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How to Capture Video of a Live Keynote Speech

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Capturing video of a live presentation can be stressful, even for seasoned videographers. After all, there are no do-overs: you have just one chance to record crisp, well-composed shots of the speaker and audience and—even more importantly—clear, interference-free sound. Talk about pressure!

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of something going wrong and lower your blood pressure in the process. It all begins with proper planning.

Preparation is Essential

Every video project begins with pre-production, and capturing video of a keynote speech is no exception. The most important thing to do first is to find out the content of the speech and how the finished video will be used. These details will determine what kind of camera equipment and crew you need to do the job (budget plays a role as well).

For example, the client may want a shorter, edited version of the speech to share online. This means bringing two video cameras: one to record the speaker, and the other to get cutaways of the audience or a second angle of the speaker to cover your edit points. Or the speaker may plan to use slides, in which case you’ll want a second camera to record the screen as a reference and a digital copy of the slide presentation for editing purposes.

Once you’ve determined what the final video will look like, it’s time to plan your shoot.

1. Organize Your Gear

There’s a wise saying about digital backups: “Two is one and one is none.” In the world of technology, glitches and hard drive failures happen—having only one copy of crucial data isn’t enough. Same goes for capturing video of a live presentation.

Need two video cameras to record the speech? Bring three. Need only one wireless microphone? Bring two. You get the idea. You must bring extras of all your essential gear—even if it's working perfectly. Murphy’s Law exists for a reason!

Video camera equipment and rig
Photo by Dustin Kirkpatrick/Unsplash

When packing your kit bag, be sure to include:

  • extra camera batteries and a charger
  • extra AA batteries for microphones
  • extra media cards (always take more than you think you’ll need)
  • headphones for monitoring audio
  • XLR cables for connecting to the sound board
  • tripod(s)
  • gaffer tape
  • notepad and pen

These are the basics. Depending on the length and complexity of the shoot, you may need other gear as well. Don’t stress if you don't own a particular piece of equipment or have enough cameras—you can always rent what you need or even borrow from a friend. Just make sure you know how to operate it: the event itself is not the place to figure it out! Be sure to charge and test every piece of equipment the day/night before the shoot.

2. Scout the Location

Next, it’s time for a little recon of the speech location. Ideally, you should visit the venue in person to check out the room beforehand. If that’s not possible or practical, call the venue directly.  Ask lots of questions, including:

  • how big is the room?
  • where will the stage be located?
  • will there be a raised platform or designated area for cameras on tripods?
  • will the speaker be using a microphone attached to a podium, or be wearing a wireless lavaliere microphone?
  • will there be a sound board that you can plug into for audio?
  • where are the electrical outlets located?
Camera at speech venue
Venue for a keynote speech (Photo by Cindy Burgess)

Many large venues like convention centres have websites where you can view floor plans of their rooms. This is also a good place to find information about where to park and which entrance/exit is closest. Map out directions to the location in advance and make sure you leave plenty of time to get there.

3. Get the Schedule of Events

Finally, contact the event organizer to get a copy of the schedule or rundown. It’s not enough to simply know when the keynote speech is supposed to start. It also helps to know what’s scheduled to happen before and after the speech, because it could be an opportunity for you to get additional b-roll like wide and tight shots of the audience. If the schedule of events isn’t available in advance, be sure to ask for it as soon as you arrive.

Set Up and Record

Alright, on to the big event itself. You should arrive several hours early so you have lots of time to set up and test your equipment. Check in with the event organizer to get an updated copy of the schedule of events (even if you have one, there may have been last minute changes) and find out if there's a spot in the room designated for video cameras.

If you haven’t been to the venue before, do a quick walkabout. Make note of everything from the lighting on stage to where the speaker will be standing to where the electrical outlets are located. Where’s the best place for you to set up your tripod? Where are the best spots to capture cutaways? Where are the washrooms? (hey, it could be a long day…).

Clean Audio is Everything

If there’s an audio-visual (AV) team on site handling the sound (and there usually is in big venues), find out who’s in charge. This AV expert is your new best friend! He or she will be able to recommend the best way for you to capture clean sound, depending on their setup and your particular gear. In most cases, you’ll want an audio feed directly from the sound board by way of an XLR cable attached either to your video camera or to a wireless transmitter.

Sound board
Sound board (Photo by Cindy Burgess)

This is your primary source of sound. But you need to have a backup, because bad or non-existent audio means no video of a keynote speech! Again, depending on the setup, you may be able to attach your second microphone to the podium or even to the person who will be speaking.

Be sure to test and adjust your audio levels well before the event starts. The AV team on site will be doing sound checks of their own, so this is a good time to test your microphones to make sure you have a good audio feed.

Where to Place the Video Camera(s)

Now let’s look at camera placement. If there isn’t a designated spot for video cameras, set up your tripod near the back of the room. This will give you a nice wide shot of the stage and the most flexibility when it comes to framing the person speaking. It also reduces the risk of someone in the audience bumping into your tripod or walking in front of the camera.

Video cameras at back of room
A designated area for video cameras at a speech venue (Photo by Cindy Burgess)

This is your primary video camera, or A camera. It’s going to be locked off on the tripod to record the whole speech from beginning to end. There are no hard and fast rules about how you frame the shot, but here are a couple of things to consider:

Slide Presentations

If the speaker is planning to use a slide presentation, do not try to capture a wide shot of the whole stage. The screen will be very bright and chances are good that the speaker will stand off to the side in the dark. You’ll have a heck of a time trying to achieve the correct exposure. And whatever you do, don’t pan back and forth between the speaker and the screen—this is impossible to edit!

Instead, frame a medium shot of the person speaking, without the screen in it. Set up a second camera to record the slide presentation for use as a reference. Get a digital copy of the slide presentation to add later during editing.

Walking and Talking

A speaker who stands behind a podium is easy to record. But those who walk around the stage during their speech can be tricky. If you’re framed on a medium shot or tighter, you’re going to have to follow them with the camera. This is challenging to do smoothly, especially if you’re zoomed in from the back of the room.

Tip: Leave the camera on a wide shot of the stage. You can always record some closer shots with a second video camera.

How (and When) to Capture Cutaways

Your second camera, or B camera, is used to capture cutaway shots (what’s known as B-roll) while the speech is going on. I recommend shooting handheld, because you’ll be able to move quickly around the room with the least amount of disruption. Here are some suggestions for cutaway shots:

 

Another option is to set up the B cam on a second tripod, and frame a tighter shot of the speaker from a different angle. You can then cut back and forth between the A cam and the B cam during editing.

If you have only one video camera, you won’t be able to record the speech and cutaways at the same time (nor should you even try). Instead, take a look at the schedule. Is there a welcoming address? At the very least, someone will be introducing the keynote speaker and giving details of their background. This is your chance to get a couple of quick cutaways of the audience. But you’ve got to be fast—you need to get the video camera back on the tripod by the time the speech starts.

Finally, resist the urge to zoom in and out while operating the A cam during the speech. Zooms are challenging to do well, and lengthy zooms could pose problems in post-production (editors try not to cut into or out of a shot while the camera is in motion). ­A little variety in framing is fine—just keep your camera moves to a minimum and try to re-frame during a pause in speaking or a round of applause.

Conclusion

So there you have it—you now know how to prepare for and capture video of a keynote speech! Follow these steps and you’ll be calm and collected at your next event, and there won’t be many situations you can’t handle with ease and professionalism.

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