Gone missing

Nick McAlpine looks at the ‘show must go on’ options should a key speaker have to self-isolate at the last minute.

It’s the call no organiser of a business event ever wants to receive.

After weeks of prep to get that Capital Markets Day, AGM, investor meeting or equivalent running smoothly, you get a message to say a key speaker has to self-isolate, just hours before the event begins.

While that scenario is a real possibility with a global pandemic still raging, a ‘no-show’ for reasons beyond a contributor’s control has always been on the cards. Putting contingencies in place has always been a key part of effective event planning. The irony is that given how B2B communications has been forced to move online in recent months, you are potentially a lot better prepared to deal with such eventualities than you might think.

Most business events are likely to be virtual or, at the very least, hybrid affairs for the foreseeable future. They are largely being broadcast from the company HQ, a studio, or, sometimes, a domestic location – to an online audience. And it’s the very fact that the audience are joining virtually that gives us ways to include a missing contributor.

Pace & energy

In our experience, an effective online event should be a mix of media: live speakers, Q&A, film content, animated graphics, polls and votes. All these elements combine to give pace and energy and help to secure the engagement of an audience who have probably already taken part in countless video calls before they join your meeting.

With the right pre-planning and perhaps some adjustments to how you fit the absent individual’s contribution into the running order, what might have begun as a real challenge has the potential for opportunity. Experience has taught us there are a range of tactics and techniques that can be very effective – you just need to think ahead:

  • Pre-film some contributions – as you plan the running order, rather than having five people speaking live to slides, pre-film two or three of them. For example, for businesses with physical assets, producing a short film in advance with the appropriate executive visiting a relevant site or location not only helps cover a ‘no show’ but adds value to the event. Plus, view this as content you are creating that’s likely to be useful for other purposes or audiences, after the event is over.
  • Record rehearsals – as your team gets closer to the event, you’ll (hopefully) be rehearsing and perfecting contributors’ presentations. A key element of that process is having a camera in the room or the equivalent online, if prep sessions happen virtually. So, rolling the cameras while contributors give their all on each run-through, adds next-to-nothing in terms of extra time and expense. And by the time you reach the final rehearsal, the performances and therefore the recordings, will make very effective substitutions for a missing contributor.
  • Down-the-line – if a contributor was due to take part in a live Q&A or similarly interactive element of the event, then a pre-filmed or pre-recorded sequence is less likely to be suitable. Here, the online nature of the event really comes to the fore. Professional webcast set-ups can take inputs from remote contributors as standard and patch them into a virtual event. And to ensure there’s a suitable connection at the contributor’s end, we have deployed a range of workarounds and temporary setups when the local bandwidth doesn’t pass muster. In one extreme example a contributor was so keen to take part, he joined a meeting from his car in a field in France. The biggest challenge we faced that day was unwanted birdsong.
  • Remote studio at home – while the down-the-line option can be incredibly effective, not everyone has the ideal set-up for appearing on-camera at an important business meeting. Audiences are generally forgiving in such circumstances but there are also a number of ways we can ‘professionalise’ a remote contribution and get as close as possible to studio-quality pictures and sound.

We’ve built DIY studio kits for clients consisting of a professional microphone, a small light, a pull-up backdrop, a teleprompting system and even basic make-up – we want all of our presenters to shine but in the right way. Shipped out to contributors as a ‘break glass’ option in the days ahead of an important event, this approach allows all concerned to make the best of a difficult situation.

The key to any of these approaches is planning – and doing so as soon as contributors are confirmed. If a contributor is integral to the success of an event or meeting, then factoring in a ‘Plan B’ is a no-brainer. When circuses were big business in the early 1800s – and arguably the most complex interactive events of their day – those involved rallied behind the cry “the show must go on!” Given the potential value of an engaging and effective event for a business or organisation seeking to connect with key audiences, that remains our mantra as we support clients in navigating today’s challenges of delivering online events – with a full cast list.

If you would like more information on how Bladonmore can help you with your virtual or live event planning then please get in touch.



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Nick McAlpine

Director, Film

Nick leads Bladonmore’s film team and produces, writes and directs films that bring our clients’ business stories to life.

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