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Using Skype for Business as a Broadcast Tool–Lessons Learnt

UCDay UK has just taken place on Oct 24th 2016 and I was lucky enough to be there with The Skype Show broadcasting and recording some live interviews. Although the day went well and I was still breathing by the end, there were a few niggles. For those who may attempt this, here is my lessons learnt.

My original plan was to use XSplit Broadcaster to create the scenes so I can add multiple sources such as cameras, microphones, captions and transitions so that the show would look a bit like the late late show. I was then taking that XSplit stream into Skype Broadcast Meetings using the virtual webcam driver supplied with XSplit. My initial testing at home produced positive results, both video and audio where good. The only slight concern was that my CPU (Quad-Core i7) was running around 90% trying to run XSplit and Skype for Business client at the same time.

During the morning of UCDay I performed a test broadcast and found that the virtual webcam driver gave in a random intervals, so the audio was present in the meeting, but video paused. With that XSplit became unresponsive and had to restart my laptop. Panic time!

So I decided not to overcomplicate it for the sake of a few effects, and just use Skype for Business client and Broadcast Meetings without XSplit. After all time was against me.

Lesson Learnt: Don’t try to over-do it, keep it simple.

I also had a booth with spotlights to provide lighting. However, one thing I did not think about was the fact that these lights where LEDs. LEDs flicker at a frequency invisible to the naked eye, but clearly visible to a camera. The results where a lot of flashing lighting in the background that would have landed any mildly epileptic sufferer in hosptial! To compensate this I had to reduce the frame rate from normal 30fps to a measily 5fps. This resulted in jerky video you would expect from a dial up connection. Luckily, I was on a stage, so thanks to the event venue I was able to use stage spotlights instead of the LED lights that came with the booth. Problem resolved!

Lesson Learnt: Don’t use LED lighting in a Video Conference.

Although I used broadcast meetings for the live events, I used normal Skype meetings for recorded interviews. Seemed a good idea at the time, after all it is The Skype Show, so I should be using the technology I am talking about right? Recording worked fine as expected, but the issue was that even though I set to record at 1080p locally, the video recording is actually VGA or 640 x 480. So in comparison to broadcast meetings which is 720p or 1280 x 720 the video quality is noticably poorer in the offline recordings, which you will see once the event is published online. You may be thinking, but you are a Skype MVP, shouldn’t you have pre-empted this? Well short answer is yes, but video is something I am getting used to and not an expert in. That realm is Mr Schertz!

I tried to fall back to XSplit, but for some reason XSplit wanted to keep an aspect ratio of 4:3 using my Logitech C930e webcam, even though it is 1080p capable! Playing around with the settings I could force it to 16:9 but the image was stretched which made me look bigger than I already am! Had it made me slimmer, then we would be using that all day long! Using 4:3 also meant that both me and my guest would practically have to be sitting on each other’s knee to get into shot. I am a friendly guy, but there are boundaries that cannot be crossed!

On a plus side the audio was clear enough so its all about the content right?

Lesson Learnt: Use Skype Broadcast Meetings for all your recordings

As I was closing the day interviewing Tom Arbuthnot the event company who I hired the booth from turned up to dismantle. They were 15 minutes early, so I was in no particular rush. But the guy came on stage and started talking to me right in the middle of the interview with Tom. Although Tom and I laughed it off as it wasn’t live and could be edited out, it could have been live for all to see. Providing some humour for you I guess but a lesson learnt for me.

Lesson Learnt: Make a sign that says “Recording Do Not Disturb”

The microphone I was using was the Blue Yeti a popular podcasting microphone. Fantastic piece of kit, but expensive (around £100). For me it was well worth it instead of using Skype headsets such as Jabra or Plantronics. The guests would have to share the earpiece microphone, and who wants to share other people’s earwax? ha! So the Yeti was the perfect choice. Pre-event broadcast went well and the audio was clear. What I didn’t simulate for was the noise of the attendees on the day. The microphone picked up everything, even the guy trumping in the far corner of the expo hall! 🙂 Anyway, big thanks to Martin Boam who helped me out at the last minute to resolve the background noise problem. I had the Yeti programmed in stereo mode, and had to change the profile to 2 way or the figure 8 icon. This cut out a lot of the background noise which meant we didn’t need to shout as much!

Lesson Learnt: Read the instructions that come with the microphone and test properly

If you watch the video, when I am supposed to be talking to you the viewers, I should have been looking at the camera. Instead you see me talking to the microphone! Stupid inexperienced noob there and lesson learnt is to remember the audience! So apologies from me.

Preparing for the guests was a challenge. This was the first time that I opened the show to non-Skype related guests. I did a bit of research on each speaker to try and create a few questions related to their day, topic and expertise. You see me looking at my laptop to find the next question. As I went through the day and interviews, I realised that there were situations where the guest had answered a question in an answer to another, which caught me short. In the end, I relied on their speaking to flick lights on in my head to prompt and ask off the cuff questions. The preparation of question definatley helped as a fall back / starting point.

Lesson Learnt: Don’t rely solely on your question bank, think on your feet

Lastly, I am not a confident guy, in fact I tend to shy away from situations where I feel vulnerable. The Skype Show is one of these situations especially in the normal monthly shows. I have been battling with my nerves and slowly starting to control them through each episode. Coming to UCDay was exciting for The Skype Show, but personally I was dreading it, fearing that I would collapse under the spotlight of some 600 people. However, it really helped having guests physically there you can interact with and for the first time ever I never felt a bit of nerves. Safety in numbers I guess. But the biggest lesson I learnt was to block out all that is around you and concentrate just on the guest and yourself. The downside to this is that I forgot to look at the camera.

Lesson Learnt: Remember your audience

For anyone thinking about doing something similar, I hope my experience here helps you.

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