Do you need to livestream your event?

Nor do you need a swing in your seminar room

Short answer: probably not.

A colleague of mine, who has a lot more experience than I do, has a rule of thumb for events.

For a free, in-person event in London he estimates that only about 50% of those who sign up will actually turn up, plus a handful of people who didn’t sign up do turn up.

Add in a fee and/or a less immediately accessible location and you get more of your sign-ups showing on the day.

I thought about this at various points in recent weeks, as I organised, attended or discussed the new hardy perennial of events: do we livestream?

As someone who doesn’t want to just pretend that Covid didn’t happen, I’m glad that we’re exploring how best to connect online and in-person experiences, but I worry that the default of ‘stick a camera on a speaker and you’re done’ isn’t the solution we’re looking for, whether in the classroom or the conference panel.

This is where we go back to my colleague.

Livestreaming is really expensive. Not because of the equipment, but because you need people to monitor and manage the equipment. Ask any organiser about the quotes they get for this and prepare to mutter something under your breath.

Even a simple set-up (streaming one feed without an interactive element) might be doubling your event costs.

If that translated to a doubling of your audience, then it might be worthwhile. But it doesn’t.

I regularly hear of (free) livestreams of conferences attracting well below 10% of sign-ups.

Largely for that reason, a recent conference I ran didn’t use livestreaming, but did video keynotes, for later posting on YouTube.

So I don’t think we should livestream at all then?

But it’s not to say that it can’t work or that it shouldn’t be done. For some things, the evidence seems more positive.

Short events – talks by an individual, for example – get much better pickup, probably because they are self-contained and clearer in focus. Plus there’s less expectation of interaction (which again needs a dedicated platform and personnel to run it, which I’ve seen work for organisations with deeper pockets than mine.

But even then there has to be a hard-nosed view about return on investment, including diversity and inclusion.

Here the question is more one of whether an event needs to be in-person at all. As we saw in lockdown, being able to bring together people who’d otherwise only rarely be able to interact was an absolute boon and we shouldn’t lose that.

So the longer version of the response to the original question is that it depends on what we want to achieve.

If we want interaction, then either in-person only or online only make most sense, with livestreaming saved for relatively short, relatively focused activities rather than as a vague thing-that’s-offered.

Yes it might annoy someone who wants to ‘join online’, but remember that the chances of them actually turning up is pretty small. Indeed, it might make them actually decide to come in person.