When broadcasting anything live, there are a gazillion things that could go wrong. Janet Jackson knows this. That guy who announced that the winner for Best Picture was La La Land instead of Moonlight at The Oscars knows this. Granted, you may not be streaming events on as large a scale as the Superbowl, but your live streams are just as important to you. By knowing what to avoid before, during, and after you stream, you can ensure that your broadcast goes through with flying colors and zero faux-pas.
Before starting your stream, check to make sure that you can be heard by your viewers. This includes both a sound check before the fact and ensuring that you have a quiet space throughout the entire broadcast. If you’re outside, is there wind or loud traffic that can interrupt your audio feed? If you’re at a café, are there steaming and brewing sounds? Are your kids going to stroll in during the broadcast like in the infamous BBC interview? The best way to prevent this is doing an audio check in the space you’re broadcasting in beforehand. In general, try not to live stream in poor weather. And make sure your door is locked or your kids are at school.
Don’t be afraid to use headphones and a professional mic, but do be afraid to use your phone mic. Having flawless audio but poor video quality negates the other and vice versa. Fuzzy, echo-y, and generally low quality audio is a turnoff for the user, and this applies twice over to video quality, which is the next mistake to be discussed.
Your live stream should not look like the Blair Witch Project. This is a given. Nobody really wants to watch pixelated, blurry, or dark video content that may or may not require a magnifying glass. Poor video quality is another way to lose your audience fast. Equipment is a big part in this equation. Among the obvious, like your camera, it is crucial to have a good encoder. It is also necessary to have the ability to stream in both SD and HD simultaneously. Not all of your viewers will have the network for HD quality, and making sure that everyone can enjoy your stream should be a priority, so select a streaming service that offers the latter.
Another overlooked condition of live streaming is lighting. Like in your Instagram photos of avocado toast, you have to have good lighting! Whether you are indoors or out, you must consider how the lighting will be on the day of your broadcast. Will there be natural light at that time? Do you have the proper lighting indoors? Will the lighting that you have cast shadows? Basically, be sure that your viewers have a clear picture of what’s going on so that they’re not left in the dark.
First impressions are also very important. Think about camera presence. Are you the host? If not, who? How well do they perform in front of a camera? Along with your personality presence, your physical presence should be reflective of your content and brand, too. If you are hosting a business seminar, dress professionally. If you are advertising your surf retreat for yoga moms in the Hamptons, dress like a yoga mom—we won’t judge, as long as it’s on brand.
After you have an idea of the live video content you want to broadcast, you want to spend time considering how this content will look. Although sometimes overlooked in consideration of other factors, location matters. Your streaming location can be anywhere. Whether it is your home, a studio, or the great outdoors, keep your surroundings in mind, and consider how it looks to the audience watching it. Give them an interesting backdrop, or at least a neat, non-distracting one.
The presenter should welcome the audience and continue to make them feel welcome throughout your stream. This has been said again and again, but much like Mr. Mac, my middle school math teacher, we can stress one particular concept over and over again. Engage! If you have a comments section, use it. On a related note, when embedding live video, do so with the comment side by side with (or under) it. If your video content is informative, take questions or run polls if possible. They are a simple way of making the viewer feel involved. Maybe it even makes them feel loved. Who knows.
Running Q&A sessions, polls, and surveys allow you to have a dialogue with your audience. This can also be beneficial to you, the streamer, to give you a good idea of audience demographics, which can in turn help you gain more viewers on top of improving your existing viewers’ experience.
An important thing to consider is that being consistent with your live streams, if they happen regularly, is a matter of credibility as well as accessibility. Your viewers want to be aware of your broadcast, and expect your stream to be there when you say it will. Even if you live stream regularly, be ready to broadcast well before your stream is scheduled, ideally at least a half an hour before. Nobody likes a late loafer, and you certainly don’t want to be one when you have worked so hard to build up an audience.
It’s generally not a good look to be late—not only are you likely to lose your audience fast, it also reflects poorly on you. Most people don’t have the time or patience to sit around and wait for your stream to begin (unless your stream is, I don’t know, NBA playoffs or something. I don’t know sports). You can ensure that you don’t drop viewers by adding an overlay banner in case things are delayed or simply to keep your early audience in the loop. Professionalism is key.
Is there anything more frustrating than poor internet connection? Well, maybe war and global poverty, but that’s a subject for another time. If it’s annoying for you, it’s twice as annoying for your viewers to be watching a stream, and then have it suddenly go out. Not having a stable internet connection basically means not having a stream, and this is actually one of the most common mistakes.
Like many things, this can be remedied by solid pre-planning, such as doing a test run. If you’re using a computer, make sure there are no unnecessary programs open and save on CPU. You can also test your internet speed. This factor is especially important if you’re going to be filming in an outside location—ask yourself how you can have reliable connectivity in that setting and be able to answer.