These past months I’ve been performing at digital art shows and virtual business events. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Invest in a basic set-up
Use a computer, avoid phones and tablets.
Get some basic light: some have spots, which are easy to control. Softboxes make a cozy light, but take up more space. Some use rings, which are cheaper but also less flexible. Do some research what’s best for you, ask colleagues.
Background: depending on the type of event I’d say find a neutral background. Sit on the „wrong“ side of the desk facing away from the wall. I personally find wallpaper charming so I did not buy a fancy background. I would advise against funky digital backgrounds, they make your hair look like distractingly bad photoshop and all I am thinking is “what is this person hiding???”.
Mic: get one. Do some research depending on budget and personal taste. Or have at least a basic headset.
Rule of thumb: a cable is always more reliable than wireless. But too many cables are hell. You will have to demummify every time you use the bathroom. Find the sweet spot for your own sanity. Mine is two.
Get familiar with the audio settings of your computer and browser one day before the event. Ask the event organizer which browser they recommend for the video software.
Now you’ve prepared. Now let’s do the event.
Be always ready
Virtual events are volatile. A speaker might not show up and suddenly you’re on earlier. And then you say „oh shit“ and the 1000 attendees heard you. Sometimes the technical team presses a wrong button and accidentally throw you on the livestream without you knowing. So when you’re on, you’re on.
The camera is never off
When you’re off, you’re on, too. Even though you turned your camera and mic off, people might still hear and see you. Yep, these video apps have been quite leaky so once a camera is directed at you, it might be taping you. Even if you do not see yourself, even if you turned your camera off. My advice: a post-it on the camera. Or smile erratically the entire time:
Don’t make it weird
Yes, virtual events are weird. We all know it so you do not have to say it. It’s like at a show with only three people in the audience. If the host addresses how no one showed up, I want to leave immediately. The people who are there, in person or digitally, are at the right spot, at the right time. Now give them a feeling of appreciation and belonging. Don’t make it weird. If you feel weird yourself prepare yourself (see next points).
Do I look at them or at myself?
I do not know. Some only look at the camera (can be too intense), some only look at themselves (seems aloof). I like to let my eye wander, like I would at a live show. If I can control it, I place my own video under the webcam so it kinda looks like I am looking at the camera and can still control my performance if I feel like it.
Less is more
Attention online is limited even more. Anything that could distract from your performance will distract from your performance. I love a physical, powerful performance. But online, less is more. Sit still. No wild gesticulations. The audience’s internet might be low and then you just look like a glitch on the loose. Keep the volume even, do not give the people with headphones tinnitus.
But too little is even less: Be aware of how you appear in the frame. Can you use the space creatively? A white shirt on white background? Boring. Also: Get a big fluffy brush and neutral finishing powder. Throw it on your oily spots. The audience does not need to be reflected on your forehead. The nurturing brush also helps against anxiety.
What am I doing here?
You might ask yourself talking to yourself into the camera. Ask yourself instead: what do I want the (invisible) audience to say about my performance afterwards? Generally good advice for every performances. In the beginning of my career I would often hide in the venue’s bathroom after my performance to see what people really think of me. Ugh, I miss analog events. The plus side: you usually do not see your audience anymore and thus cannot focus on those faces, that tell you they hate you. Just imagine people being happy to be here with you. Think of what you have to say and why it is important. Then say it in a genuine, authentic, conversational way. No script reading or you will loose your audience to another tab open!
This is all new to everyone (ok except to youtubers) and you might be able to create some unprecedented performance art. Do not listen to my advice or anyone’s. Make your own mistakes and become a one of a kind performer. Digital events are full of mistakes so the audience is also more forgiving of yours.