While I’ve been spending over 100 days working from home, with each day including at least one meeting over an online platform plus spending my non-working hours watching magic and variety performances over online platforms, I’m beginning to see some trends of how online platforms can be well utilised to enhance shows. Bearing in mind that I am not a performer myself – but I am a BIG FAN of magic (a very regular audience member) and am a live (and now online) entertainment reviewer- however a friend has asked me to compile some tips for harnessing online platforms to enhance the show for the audience. These tips are mainly from an audience member and ticket purchaser’s perspective and the specifics mentioned are in relation to the online platform Zoom. I know there are alternative platforms out there; however the majority of the online magic shows I’ve seen so far have been hosted via Zoom. Regardless of your choice of online platform, the messages and suggestions here remain the same.
If you’re reading this and you’ve already completed many online performances (not just magic as I’m sure these tips can be great for variety acts too), or you’re just totally tech savvy then feel free not to read further – although you may like to share this post with others. If you do have some tips of your own that aren’t listed below that you’d like to share with me / for me to share with others (potentially in a future blog post) you’re welcome to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, read on to discover some tips that you may like to consider for your next online show.
Before the show: email your audience members a reminder of the show and include any important instructions and of course, links.
Most online magic shows I’ve attended will mention that the “show foyer” is open 15 minutes prior to show time. This is great as it allows me to set up my desk and test my headset / mic and also allows me to greet any friends that are in the audience and greet the performer. This also allows the audience to be settled and ready for the actual show at the advertised time. For your performance, you may like audience members to have a pen and paper or deck of cards ready (or other props) and a reminder email is a good method for that too. Some shows have even encouraged the audience members to dress up / wear special hats and these aspects can also be mentioned in a reminder.
One time a show ‘sign in’ / foyer time wasn’t communicated in an email prior to a show, and I didn’t get the notification in social media until much later. It ended up just being by chance that I happened to join at the best time. Best to not leave things to chance, especially for online shows!
Consider having a slide / image or a message appear in advance of the show, when people enter the ‘meeting room’.
This image or message can have some ‘house rules’ on it for people to read. i.e for everyone to mute themselves, or perhaps let audience members know if you want them to leave their cameras on (or not). Seeing this is written text and then having the performer mention this verbally is great reinforcement for the audience. It also helps to set the tone of the show and prevents audience distractions during the show (i.e. people constantly telling others to mute). This also allows a performer to concentrate on the magical performance, rather than having to remember too many technical instructions and reminders for the audience. Also make sure you mention to the audience if the show is going to be recorded or not.
During a show I recently attended, some tech related instructions were somewhat hastily communicated to the audience just before show time and it was challenging to decipher exactly what was being asked of the audience, especially as two people mentioned conflicting items and button locations! It was all sorted out swiftly but as an audience member it’s hard to know what to do when your brain approaches ‘panic mode’ as you scramble to find the right button at the last minute. In another show, not everyone was getting the message to mute themselves, and having another audience member verbally tell the other person to mute then use the chat window to say the same thing became distracting.
Ensure you have a virtual “tech desk” or tech assistant: a person who is on hand (and is made ‘co-host’) purely to address any technical issues or needs.
The most seamless and well organised online performances I’ve seen have all had an online tech desk / tech assistant who sits in the background and makes sure that things run as smoothly as they can. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have internet drop outs / that your bandwidth will magically be enlarged, but it does mean that there can be someone to help the less technically inclined members of the audience (trust me – there’s always one) to find the mute button (or any other button for that matter). It’s also another ‘pair of hands’ to help you select audience volunteers, interact with the audience and ensure things can run as smoothly as possible. This person can also potentially keep the show running if your own internet drops out. On Zoom, for instance, if there’s only one meeting host and their internet drops out then the meeting ends. If you have a co-host, then you’ll always have that other person to keep the meeting running (even if your own internet goes down).
On this note, having a tech run pre-show is not enough and it is no substitute for / not the same thing as having a tech assistant with you during the actual show. By all means, have a tech run prior to the show – it’s a great way for you to test your lighting / speaker / camera / computer and internet setups – but as we all know, technology can be fickle and not everything is guaranteed to work 100% at the event time, even when a tech run has been successfully completed. Having a tech assistant with you for each show is optimal and I’m sure will be appreciated by your audience members. It also comes across as professional to the audience – as you’re doing everything in your power to encourage and promote the success of the show.
Set aside time to perform on the platform you’ll be using and record yourself so you can check your angles and props before you perform for your audience.
This could be during your tech run or it could be a completely different test run (that you record and watch back later). Angles are of course, very important – especially if you’re taking content that you may do on stage / behind a prop that is no longer there within a virtual show. Many performers have various lights shining at them for virtual performances (ring light, anyone?) but these lights can also make playing card faces unreadable / blank to the camera (and audience) at certain angles. You may need to check the angles of your cards in a test run before you show them to your wider audience. You may not have performed in this setting before, and if that’s the case, practising in front of your online setup is crucial.
In a couple of the shows I’ve previously seen, audience members were asked to remember a card that absolutely no one could read due to the lighting. This can be communicated to the performer at the time, of course, but it can push out the time for this effect / disengage people if it happens too often. During another show, some card vanishes / productions were performed that were out of focus / far away from the camera. Due to that, the illusion and skill seemed less impressive.
Please check / test the running time of your show!
I can speak on behalf of the wider audience when I say we understand that you may not be 100% exactly sure of the run time of your virtual show, especially when audience interactions are involved (which can, at times, take longer than expected). What I can say is that I’ve attended shows that have run over time and shows that have run under time. With the show/s that have run over time, it was never more than 10 minutes and it’s a general assumption that after the allotted show closing time has passed, that audience members are free to leave if they need to do so. Some audience members may think that a show running over time is fine because it’s perceived as better value for money.
Shows that run under time is the real issue here. When shows run under time, it tells the audience that you haven’t tested all your material or perhaps you’ve left something out / forgotten about something. It can also encourage the audience to perceive they may not have received value for money, as the run time of the show is usually very clearly stated in communications prior to the show. Ultimately, not a good look! If you’re unsure of your run time, do some test runs and if unsure – round down (i.e. advertise 50 minutes instead of 60 etc).
Another thing to remember is that clocks are easily accessible on devices. During a face-to-face show, audience members probably won’t check their watches so much, but most computer / device screens constantly display the time. This means that any deviations in advertised event times (like starting late or finishing early) are likely to be more noticeable for the audience.
Decide how you want the audience to applaud / reward / encourage you and ensure you communicate this with them.
This is a big one to consider as with stage / magic in real life, magician’s applause cues are read in ‘real time’ by the audience, without any video delays / lags and the audience can react swiftly. With online performances, audience reactions may generally be a little slower. This is a 2 step process whereby you select how you want your audience to react and then you communicate this to them.
To help the audience to react the way you want them to, you need to instruct them how to applaud / reward / encourage you:
– this could be via the ‘Reactions’ button in Zoom – which is a clap or thumbs up emoji
– this could be via leaving a comment in the chat box / window
– this could be via encouraging people to make the clapping motion / cheer on screen (while muted)
– this could be via having everyone un-mute themselves for a short while to cheer and clap into their mics (and then you ask everyone to mute themselves again until the end of the show etc)
You then need to communicate this to the audience. This can be done in a welcoming intro / on a welcome screen or image. Once the audience knows what to do and sees others doing the same thing, then people will follow the action or behaviour.
I’m sure each audience member has their own favoured way of reacting. Personally, if the above isn’t communicated (or isn’t communicated properly) then my own default method is the hand clapping emoji (within the ‘Reaction button’ in Zoom). I tend not to type comments into the chat box too much as it takes my attention away from the screen (suffice to say, I’m often looking at the keyboard when I type!)
To VIP or not to VIP?
Similar to VIP ticket offerings in offline shows, some of the online shows I’ve attended have also included this option. Whether you choose to offer this is up to you, however there are important considerations here:
– you need to make it clear what the VIP option offers the audience: is it a link to special content? Is it a special recorded message for VIPs? Will VIPs receive a special thank you email post show? Will VIPs have social media shout outs? Will VIP people be selected to be a virtual ‘front row’ for the audience and be able to keep their mics on for the entire show?
– the VIP option needs to be perceived as valuable to the audience: if people aren’t interested in extra content or a ‘virtual front row’ or extra thank you notes then they won’t upgrade their ticket.
– how is this going to make your other non VIPs in the audience feel? Having a VIP option is fine, but I think you are better placed to not mention VIPs once the show begins (unless you’ve chosen the ‘virtual front row’ option for VIPs – that may require mentioning). At the end of the day, everyone in your audience has paid to be there, and having extra perks paraded in front of non VIPs doesn’t feel nice. Selecting (or not selecting) the VIP option is an active decision by each audience member, and either decision shouldn’t be projected as inferior or not worthy.
Here’s my personal opinion on this: Given what I have seen so far, I’d be reluctant to purchase a VIP option for an online show. The particular perks listed haven’t been tempting enough for me to part ways with extra money. Given this, please keep in mind that out of all the online magic shows I’ve seen so far, only one offered a VIP option. Also my opinion on this may very well change in the future (at this point I do not know how long we’ll be seeing online offerings before being allowed back into a physical theatre).
Zoom settings checklist / Reminders
Given that zoom seems to be one of the most popular choices for online show platforms, I thought I’d write up a brief checklist of zoom settings that you may like to double check prior to your online event. If you need assistance with any of these, I’d highly recommend checking out the help section of zoom – there are lots of instructions and instructional videos to help you out there. If by chance, you don’t use Zoom as your platform, you can skip the tips below – perhaps the platform you use has different names for these items?
Zoom Settings and reminders checks:
– Zoom usually has a cap on the amount of attendees, so please ensure you don’t oversell your show! Ensure that the ticket program you’re using has a similar cap set to that of your Zoom package / subscription
– ensure in settings that you have co-host enabled. This must be done prior to your webinar / meeting (event). Then when the meeting has been started, you can assign someone as your co-host
– if there are some great comments happening in the chat window, this can be downloaded and stored for later….including ‘private’ messages sent between attendees (something you may also want to keep in mind as an attendee!)
– ensure any reminder emails / auto reminders for the event are switched on
– It’s generally a good idea to go to the settings area in general prior to the event and double check that all your settings are as you wish them to be / matching what you need for the event.
If you’re still with me at this point, thanks for reading! I hope this piece has reminded you of settings to check or prompted some considerations of aspects of online shows. Within the current challenging times, so much of our lives have shifted to virtual formats so it’s a good skill to harness the power of virtual formats to enhance the presentation of your own show.
*I’ve paid to attend each virtual magic show I’ve seen so far
*I’m not sponsored by Zoom (or any other online platform) – this piece was requested by a friend but it contains some points that I think many can benefit from