7 cases for using pre-recorded presentations in webinars, webcasts, and livestreams

Roger Courville, CSP

In a nutshell: Live events are imperative for maximum connection, but there are many reasons why pre-recorded content makes sense.


To paraphrase a question one webcast attendee asked us following a recent webinar, “What about pre-recording the presentation, playing that in the live event, and then having live Q&A?”

We’ve seen our share of successful -- and not-so-successful -- pre-recorded webinar/webcast presentations. Many of us go back to Envoy Global, Placeware, and Microsoft (more than 20 years in the space! <gulp!>), and over time the technology for accomplishing "simulated live" events has changed...but the use cases remain consistent. 

Case #1: Executive needs to make multiple appearances

Years ago we did a 76-event webinar series for Novell. Then-CEO Eric Schmidt spoke live on the first event, then a product manager came on and did a product presentation, followed by Q&A with just the product manager.

We recorded Eric on the first event, and his bit was generic (state of the industry stuff) such that the recording could be re-used in the subsequent 75 events, and the product manager's part for each subsequent event was live.

Note that a variation of this might also be used to cover widely disparate timezones over the course of a day or two.

Case #2: A presenter might have a last-minute problem showing up

The challenge: A notable surgeon was planning to present live, but as the event date got closer, the surgeon found out he was going to be on call. Since promotion had already begun, moving the event date would have been costly, so we created a recording of the surgeon (in case of emergency, literally!). It turns out we didn’t have to use it.

Case #3: Using pre-recorded audio or professional voice talent

More than one client has been concerned with having a perfectly scripted and executed talk track. In some cases this was simply a desire for perfection, but we given we do a lot of work in highly regulated sectors such as financial and healthcare, there's often a need to be sensitve to the exact words that are to be shared.

Some organizations find it useful to have us pre-record and edit the executive's talk track, but often they lik the idea of having us engage professional voice talent to record the script. The objective for the latter is rarely 'perfect voiceover voice who sounds like a movie narrator' and more often simply that it's far more convenient (and cheaper!) than getting an exec into a recording studio.

While this can result in a fully-produced video, in many cases slides are pushed live (by the event producer) while the audio recording played. The result is still "live and interactive," but the primary message is carefully controlled.

Case #4: The presenter is a talker, but not a PowerPoint designer

Sometimes you just need to get a SME (subject matter expert) talking, but they're a long way from having a buttoned-up presentation. One potential solution is to record them talking about their expertise, then editing together a tighter audio track...only then to create slides to use during the live event (which now match the talk perfectly!).

We've done this in more than one way that riff off previous suggestions...we can push the slides 'live' or create a video for playback. Either way, the live event is tight while still utilizing other tools of engagement such as polls, live chat, etc.

Case #5: Presenter worry

As the saying goes, “Most people would rather die than give the eulogy.”  Seriously, nobody wants to look silly in front of others (totally ok!), and some are mature enough to know when they're just not good at it.

We had one case with a VP of Marketing who, though she was an otherwise a brilliant and adept communicator one-on-one, was absolutely wretched when presenting. To the delight of the team, while she insisted on doing the presentation herself, she asked us to pre-record her and edit the video/audio. She was freed up from the nerves that often derailed her, and she could hang out for live (audio) Q&A thereafter.

Case #6: Perfectionism

A music analogy here: 

Most live concert recordings are poor aural experiences relative to the studio-production (delivered via iTunes or…). For most of us, however, if we went to a concert and the experience was exactly like the recording, we’d be disappointed that the band didn’t talk to the audience, extend that one cool guitar solo, or deliver a stunning lightshow that the MP3 didn’t include.

If you want to produce a webinar/webcast/livestream recording that’s perfect and visionary, it’s not wrong, per se. Just know what you're asking for.

Live communication isn’t like that...and there’s even research to suggest that imperfection is a definitive part of natural communication (evidence suggests that it’s even useful – but don’t go saying “V2 said you should use 'ums' and 'ahs' when you speak” -- that misses the point). In other words, effective communication and perfect communication are not 100% synonymous. This doesn't invalidate the desire for perfection that often drives use of pre-recorded content, but it does suggest that "connecting" with people is about more than flawless speaking.

That said, there is a time for perfectly edited presenter video. Examples might include times an executive worried about how they'll be perceived or when your organization needs to utilize that video for something like a television commercial.

Case #7: The event archive is more important than the live event

Importantly, "real people connecting with real people in real time" is an important aspect of communication strategy, and if you lean a too heavily on the perfection of pre-recorded content, you might be missing an opportunity. BUT...

Sometimes the value of the event recording, over time, is more important than the live event itself. Continuing with the above analogy, if you were a band, this would mean you might prioritize your time in the studio getting everything just right. If you like the idea of hosting a live event, but the greater value over time is how the recording will be used, pre-producing a video of the presenter's presentation might make sense.

The bottom line

In the purest sense, “live” and “recorded” have opposite ideas of perfection. Unfortunately, the message you get from many conferencing, webinar, or webcasting companies is that all you have to do is push the “record” button and you’re golden.

The discerning observer should recognize that they are two are different beasts. Neither is right or wrong; neither is superior. The discerning observer should understand that there are tradeoffs, figure out what they are and, in the end, make an enlightened decision about what to get versus what to give up.

The good news is that whatever your strategy is -- and especially as it evolves over time -- the right team will ask you "what are you trying to accomplish and what can we take off your plate" instead of trying to shoehorn you into a way of doing things.

And at V2 we might just know such a team. ;-)