With each week that passes under COVID-19, more and more groups are looking towards virtual programs as a way to provide content, value, and connection to their employees, members, and users. Last week, I shared tips on transitioning an event into a virtual experience.

This week, I want to talk more about the different levels of virtual programs. As you can probably imagine, not all virtual events are created equal. While most people know and lament about the “standard webinar,” there is so much more that can be done.

Think of it this way: if the only stand-up comedy you ever experienced was people trying stand-up for the first time at an open mic, you would think it was a terrible artform. But you’ve seen the professionally produced Netflix comedy specials and know it could be so much more.

Virtual programs are not webinars only. Webinars are your open mics, so let’s look at some of the more elevated tiers of what can be done:

Levels of Virtual Programs

The primary differentiators for virtual programs are: video, audio, lighting, and delivery. Notice that content is not included in this list. Yes, you do need someone who has great content, but that’s true regardless of level or format.

For each tier, I’ve share some examples of what gear could be used with (some affiliate) links to where you can get them.

NOTE: A lot of these pieces are in high demand and may be sold out or have long delivery times. If you can’t find it on Amazon, consider searching other online retailers such as Best Buy or B&H Photo Video, or a local electronics store. Or, do a search for “alternatives to [sold out equipment name].”

Tier 1 Virtual Program – Standard

The first level of virtual programs is what people think of when it comes to a traditional webinar. The focus is on delivering content as quick, easy, and cheap as possible.

Pros: Takes advantage of what most content creators already have. Can be up and running very quickly. Requires very little rehearsal as content can be read.
Cons: The end product is usually not all that engaging. Experience, interaction, and efficacy is low. Isn’t differentiated from products that have negative connotations.

  • Video: Single camera angle, often at the default height of the desk / chair, with little attention paid to framing.
    • Equipment: built-in camera in laptop or smartphone.
  • Audio: Basic audio setup, often with existing background noise of the environment.
    • Equipment: built-in microphone in laptop or smartphone.
  • Lighting: Basic lighting, often with overhead lighting or bright windows in background.
    • Equipment: whatever standard room-lighting exists.
  • Delivery: One view, audio over slides, possibly with a video of presenter in the corner, with little to no interaction.

Example: Just about any introductory webinar that you’ve experienced.

Tier 2 Virtual Program – Elevated

The second level of virtual programs is an elevated version of what people think of when it comes to a traditional webinar. The focus is on building a more engaging presentation while balancing a need to create content quickly and easily.

Pros: Builds on what most content creators already have. Doesn’t require extensive setup time. Follows a framework that people already expect but in an elevated way.
Cons: Requires more planning and setup than Tier 1, but isn’t dramatically differentiated at first glance. Involves some additional investment and resources. Doesn’t create immediate WOW factor.

Example: Some of the initial virtual workshops offered by Humor That Works. (Coming Soon)

Tier 3 – Professional

The third level of virtual programs moves beyond what people think of when it comes to a traditional webinar and begins to transition into virtual workshops and virtual keynotes. The focus is on creating a compelling learning experience that keeps attendees engaged and entertained without breaking the bank.

Pros: Creates a new delivery that is differentiated from the standard webinar presentation. Doesn’t try to replicate in-person experiences but rather takes advantage of remote attendees. Doesn’t require a dedicated studio space or additional producer.
Cons: Involves higher costs for equipment. Requires more setup and rehearsal time to get tech working smoothly. Can be a lot for one person to manage.

  • Video: Two camera angles, one elevated to eye-level of speaker, framed to show head and shoulders without too much extra space, another for an additional view (such as whiteboard, flipchart, or action shot).
  • Audio: Advanced audio setup with external microphone, unobtrusive headphones, zero background noise, and possible music or sound effects.
  • Lighting: Advanced lighting, with multi-point lighting system in front of the speaker and strategic backlighting.
  • Delivery: Three to four views: 1) “talking head” shot, 2) secondary camera angle, 3) view of just slides, 4) picture-in-picture of talking head and slides. Advanced use of interactive tools such as Q&A, chat, polls, breakout rooms, and whiteboards.

Example: Many of our virtual keynote offerings and the work Brian Fanzo is up to.

Tier 4 – Production

The fourth level of virtual programs blurs the line between virtual program and TV-level production. The focus is on crafting an experience where production and content are closely linked together. Cost is not an obstacle.

Pros: Delivers in a way that wows people not only in content but in production. Leverages decades of techniques and equipment from TV and Film. Creates an experience that would not be possible at an in-person event.
Cons: Involves high costs for equipment and dedicated studio space. Requires advanced expertise in video, audio, and computer technology. Requires extensive rehearsal and possible additional person as producer (in person or virtual).

  • Video: Multiple camera angles, one elevated to eye-level of speaker, framed to show head and shoulders without too much extra space, others for additional views (such as whiteboard, flipchart, close up, green screen, or action shot).
  • Audio: Professional audio setup with external microphone, unobtrusive headphones, zero background noise, and possible music or sound effects.
  • Lighting: Professional lighting, with multi-point lighting system in front of speaker with strategic backlighting.
  • Delivery: Four to six views: 1) “talking head” shot, 2) secondary camera angle, 3) third camera angle, 4) view of just slides, 5) picture-in-picture of talking head and slides, 6) custom pre-recorded video seamlessly integrated into program. Advanced use of interactive tools such as Q&A, chat, polls, breakout rooms, and whiteboards, as well as webpages for custom-made experience.

Example: The incredible programs Vinh Giang and Drew Davis are putting together.

Choosing the Right Virtual Setup

A higher tier of production doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll create a virtual experience. You’ll note that none of these levels cover the content that is covered. If you combine Tier 4 production with Bill Lumbergh level delivery, it’s still going to be a terrible program.

For context, my virtual keynotes are typically Tier 3 while the virtual workshops we offer at Humor That Works are between Tier 2 to Tier 3 depending on the environment. At a minimum, strive Tier 2 as a way to elevate your programs beyond the dreaded webinar.

Questions? Feel free to reach out.

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