5 tips for professional livestreaming
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
How do you give your livestream the slick look of a live TV broadcast? Read on for some top quick tips.
For a one-person, self-presented livestream some of the following may not be relevant - however here we're looking to give the livestream more of a live TV show feel and imagining we've got multiple presenters, pre-created video content and some form of audio/visual mixing hardware or software to manage the stream.
Without doubt one of the most often overlooked areas in any area of video production, and the one that most obviously separates the pro's from the amateurs is sound quality.
If possible for the person (or persons) presenting the livestream I'd always go for wireless lavaliere microphones, such as the Sennheiser EW 112P. This gives the presenter freedom of movement whilst allowing you to get a perfect audio feed.
Placement is paramount with lavaliere mic's: it's important these are placed so as not to rub against clothing which creates a nasty interference. More often than not I place the microphones in full view - it's widely accepted that presenters will have microphones so no need to hide them away.
Make sure to film in quiet areas, and keep any additional chatter to an absolute minimum. There's no point spending all the time and effort to capture high quality sound if you overhear crew chatting away in the background are in a building on a flightpath for example (I know I used to live under constant flow of overhead planes).
Here's a post from Rode regarding best placement of lavaliere mic's - https://www.rode.com/blog/all/lavalier-mounting-best-practices
IMAGE QUALITY & VARIETY
Rather obviously picture quality makes a huge difference to the perception of your livestream.
Although mobile phones can produce impressive results I'd tend to stick to higher end cameras where possible to give you the inherent ability to manually control the image and bring in the highest image quality into your video mixer. Importing a feed from an already compressed source such as a mobile may deliver over WiFi only means that the video will be recompressed upon streaming which is never a good thing.
For prosumer quality one might use a DSLR such as a Panasonic GH5, Sony a7 or Black Magic Pocket Cinema 4K which can be directly connected to a multi-cam hardware mixer via it's HDMI output, or if feeding this into a computer a simple single camera device such as the Elgato Cam Link 4K converting the HDMI feed into a USB one which then appears as a standard webcam. If you're budget can stretch to higher end cameras it's worth considering but possibly only if you plan to make a local recording to use for longer term edits and replays.
By using multiple cameras fed into your mixer each one focussed on a specific shot you can very easily create a slick looking livestream by switching shot to shot as needed. Do remember to take care with switching, be gentle don't jump about unless your aim to to create a very jumpy/fast cut effect. Equally you need to carefully manage the audio control of this as it's easy to lose sync or to lose track of where the audio is coming from.
Finally don't forget to look at the background and the general area around the planned shoot - this should be "designed" and the only things in shot should have been considered and planned, not just sitting there by accident.
Of course what gives the image quality the real boost is proper lighting. Everyone who has sat through a Zoom session with that mix of presenters with lighting behind, above, over-exposed, under-exposed and just generally unconsidered knows exactly what this is like.
Without trying to deliver a lighting masterclass at the very least learn the basics of three point lighting and even if you don't have sufficient lighting to hand, attempt lighting the scene as best you can. Perhaps use some coloured lighting gels over inexpensive LED video lights to give the background some mood. Spending a few pounds can really make a huge difference.
Personally I believe for a livestream the presenter should always be lit to appear brighter than the backdrop - I find it most off-putting when a presenter is sitting in a moodily lit chair in front of a window where the window simply over-exposes and is visually overwhelming. This may work for cinematic reasons in a film, but for focussing on a presenter I find it distracting and unprofessional.
A film without a script would simply be a rambling mess and so equally a livestream without a plan for content is more likely to end up being less focussed and slick if you don't know what you're going to do.
That's not to say that the livestream requires a word by word script, it simply needs a plan. A good starting point would be a timing plan which covers how long you will discuss each point considering any pre-prepared videos you have lined up and a rough idea of what will be said.
As an example for our recent Real Mary King's Close livestream we had a carefully planned timing structure with sections for our presentation team in our makeshift studio, and for the paranormal investigation team down in the close. The individual teams then had notes on what they would cover and points they should make and the pre-recorded video clips we're prepared and planned for in the overall sequence. The effect of this meant we kept to a time in each area and the livestream ran exact as planned.
Finally for this point when considering content the option of using pre-recorded videos from different locations gives an interesting mix of static studio based discussion and "action" from elsewhere. Also consider creating a short intro sequence and end credits - even though Netflix assumes we all want to "skip" these it still gives a more professional introduction and ending than simply dropping into and out of a video feed.
If you want to appear slick and professional then this is a definite requirement. Whilst some individuals may really "know their stuff" when you place them in front of a camera they can freeze up and become quite mechanical, or worse lose the ability to speak altogether.
Over the years of shooting so many corporate projects it is fairly common to come up with individuals who just cannot "switch it on" for the camera - and although predominantly they genuinely are clever and nice people it just doesn't do their subject justice to allow them to present. Working with trained actors and presenters makes a director's job so much easier - and in a livestream situation you don't have the opportunity to shout "cut" and start again so you need the right person presenting the right content with the appropriate level of enthusiasm or gravitas. The ability to keep talking and fill possible gaps is a massive help to keeping to your timing.
Make sure you have a run through beforehand and make everyone comfortable that you are all in the same boat pulling in the same direction. Any direction notes should be given quietly and ideally in private, it can't be stressed enough that everyone on the set needs to feel relaxed and confident.
There are of course endless other areas you could write about the detail of creating a successful livestream but by focussing on these you will create a slick and professional livestream that stands out from a technician sitting talking to a webcam from his basement lair.
Andrew Murchie is a filmmaker and creative technologist based in Edinburgh, Scotland specialising in virtual reality, augmented reality, stereoscopic 3d and a range of more traditional digital filmmaking skills. He has produced Virtual Reality films, livestreams & Augmented Reality experiences for clients including The Real Mary King's Close, Dynamic Earth & Social Enterprise UK.