaking or being on a panel at a conference is similar in many ways to speaking on a livestream event, but there are two key differences. Rather than have an audience to make eye contact with, you only have your camera. And rather than have your slides on a big screen behind you, they will be shown on monitors, some of which are as small as 14”. (In fact, you may even have people watching on their smartphone.)
This is why you should set up your recording area so that you will keep your gaze on your camera so that you will appear to be making eye contact with your audience.
You should also make sure your slides will be legible on a small screen – they could end up smaller than you expect.
Ask about the format
You’ve probably seen enough livestream events to know that they all fall into one of three categories: You either see a speaker on the screen, or their presentation, or you get to see several panelists.
Here’s something you might not know: not all livestream events work that way.
I was watching a WordPress conference earlier this year which had the speaker and their slides on screen at the same time. I am sure they thought this was a great idea when they came up with it, but the result left a lot to be desired. This format shrank the slides down to about the size of a business card (I actually compared them, yes). The slides were essentially illegible, and that was terrible because they often contained essential technical information that the speakers referred to but did not verbalize.
Divide the Labor
While it is possible to host a livestream all by yourself, it gets a lot easier if you split the duties between at least two, and possibly three people. The usual way this is set up is that there’s a moderator to help a speaker. The speaker or host devotes their full attention to just giving a presentation and talking to the audience, while the moderator is responsible for making sure all the tech is working, watching the clock, and monitoring the chat box for questions and comments from the audience.
While I do know experts who don’t need assistance when hosting a livestream, I think just about everyone else could use the help. If nothing else, this will make the speaker appear better prepared and more focused on the audience.
Engage the audience
Here’s a tip that I just learned while getting ready to give a presentation at an online writing conference. The moderator who had been assigned to work with me during my session requested that I prepare questions which we could ask the audience during the session. His reasoning was that engaging with the audience would help them retain more of the presentation, so they would derive greater benefit from the presentation. He is absolutely right, and what’s more, the questions also helped me gauge audience interest.
The responses to shift the focus of your talk, or expand on the points so the audience got the information they were seeking.
Prep the Moderator
I am sure that you know that you need to prepare your slides and other materials, but did you think to give the moderator a list of relevant info?
If there’s anything you mention in your talk that attendees might ask you to write in the chat (websites, services, book titles, etc), give the details to the moderator or assistant before the event begins. This will save you from having to interrupt your presentation to type something out.
And while you are at it, you should also give the moderator the intro you want them to read when your event starts. While they may have been given a speaker bio, chances are you may not want it to be read out loud.
The thing is, if that bio was intended to be posted online, it might contain acronyms or other terms which are difficult to pronounce/understand. These terms might trip the moderator up or confuse the attendees when spoken aloud. I actually saw this happen with a guest speaker for the local Sisters in Crime chapter. The speaker was ex-military, and about a third of his bio consisted of acronyms. Those acronyms were perfectly comprehensible as text, but they should have been cut from the bio before it was used to introduce the speaker.
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These are a few of the lessons I have learned this year about speaking online; what have you learned?
Share it in the comments below!