By Laura Bradley

It’s safe to say that the MEALIVE 2019 Awards event – a combination of Meetings and Events Australia (MEA)’s State and National awards, which took place at ICC Sydney Studios on May 29 – was a resounding success. Pulled together in a mere six weeks, organisers compressed 48 event hours into a two-hour virtual broadcast, with 500 industry colleagues logging in to take part.

Indeed, the event was so successful that MEA organised a follow-up webinar exploring what was involved in pulling it off. Facilitated by Nigel Collin, ‘Behind the Scenes at MEALIVE 2019’ took place yesterday, with director of audio visual services at ICC Sydney Brian Nash, and project director for MEALIVE 2019 Paula Nolan, comprising the virtual speaker panel.

Paula shared some particularly interesting insights into what is involved in producing an engaging live broadcast, citing specific examples from MEALIVE 2019. Here are seven of the best tips she provided for organisers looking to emulate the success of the virtual event.

  1. Script is king: MEALIVE 2019 was scripted from start to finish, something Paula said allowed for an air-tight schedule. “We wrote the script at MEA before delivering it to the team at the ICC, and they told us that 30 seconds would be required to bring the people from the Zoom finalist room into the space where they can be shown on the screen as the national winner,” she said. “We were then able to add to the script 30 seconds explaining why the recipient won the award. Having the script early on and sharing it with your production team is key to the success of your event.”


  1. Do not script as though it’s live: Paula rather emphatically stated that virtual events are not live events, and thus things that are normally said, or comments that are normally passed during live events should be avoided if they are not valid. “You have to be careful and vicious with what goes into the script,” she said.


  1. Have an autocue: A teleprompter makes life a lot easier for speakers during virtual broadcasts, particularly if they’ve got a lot of talking to do, as emcee Shelly Horton did during MEALIVE 2019. “Suzy Cue came on as a sponsor with one week to go, and they did a great job,” Paula said. “It makes the job of the emcee phenomenal.”


  1. Book an experienced emcee: Speaking of Shelly Horton, Paula said that her experience with live broadcasts shone through, as she was able to read from the autocue, inject her personality into the script and keep the ball rolling while the show caller issued directives in her ear. “We struck gold with Shelly Horton,” Paula said. “There were a few occasions where the award winners weren’t on Zoom, so we had to tell her “there’s no one on, you have to keep going.” She had the professionalism to keep on going, and her energy was phenomenal. Having an emcee that knows how to deal with live broadcasts is a real asset.”


  1. The audience comes first: Virtual is a hard medium. Mostly because people are getting tired of it, and the challenge will continually be on event producers to step up and make their content engaging. The key to breaking through the monotony, according to Paula? Putting the audience first. “If you’re putting something together and you think it’s boring, chances are, they will too,” she said. “Have the audience in mind. In the end, it’s not necessarily what you want to push out, and what you think people should know, but what their experience is.”


  1. Interact with the audience: This is what keeps the audience’s attention, and can be incorporated through polls, Q&As, or other elements that pop up to keep their interest. For MEALIVE 2019, organisers included a Twitter channel on the side where participants could shout out their congratulations to the winners.


  1. It’s all about the flow: Time constraints can make it tempting to pack your event with back-to-back content, but, as Paula said, the audience will lose engagement if they’re staring at someone talking down the barrel for hours on end. To break up the awards, MEALIVE 2019 was peppered with pre-filmed videos showcasing the sponsors, including Destination NSW and Tourism Australia. Additionally, comedian Ben Price delivered a five-minute performance in the middle of the ceremony. And, hey, if the audience didn’t like his jokes, it was the perfect time to get up and make a cup of tea.