Covid-19 is putting pressure on businesses like nothing experienced in modern times. In this challenging environment, successful businesses need strong leaders.
As I discussed in my last blog post, key to strong leadership is open and effective communication. Being visible is one way that leaders can achieve this.
In times of change, there is no substitute for leadership visibility in minimising anxiety and negative speculation.
Although today’s Covid-19 environment has made traditional face-to-face communication unachievable, digital communication can fill these gaps.
Connecting with employees through video is an effective way for leaders to convey empathy and sincerity and build trust.
I wanted to write about my experience of using Microsoft Teams live events to help leaders put this into practice and share some tips and advice for others considering using Teams or other live event platforms.
For those that don’t know, Microsoft Teams live events are an extension of Teams meetings that enable you to schedule and produce events that stream to online audiences of up to 10,000 people. Although there are options to encode video from external sources, at their simplest, live events can be produced completely within Teams, where presenters and panellists participate in the event on their own devices, simply using their PC webcam and audio.
There are 3 key roles within Teams live events:
Producers: starts and stops the event and controls the event behind the scenes, controlling what the audience sees and when.
Presenters: speakers or panellists in the event who share their video, audio or screen to the live event for the audience to view.
Audience: a viewer that watches the event live or on-demand, using DVR controls, either anonymously or authenticated, and can participate in Q&A’s.
Although I had been impressed by what I had seen from an audience perspective, my initial experiences as a producer behind the scenes were a different story. While you can have up to 250 different presenters in your event, only one can be live and visible to the audience at one time. On top of that, unlike other platforms like Skype or Zoom, there is no spotlight function (active speaker view) where the person who starts speaking automatically appears to the audience. Instead, within Teams, the producer must manually make presenters live to the audience.
One final complication is that while only one presenter can be visible, the audience can still hear the audio of all the presenters and producers whose mics are not muted. So, any presenter that is not live to the audience must have their mics muted. While producers have the ability to mute presenters who forget to mute themselves, they do not have the control to unmute presenters. So, the onus is on presenters to remember to unmute themselves before they address the audience.
Trying to organise and facilitate an impromptu panel-style discussion with these limitations was proving a real challenge, so I decided to turn to Twitter for some inspiration.
Thankfully, I received some really helpful tips and advice, and last week put these into practice to deliver our first virtual Team Talk – our monthly all-company conference. Over 600 colleagues tuned in to hear from five members of the Executive Team discussing the different elements of our Covid-19 recovery plan, followed by a Q&A, and the feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive.
So, here are my top tips for running a successful Teams live event:
• Have a strict schedule and ensure everyone follows it. Where freedom and flexibility can often inspire more authentic discussions during in-person events, it is simply not possible in this format. You need a clear running order for your presenters, with allocated times, and need them to follow it.
• A strong host is essential. Have a designated presenter to open the event, introduce each speaker and facilitate the Q&A. This not only helps the producer to know which presenter to put live and when, but it also gives the presenters clear direction, ensuring the that the schedule is followed. They can also be on hand to troubleshoot and intervene if there are any technical issues, avoiding any instances where the audience do not know what is happening. Somebody confident and authoritative is key – in my experience, someone who is not part of the Executive team works better.
• Have an event team and assign clear roles. Attempting to produce and manage a live event on your own would be an almighty tough task with so many different variables to consider. Having an event team with clearly defined roles is strongly advised. It also adds resilience in case you encounter any technical issues. In addition to the host, I would recommend having:
– a chief producer, who controls which presenter is live at any time, in sync with your host, and is responsible for starting and ending the event.
– a back-up producer, who can take over your role if the chief presenter encounters technical issues and who also monitors the live stream to check for any issues from a viewing perspective.
– a floor manager, who also has producer rights, who can monitor the presenters to ensure they are muted when they are not live and check everything is okay with their video. This person should also use the meeting chat to give time updates to the presenters who are speaking and to confirm which presenter is up next.
– a Q&A moderator, depending on the scale of your event and what platform you use to facilitate your Q&A, one of the three roles above may be able to assume responsibility of moderating the Q&A, but if you are expecting a high level of questions and are using an external platform, such as Sli.do, I would recommend having someone dedicated to moderating the Q&A (selecting questions, removing answered questions etc).
• Make sure presenters are disciplined. As mentioned above, it is key that they follow the running order set out but it is also key that they are disciplined in not speaking over each other, waiting to be introduced by the host, and in unmuting and muting themselves before and after speaking. Providing a clear guide of what is expected from them and conducting rehearsals will help with this.
• Use the queue. To make the production as seamless as possible and avoid unnecessary pauses between speakers, use the queue to line up your next presenter.
• Use the meeting chat. There is a chat function built into the back end of Teams live events that only presenters and producers can see. This chat is key to being able to communicate with each other when the event is underway (when you are unable to speak). This can be used to give presenters time updates when they are due to wrap up and to inform the presenters who is live next, so they are prepared. It is particularly useful during in a Q&A, so that the presenters can inform the host who should answer each question and whether someone else wants to expand on what has been said. Other group chats set up outside of Microsoft Teams could also work but not having to monitor two screens or two devices is far easier.
• Use an external Q&A platform. This one is purely down to preference. Teams live events have their own Q&A function built-in but I personally find it a little clunky, which makes it difficult to manage and moderate, and difficult to follow for the presenters and the audience, compared with something like Sli.do. Using Sli.do does require audience members to have another tab open or to use two devices but I found it much easier to manage and the presentation quality was far higher. One of your producers simply needs to share the Sli.do dashboard on their screen and that can be presented alongside whoever is answering the question.
• Finally test, test, and test again! Testing is crucial; not just for producers but also for your presenters. I would recommend doing at least a couple of run throughs with your presenters to get them familiar and confident with how it works and the schedule. That way they are unlikely to get flustered when it comes to the real thing.
In addition to delivering our monthly Team Talks through Teams live events, Executive Team members are now hosting regular Ask Me Anything sessions on the platform, which are working equally as well and generating high levels of engagement.