BALTIMORE, June 23: Verbatim video died of advanced obsolescence today, gasping its final breath as a credible method of repackaging conference content.
Death occurred at about 2:30 PM Eastern, with the release of a nine-minute illustrated audio segment that captured key takeaways from a three-hour workshop on disaster recovery and resilience. Verbatim video was buried alongside several technological soulmates, including the eight-track tape, the self-correcting typewriter, and the gramophone.
There were very few mourners.
Finally, once and for all, there’s no excuse for the old, bad practice of posting verbatim conference video online, in the misguided hope that it will draw traffic to a website, deliver education for site visitors, or help the audience engage more deeply with the content.
At a conference last week, one of our favourite clients released a not-quite-video summary of Adaptation and Resilience, an expert workshop on toll agencies’ response to Hurricane Sandy. The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) hosted the workshop to explore the stunning impacts on highway operations when Sandy slammed into the northeastern U.S. last October.
We produced the summary report shortly after the meeting, but IBTTA was also looking for a more visually compelling format that would convey the depths of the devastation, the courageous emergency response, and the lessons learned that followed in Sandy’s wake. After podcaster Phil Lortie produced the sound track for the illustrated audio segment, we worked with IBTTA to assemble the still photos that would help us tell the story.
No More Talking Heads
Traditional onsite video production would have been all wrong for this event (and for most others). But we’ve all seen it happen, far too many times: A meeting organizer decides the best ticket to repurposing onsite content is to capture video in the session hall, then slap it up on a website afterwards.
It gives the planner something they can easily knock off their pre-conference checklist.
But it’s hard to imagine a less inviting, engaging web format. Usually, verbatim video consists of a compelling image of a talking head at the podium, shot from the back of the hall with poor lighting. And it assumes that anyone has time to sit through an hour of online video, when they barely had time to attend the live session the first time.
Conference Video in Decline
The numbers told the story as far back as September 2010, when the original Event Camp Twin Cities (ECTC) documented its sessions in three formats: a short news capsule, a longer piece of summary text, and synced video with PowerPoint for each topic.
For nearly three months after the conference, organizers rolled out one news capsule per week via email and online networks, to keep the content and the conversation alive after the event. Here’s the web traffic they generated as a result:
- 774 page views for video segments
- 1,280 for session summary reports
- 67,212 for session news capsules.
Which is why we weren’t surprised, about a year ago, to hear that one of the better-known conference video factories was scaling back its operations. We’ve entered an era of social media networks and pull rather than push marketing. So there’s less space for a medium that treats members, learners, or other stakeholders as a captive audience, rather than delivering compelling content that is scaled to the time they have available.
Illustrated Audio Fills the Gap
Nearly a decade ago, we began to suspect that conference audio segments modeled on radio current affairs—think All Things Considered on National Public Radio, or The Sunday Edition on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation—could distill key session clips and stitch them together with scripted voiceovers to tell a coherent story.
We got great feedback from the first few clients who used the format. But we knew we were up against full video—and we were sure that photos from the field would tell a stronger story than visuals from a conference hall. We completed one illustrated audio segment in 2009, but the production process was clunky and we weren’t sure it was affordable.
This week, we finally got proof of concept on a more streamlined approach.
“It’s a very effective new format,” said IBTTA Deputy Director Wanda Klayman. “The audio from the Sandy Forum was incredibly evocative—you could hear the scope of the devastation in participants’ voices.”
“But they were still a group of people around a table in a meeting room, so video never would have done justice to the storyline. The still photos we collected from our member agencies were exactly what we needed to make best use of the visual channel.”
The ingredients of this success story were a smart, creative client, topical subject matter, and a format that respects online audiences. It wasn’t as easy as firing up a videocam at the back of a plenary hall, but the end result was worth the extra effort. We’re grateful to IBTTA for taking a chance on a new production method, at a moment when its members in the northeastern U.S. had a particularly urgent story to tell.