How to commission good video: five rules for event filming

Five words to chill the blood of a video producer: ‘Can you film our event?’ It sounds so easy, so straightforward, but it can be a deeply frustrating experience. This is because most events are organised for the benefit of the people attending, not the cameras. This is understandable, but means you should think before pressing record.

The video team at the Guardian was often asked to ‘capture” an event. ‘It’ll be like TED,’ we were told, but it never was. TED is an online phenomenon because it’s a format that works on the web. Talks are short, rarely lasting more than twenty minutes. People speak without notes or a lectern, and are usually accompanied by strong visuals or video. TED’s reputation also means that speakers raise their game and usually give a great performance.

Television goes even further. It only films a show in front of an audience when they add to the finished programme. They might contribute something vital, like the questions for Question Time. They might add atmosphere or real laughter. Or they might inspire better comedy performances out of the panel on a shows like Have I Got News For You.

But few of us can afford Paul Merton and Ian Hislop to spice up a corporate event, so what should you bear in mind when considering capturing a speaking panel?

1. Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve by filming it.

This means knowing in advance who you want to reach, what you want to tell them and what you want them to do after watching. You should also identify where your video will be published and how it will find an audience. This will give you a good sense of how long a video people are likely to watch.

Do you want to highlight a particular issue discussed by your panel? Or do you want to establish your company as a thought leader in its sector that organises stimulating, well-attended debates? If it is the latter, you should probably keep the video tight, capture a sense of the atmosphere and include voxpops with members of the audience enthusing about it.

2. Is it worth doing additional filming?

You’ve spent weeks or even months setting the agenda, confirming speakers and publicising your event. It’s worth spending a little longer working out if there’s any footage you could capture that isn’t someone at a lectern. Maybe you could record your speakers in a more informal setting before or after they go onstage. Perhaps you want to show the ambience of the venue. Do you want to hear what the audience think? These elements can be added to a package based on presentations, but bear in mind they’ll all add to the length of your video – and often briefer is better.

3. Make sure your crew know what is going to happen and when.

They will have to set up their positions beforehand and probably won’t be able to move during the event. This means it’s really important to have a firm idea of how the stage will look, who will be sitting where and the order in which people will be speaking. What is the format of the event? Is there a lectern onstage? Will there be questions from the floor?

4. Brief your chair.

Make sure you’re on the same page before the event starts. What’s the format of the event? Will there be prepared speeches or will the chair be expected to mediate a more freeform discussion? Either can work in video but making a decision in conjunction with your chair will mean you’ll have fewer surprises on the night.

If there are certain answers you’d like to capture on camera, tell your chair so they can put a specific question to each of the participants in turn.

5. Is it worth streaming?

Advances in technology mean it’s much cheaper than it used to be to stream your event in video on internet, especially if you’re using a service like YouTube which doesn’t involve a big upfront cost. It’s worth asking yourself why you’re streaming though – and who might be tuning in. Is it a big launch that is oversubscribed for people to attend in person? An all-hands internal briefing? Might people want to participate remotely via social media?

With some careful thought and a bit of planning, your next event video can be pithy, classy and a great advertisement for your company.