Every day people attend virtual meetings, training classes, and other events. Some of them turn out great, and some not so much. Have you ever wondered why some virtual sessions run so smoothly?
Most likely, it is thanks to an unsung hero running the show behind the scenes, a Virtual Producer. Think about events you’ve attended where a single person was responsible for both the presentation duties and technical aspects; more than likely, there were some hiccups or rough patches involved.
Now, imagine yourself in the role of that facilitator. However, in this scenario, you have to drive a car while leading the meeting…on your mobile phone…where you are also screen sharing your presentation. Focus — eyes on the road! Remember to concentrate on the topic you are presenting. Speak clearly and be succinct, so those listening to you understand your point. And, oh yeah, don’t forget to change the slide on your phone when it is time.
Stop! Someone just interrupted you with a “quick” question that just so happens to be off-topic. Watch out; the driver in front of you suddenly tapped the breaks!
It sounds more like a scene from a sitcom.
As humorous and far-fetched as this type of chaotic scenario may seem, it is not too far from reality. Especially when you consider everything a virtual facilitator is responsible for handling. In addition to delivering an effective presentation to a virtual audience, they are bombarded with distractions from every angle.
For those reasons, organizations have started realizing the need for Virtual Producers—someone charged with handling the logistics and technical aspects of virtual events.
As such, experienced virtual producers are in high demand. The role has quickly become vital in our increasingly remote workplaces.
Much like an event planner, the role of a Virtual Producer is critical to the success of larger-scale virtual presentations and events. They are technically savvy and possess a thorough knowledge of virtual delivery platforms, including common features and constraints. Producers must also be good communicators because they work directly with subject matter experts (SMEs), presenters, and business leaders before, during, and after an event.
They are responsible for navigating crises and a variety of other tasks ranging from administrative to technical. Some common roles or tasks handled by a producer include:
- Training new facilitators on virtual conferencing tools and best practices
- Facilitating dry-runs
- Uploading materials and testing presentations before the event
- Advancing slide decks and keeping the event on time
- Launching polls – collecting feedback
- Monitoring questions and chat from participants
- Communicating to the facilitator when warranted
- Muting microphones on participants with loud background noise
- Helping participants who didn’t download materials or who have technical issues
- Recording events and sometimes post-production edits
Ultimately, the goal of a Virtual Producer is to ensure a distraction-free event where the facilitator can focus on effectively presenting information instead of having to worry about technology. They are tasked with making sure virtual experiences are successful from start to finish.
There are many challenging situations Virtual Producers deal with regularly, from unprofessional participants to malfunctioning technology. Making sure they can stay in control when things aren’t going as planned is essential. Being flexible and adapting to rapidly changing situations is vital to a Virtual Producer’s success. These characteristics will ensure you have someone who can solve problems while maintaining their composure in stressful situations.
Many Virtual Producers are more comfortable operating in the background with anonymity. While they may need to step in and address participants occasionally, they generally prefer being silent partners throughout the event. Despite these preferences, it doesn’t hurt to look for candidates who won’t be intimidated if thrown into the spotlight. Having a capable virtual assistant will make those worst-case scenarios a little easier to manage. It will also give you peace of mind.
People who have experience as facilitators have a better understanding of what is needed for a virtual event to run smoothly. Being able to leverage this experience to create a memorable virtual experience for participants can pay off. With the right expertise, a producer can better anticipate some of the challenges you will inevitably face.
Filling such a specialized role like a Virtual Producer can be challenging. Finding candidates with the necessary skills and experience can also be time-consuming. These difficulties can worsen if you don’t need or have the budget for a full-time producer role. Consequently, the role may fall to someone already on your team, or you may need to hire someone with less experience and train them.
Candidates may have a strong technical background but lack experience when it comes to facilitation or vice versa.
Whatever your situation, focusing on candidates least likely to get flustered and who will remain calm when things don’t go as planned is important. However, these traits are not always easily discernable during interviews.
Once you’ve found someone, please don’t assume they know what to do regardless of their experience. Help them figure out what information they really need to be successful.
Start by having your new Virtual Producer work directly with facilitators of upcoming events. The more familiar they are with the presenter’s content, style, and pace, the more effective they can be. Ensure they review the speaker’s presentation, Facilitator Guides, and notes.
Ask facilitators to highlight key parts of their presentation. Make sure they point out areas where things may not go as planned. For example, when they will open things up for discussion or pass the spotlight to someone else. Whenever participants get involved or are allowed to step away from the event, your Virtual Producer needs to be ready. They need to understand how you expect things to be handled in those situations so they can act quickly.
When preparing for an online event, having a Virtual Producer on your team can be a huge relief. For one thing, it frees up speakers and facilitators to focus their attention on delivering the best experience possible. They know if issues arise, there is someone capable of stepping in and handling them.
Conducting a walkthrough is a great way to build confidence and prepare for an upcoming event. Dry runs allow everyone to ask questions, troubleshoot minor issues, and test timing. Creating a Virtual Producer checklist will also help by documenting certain events and specific times for transitions throughout the presentation.
It won’t be enough for a producer to have familiarity with the virtual meeting software. To be successful, they should be clear about engagement activities, breaks in the presentation, overall timing, and how the event should flow. Knowing what to expect will help them recognize problems before things go too far off track.
Even when everything is running smoothly, a Virtual Producer adds value by helping answer questions in the chat, launching surveys and polls, and assisting late arrivals so the presenter can stay focused.
That is why it is a good idea to introduce your Virtual Producer to participants at the beginning of your event. Even if their preference is to operate primarily behind the scenes, an introduction is important. If there is ever a situation where they are needed to step in and guide the conversation or navigate individuals through technical difficulties, the audience will recognize them as someone who can help.
If the role of a Facilitator is to keep an audience engaged and deliver the best learning experience possible, the role of a producer is to keep the path clear and guide the event to a successful conclusion.
Having a Virtual Producer can help ensure a distraction-free virtual event where facilitators can focus on their job instead of the technology. If you have the opportunity to hire someone for this type of role, start by looking for personality. Find someone with the ability to adapt quickly to challenging situations. It also helps if they have some experience as a facilitator.
Even if you end up delegating the role to someone already on your team, arm them with the information, they need. Conduct walkthroughs and consider introducing them at the start of the event. Regardless of the route you take, adding a Virtual Producer to your team will ensure your next big virtual event doesn’t suck.
Have you used or are you planning on using a Virtual Producer? If so, what are some of the responsibilities you expect a Virtual Producer to handle? Your voice matters; share your thoughts with me!
Originally published June 23, 2020, updated April 16, 2021.