5 tips for creating a robust run of show outline for your virtual/hybrid events

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Behind every successful event is a Run of Show, the plan to keep it all together. The Run of Show is essential for managing all transitions at showtime. Any Run-of-show architect faces a steep challenge in defining an outline that keeps a virtual audience engaged throughout the program. 

Run of Show 101 

The Run of Show defines the architecture of a virtual/hybrid event, and it is a detailed script covering all building blocks the audience will see on screen. The Run of Show covers topics, timings, transition cues, camera angles, supporting visuals, and if each piece is live or recorded. You can outline a basic Run of Show in a spreadsheet, but more advanced productions use dedicated tools, e.g., ShoFlo. 

The Run of Show is an execution plan connecting organizers, producers, and speakers, and at a physical event, they are less granular and have more wiggle room. The run-of-show for hybrid events should capture all transitions to manage during execution at show time as if it was a virtual event. The more experienced you get, the more you realize live recordings are more straightforward than “live-on-tape.”

Build your run-of-show with a TV production mindset

Pulling off a virtual or hybrid event requires a different mindset than what we use for a physical event. We are better off thinking more like TV producers. Watch a piece of news or sports broadcast on TV and reflect on all shifts from the studio to live and recorded segments.

The high tempo stands out to me, with short clips and rapid transitions designed to keep the audience excited. Another signum is the use of multiple camera angles, both when one and several people are talking. Shifting between different camera angles makes a talk more interesting than one stationary perspective over an extended time. 

In a news situation, your structure is key to managing unknown events. The news usually is on at specific times, but what we fill them with varies. Cuts and camera angles reinforce the overall news angle the producers want to convey. 

Physical events build from a theatre or trade show production mindset. You rely on well-proven concepts for running a replicable show with high predictability of the outcomes. Very predictable but not exciting to watch for your virtual audience. 

Create an outline making your audience enticed to enjoy the whole program

As the architect for a Run of Show, you will inevitably face the task of fighting against the virtual audience bell 🔔 curve. Without careful attention, you can expect a virtual audience ramp-up to a peak in the first 15-20 minutes and then a gradual drop-up until closure. Having all strong speakers up front and weak at the back will accentuate the drop-off. 

A good approach is to place your best speakers first and last. The job for the first one is to pull in the audience from the start, and the last is to make your audience stay. This strategy does not work for full-day programs, but each two to three-hour block targets a specific audience. 

More on how we cover the meat in the middle section below, but curveballs ⚾️ creating excitement and unexpected turns the program. Virtual audiences are picky and easily bored. If you throw in a short session with a different speaker in the middle, you create a feeling that more excitement to come, so your audience benefits from staying. 

A typical program for physical events is to stack all big-name keynotes upfront and then shift to breakouts in the afternoon. Hybrid and virtual events take more influences from concert planning, with big names at the end. Measure your success towards an attendance curve that looks like Ayers Rock in Australia. 

Mix up formats when putting together all your sequences into a show

Your third challenge as a Run of Show architect is to plat different format options to your advantage. Stacking the same session formats after each other can easily create a feeling of binge-watching the 👮‍♂️ Police Academy. More and more and more of the same.

Great speakers can pull off their speeches in various formats in an exciting way. There are many formats to choose from for virtual and hybrid deliveries. You do not have to use all, but mixing between two or three formats is wise to eliminate the risk of boredom. 

We rely more on keynotes and panels as the two main formats in physical events. Everyone is familiar with them and can do an excellent job with a supporting deck of slides. 

Pay extra attention to flow and transitions

The transition between speakers represents a risk of losing your audience as if it was a commercial break on TV and a trigger for channel zapping. There are a few ways your runs of show design can prevent this. 

First, you want to build a logical flow that brings your audience forward and makes them want to get more at each stage in the program. Second, keep sessions short and mix the formats between adjacent sessions. Third and crucial, work strategically with interstitials—short sequences between speaking sessions, like in between programs on TV. 

Great moderators use interstitials to summarize/reflect on the previous session, capture audience questions, and tee up the next session. The interstitials can be pre-recorded for a virtual program or live for pre-recorded and live deliveries of the sessions. 

The most significant difference in the moderation of interstitials virtually is that you don’t have an audience to interact with as in a physical event. 

Crafting a run-of-show that minimizes risk of production failures

The final question related to your run-of-show is about managing production risks. Often there is a preference for everything looking as if it was live, for both live and recorded delivery. You will near broadcasters using the term “live on tape” to capture the experience you want to deliver. 

The risk with running all or parts live comes from speakers running over their allocated time slot, transitions between different media that can go wrong, and technology failures for broadband or camera, lights, and sound.  

When you record the whole program, you can expect project management to be heavier, with more action early in the project, more demanding for speakers from a scripting point of view, and front-end-centric projects. 

Questions for you and your virtual/hybrid event team

  1. What can we use as a starting point for crafting a run of show baseline? To start from scratch is a long journey. 
  2. What templates can we re-use from previous virtual/hybrid events? Run-of-shows is an area where you want to invest in building templates for current and future use.  
  3. Do our templates reflect our most recent experiences? Aspire to learn and pivot forward with each significant initiative. 
  4. What is the logical handover point to production partners? A tricky balance between structure early and flexibility late. 

Additional reading suggestions 

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