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Year in Review: What We Learned Speaking at Virtual Cyber Security Events in 2020

Here we are: another year in the books. Twenty twenty however, has been one unlike any other… to say the least!

But despite the early 2020 COVID chaos, our team was agile enough to make some quick pivots. We quickly discovered the need to reposition our live, stage-bound hacking demonstrations into high-tech, virtual events— and let’s just say, once we hit the ground running, we never looked back.

This year we’ve learned some incredible lessons about shifting from stage demos to virtual webinars, and we’re here to share our best takeaways in the cybersecurity speaking world:

1. It’s crucial to prepare demos.

When presenting on a stage, a cybersecurity speaker would normally have everything set up to demonstrate a hack live pre-speech. But when forced to perform virtually behind a screen, it’s not always possible to record demos live. 

Because of this, many cybersecurity experts pre-record their demonstrations in a professional studio ahead of time, armed with the tech they need. The day of the digital event, they can sign on from a comfortable chair in their office space— knowing they can cue up these pre-recorded demonstrations as needed. 

In 2020, this extra step in prep work is almost a necessity. While a webcam can do the job capturing the speaker’s face to host the event, higher quality cameras are needed to showcase a hack in action, along with a little editing help to display the contents of the hacker’s screen, etc. 

2. A speaker (and event host!) must understand their event platform.

While there are variations in logistics for in-person events, we can generally expect our setup to be ready to go from event to event: a stage, a microphone, seating, technology setup for demos… we specify our needs and arrive to a (generally) correct setup. 

With 2020’s shift to virtual, we found the opposite to be true. While webinar and virtual event platforms seem similar, every platform has its own quirks and intricacies. Some allow for independent audio and video inputs, others only work well with native cameras and internal mics. Some have multiple videos displayed at once, while others work best with only one or two. Sometimes, attendees can speak up and ask questions, other times, they have to be on mute… you understand. Throughout the year, we learned to navigate these platforms and noted which configurations work best, where, so that we can be prepared as we add future virtual engagements. 

An area that we saw particular need for platform specificity was streaming video quality

During live, on-stage demonstrations, the presenter need not worry about the quality of the video being recorded— that’s the film crew’s job. The live audience can see what’s happening onstage or on the supporting projectors while the speaker focuses on their delivery. 

But during a virtual event, the quality of the stream is vital, as it could affect the audience’s ability to follow the presentation and visuals. Because most video hosting platforms don’t allow for the streaming of 1080p high-definition (HD) video, speakers may need to compress their pre-recorded demonstration videos down in file size (some as low as 360p!). This compression can make it hard to read words on the screen and can hinder viewers from understanding specifics of the demo. 

We’ve found that it’s very important to screen your video hosting platform ahead of time and check for compression issues. A few of the top platform choices are GoToWebinar/GotoMeeting, Zoom, ClickMeeting, On24, Everwebinar and Livestorm, so you may need to test a good handful of options before finding the right one. With this in mind, virtual event rehearsals are key to catch issues and find crucial workarounds before the broadcast. 

3. High-quality streaming equipment is non-negotiable.

Just like high-quality video is needed when pre-recording hacking demonstrations, your live streaming equipment is essential. Speakers need to make sure they’re using a high resolution webcam— and the same goes for the moderator/emcee— to ensure their quality matches and is on-par. Some of our clients prefer the MacBook Pro webcam, exclusively, for its dependable quality, and we couldn’t agree more that it’s a top choice. 

We also advise using an external microphone, not the one that comes internally installed on your computer (if possible to connect with your setup). It’s also important to test these mics. To replace mics, it is important to test these mics to ensure it is in sync with your external video source.

Additionally, any external mics will likely require batteries to power the wireless mic. Plus on a transmitter, be sure to replace old batteries with new batteries.

4. The “look and feel” of a virtual conference setting is key.

While it’s nice to simply join a webinar link and go, many companies are leveraging conference-style virtual experiences to make up for live event cancellations in 2020. Some brands have developed 3-D models of conferences, giving users an avatar to interact in a virtual world mimicking the appearance of their event. This feels a bit like being a character in a video game, allowing you to go on digital adventures or even play virtual games to learn about cybersecurity. We’ve seen AT&T’s virtual conference this past year and were really wowed by the user experience.

For companies who don’t have the capability to develop these extensive virtual worlds, keep in mind that your hosting platform really matters. Every video platform is different for hosting virtual events, with its own set of advantages and quirks. While experiences from stage-to-stage are often quite similar, a bad hosting platform can ruin even the best prepared presentations. 

5. Never skip the live Q&A wrap-up.

Part of the appeal of attending an in-person event is the interactions you can have with speakers and guests between speeches. With virtual events, you face the challenge of replicating this atmosphere and two-way communication. 

A smart way to preserve this experience is to host a Question & Answers session post-speech. Even if parts of your presentation were pre-recorded, this live interaction will help to bridge the gap between screens, helping to excite engagement after the talk. While some presenters are also pre-recording these Q&As, we found that these sessions were far less interesting as the live banter with real virtual audience members.

Finding the Right Virtual Cybersecurity Speaker

Are you trying to book the right speaker for your next virtual event? Here are few tips for event planners navigating the new digital hosting landscape. 

If you ask us, there’s no one better for the job than Kevin Mitnick, who was once considered The World’s Most Famous Hacker. Learn more about his virtually hosted webinars and book him for your cybersecurity awareness event in 2021!

Topics: virtual events

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