There’s a video camera projecting my image onto a large screen or two on either side of the stage at nearly every talk I give these days. The main reason for the video—the explained reason, anyway—is always to help people in the huge hall feel closer to me. As if seeing a big picture on a video screen feels more up close and personal than the smaller real person standing next to it. "Look at how far the first row of chairs is from you," one organizer told me.
It doesn’t occur to them that rather than correcting for a bad physical setup with video, they could much more easily create a good physical setup. It’s not rocket science, and this isn’t Madison Square Garden. (And to be honest, who watches a concert or sporting event on the video screens—except maybe for instant replays?) But these planners put a whole bunch of people in a room to look at screens, together. I could just as easily have sent a double to stand behind the podium and deliver the video lecture from home.
But that’s not what I’m harrumphing about. If event organizers want to alienate the attendees of a live event from the event they’ve actually come to participate in, then so be it. What planners need to keep in check is their desire to repurpose all that video footage in the future.
As it turns out, no matter what I’ve signed or haven’t signed about the video rights to my talks, organizers can’t help but post my talks—and everyone else’s—up on their websites after an event. And in the process, they do everyone a disservice.
Don’t get me wrong: I know where the urge comes from. There’s an afterglow following a great event, even if only in the eyes of the beholders. Something real, something almost ineffable happened—something that will surely be conveyed through the streaming of unedited video of all the speeches, right? Even though people on the Web won’t have the full experience of “being there,” they’ll see what they missed and still associate the host organization with all that brainpower, won’t they?
Not always. Not even most of the time.
There’s a growing sensibility on the net—a perversion of the open source ethos—that everything everyone ever does should be posted online, free to all with comments “on.” Evil record companies, copyright holders and “digital rights management” engineers are on one end of the spectrum, trying to protect their digital assets from the hungry mobs. And on the other end are the openness evangelists, incapable of understanding why anything shouldn’t be just a Google search away.
Internet marketing experts generally fall on the openness side and advise sharing it all, as quickly as possible, with no caveats whatsoever. The idea is that being open will attract everyone to what you do. Sharing with others will encourage others to share with you; all publicity is good publicity, content is king and so on.
And while the world might be worthy of receiving the best of what you do, not everything you do is worthy of streaming online for the world to see. Sorry, but too many events suffer from the high school-musical effect, where watching the same kid get slightly better at playing a role in Grease fools us into thinking he’s actually good in the part.
Likewise, organizers who have been through weeks of hellishness finally get to stand in the back of the room and watch while people laugh or ooh and ahh at whoever is on stage (or on screen), and they can’t help but think, “We did it!”
The fact is, the thing you did may not have actually been captured by that video camera. Especially if you accomplished the real magic of event organizing, which is making something happen between real people in a real space that can’t be simulated or recreated elsewhere.
What all that streaming media does instead is make the event look like pretty much any other event that occurred in the past few years before being jammed into a little streaming video window: introductions that go on too long, speakers who struggle a bit with the presentation software, jokes about some hotel we’ve never been to and moments of magic that get missed because the live video editor decided to pan the audience at precisely that important moment.
Those who weren’t at your event conclude they were smart for not going. Those who did attend your event now wonder why they thought it was so special.
Video cannot be an afterthought—especially video you’re putting online. This is how a majority of the world is going to be looking at who you are and what you do. As easily as it could be ignored and forgotten, it could also be streamed and mashed and sorted and repurposed and put back up on YouTube, Vimeo and everywhere else, no matter what you say or do later.
The only way to document your event online is to do it with forethought, as a central component of your event. The TED conferences do this well, but only because each and every TED talk is potentially groundbreaking stuff from a famous thought leader. The talks are scheduled and staged primarily for the video medium. Moreover, the audience at TED is fully aware these talks are being streamed and recorded for the world to see. They are made to feel like the studio audience of a broadcast event.
Whatever media you choose to use—before, during or after an event—remember that it will always have a way of becoming central to the event itself, the way it is experienced and, perhaps most importantly, the way it is remembered. You don’t owe video recordings of your event to anyone—least of all, the non-paying public. But you do owe it to your participants not to degrade the legacy of what they did together. One+
About The Author DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF speaks and writes about communication, values, culture and organizations. His latest book is Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out. This is his first monthly column for The Meeting Professional. He can be contacted via www.rushkoff.com.
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