Being the Weatherman

By William Buist

The PSA Board decided to see if we could also run some aspects of the Going for Growth 2021 Summit in person. We didn’t (yet) understand the challenges we would face.

Anthony Stears agreed to host the meeting at the ETC venue on Edgware road. The Board at the PSA concluded we should integrate the live and remote events into a hybrid event. We needed two AV companies, one managing the online (OL), one the in the room (ITR).

The event chair, Lynda Shaw and the team designed the schedule for the day that included her chairing a remote panel, giving awards in the room and introducing segments of the day. There were also online sessions that we knew could not be replicated exactly, so we had alternatives arranged for the delegates in London. Coordinating the flow of sound and video showed us that there was too big a delay between the feed from the stage and the remote segments, so handovers would need to be carefully timed. We were discussing challenges in real-time on Whatsapp and on phone calls, between the backroom teams.

At critical points, I gave visual countdowns on the camera to tell them when to take the feed from the room for the remote viewers. In the room, an audible countdown “10-9-8-7… GO” hurried people to their seats and brought us silence, or whooping and hollering and applause at just the right moment. When we needed to, we fed in the remote feed so we could hear the wonderful Heather Wright demonstrating her outstanding MC skills online.

Much of the time I felt like I was at a much bigger event, not quite able to see the stage, yet seeing the speaker on the big screens, with clear sound, switching seamlessly to others elsewhere. It really was impressive.

Being the Weatherman

For one segment of the day there were five speakers in the room – Sylvia Baldock, Alastair Greener, Michael Dodd, Joanne Lockwood and me. Online ran this segment as five separate hour-long sessions. We knew we would have some spare time compared to OL, so I became a weatherman.

Thanks to my good friend John Young I’d learned the power of flexibility in broadcasting. As the talks started we had three possible closing approaches planned, depending on the time available when we got there and we ‘hit the mark’. News broadcasts end with the weather, so they can be flexible with the time they have left, extending the weather report if they have time to fill, or cutting it short if they’re short of time.

Then we had the awards and seamlessly switched from remote to the room, where Lynda made the announcements – Speaker Factor winner Camilla Long, Spirit of Joy award winner Lis Allen and PSAE Steve Bustin. The last two received their awards live-streamed from London to the whole conference. This was followed by the details of the 2022 conference in Dublin was given by Alan Stevens. All of that was timed with professional aplomb by those on the stage.

The biggest learning was that getting the right team to support the work is critical. Hybrid is not simply some people together in one place whilst others view the same content remotely. It’s both studio and outside broadcast and it needs careful design. And I think that we’ve shown the world that at the PSA, we know what we’re doing when it comes to professional speaking!