We see it happen a lot: clients who mimick TV-shows as soon as their meeting goes online. They hire an experienced TV production house, a well-equipped TV studio and of course a professional TV presenter. It seems the logical choice, but sometimes they end up being disappointed.
On the other hand, we have the organisers, who go for the minimal variant: a Zoom/Teams session without any frills. In some cases, that is sufficient. But just as often, you don't do everyone justice.
In our opinion, you should always make the following consideration:
Citroën 2CV or F1
The first and perhaps most important choice is what you want to achieve and what it takes to do so: glamorous or credible? If you have reason (and budget) to go big, then rig up a TV-worthy event with all the necessary technology, organisation and creativity.
But it doesn't always have to be flashy and dynamic. And sometimes, a simple Zoom session is good enough to achieve the desired effect and all the speakers, participants and moderator can simply log in from their own desks. Sometimes it is really worth going into a studio for a talk show setting. And sometimes you go much further: a real studio show, a custom-made platform instead of Zoom, the hiring of extra interaction tools, etc. As long as it is for a reason! And in our experience, that's often what's missing.
Compare it to choosing a means of transport: depending on your goal, you choose a Citroën 2CV (once designed with the transport of one farmer and two mud potatoes in mind), Max Verstappen's Formula 1 car, or anything in between.
The participant central
There is one essential difference between TV and online events: in television they deal with viewers, we have participants. And you have to keep them engaged in a different way. In television, they are satisfied if people don't change channels. We are not content with them staying; we want them to learn something and do something with it; for people to change their behaviour or for something to change for the better.
Because our participants are more than consumers of the image, you really have to involve them in the content. And that means interaction and engage. You have to activate participants continuously and regularly.
I am convinced that TV and (online) events will increasingly blend into each other in that respect. There will always be programmes that you only watch to consume, but also on TV they will increasingly activate viewers. Viewers will become participants, in some cases even influencing the run of the TV-show live.
TV personality or professional moderator
Now that we are on screen, just a smuch as on stage, we also see a shift in the choice of moderator: someone with TV experience is chosen more often. This is a logical choice, given that many moderators have shown that they struggle to play their role on camera. Yet there is often a reason not to choose a (well-known) TV-presenter.
For starters, not every online event requires TV experience. If you do a smaller session in Zoom or Teams, the emphasis is much more on the facilitating qualities of the discussion leader than on his camera experience.
But also for larger online meetings in a more TV-like setting, more is asked than what a TV presenter brings. The moderator of an online meeting does not have viewers, but participants (see also The participant central). And that requires a different way of communicating with the camera: you have to really talk to people, through the lens.
So preferably you should look for TV presenter who can take this step, or for a practised meeting-moderator who can get used to doing his work through that black eye.
Commercial break (we copy that from TV): our Workshop Online and Hybrid Moderating has helped many TV presenters and moderators to find that balance between TV and the stage.
This is something that online events can really learn from television. You hold on to people if you constantly surprise them and if you provide variety. Think of bumper, short videoclips, stationcalls, gamification, cliffhangers and so on. If you do this cleverly, people are less likely to leave your online meeting.
On the other hand, time has also taught us that it doesn't always have to be expensive and large-scale, and that you don't have to free up a TV budget right away. The playful elements, the cliffhangers and so on can all be included in your online meeting.
On the other hand, time has also taught us that it doesn't always have to be expensive and large-scale, and that you don't have to free up a TV budget straight away. The playful elements, the cliffhangers and so on can also be achieved with very simple, cheap means. It is a question of making choices (see also Citroën 2CV or F1).
This is close to variety. A TV programme is not constructed randomly: there is a lot of time and vision invested in the order of elements, in the (alternating) length etc. It is actually very simple: to prevent people from dropping off, you have to play with style, pace and energy. Sometimes people just need to be stirred up, sometimes you have to give them a moment to drift off. TV has many years of experience in this, much more than we, the event people, have.
At the same time, we have to translate these lessons to our online reality. (see also Participant centric)
Autocue or improv
From TV, we know the autocue: a screen from which the presenter can simply read the texts. Admittedly: it makes it tighter; more professional, perhaps. But it also becomes less spontaneous, less personal and less credible.
The autocue can play a good role in online events, where things need to be presented clearly and professionally. But the autocue should be pushed aside, especially at the moment that you really want to make contact with your viewers ... At the moment that your viewers become participants.
In short: online events can learn a lot from the experience and expertise of TV. But at the same time, this should not lead to the loss of what makes events unique: real engagement and interaction.
Jan-Jaap In der Maur