This post is written by Kerry Shearer, "The Livestream Expert". Kerry is a conference speaker, workshop presenter, online course creator and smartphone video trainer based in Sacramento, California.
In 2020, the way we work, shop and entertain ourselves has been completely up-ended.
Work and school transitioned online, placing many people in unfamiliar situations with frustrating technical challenges as they livestream from home.
The results have sometimes been cringe-worthy.
On live webinar meetings, for example, we've been treated to up-the-nose camera angles, inadvertently-shared bathroom breaks, echo-y audio and dark, grainy webcam video.
Not the best way to make an impression!
The good news is that it's actually pretty easy to give your viewers an outstanding experience, whether you're participating in an online meeting on Zoom or livestreaming on popular platforms like Facebook Live, Twitter Live, Periscope or Instagram Live.
When you have the right mindset, the right approach, and the right accessories, you can absolutely look and sound like a pro.
Here, I'll share my best practices when it comes to live streaming, including the platform(s) you should consider when livestreaming, and all the equipment you need to get started.
But first — let's dive into the benefits of livestreaming for businesses.
Benefits of Livestreaming
I've spoken with many entrepreneur and communications colleagues, and months of lockdown have definitely taken an emotional toll.
Staying motivated when your lifestyle and habits have been disrupted means it's more important than ever to get exercise, eat well, and practice self-care so you can be your best self in these trying circumstances.
And it also means you need to put yourself in the place of your customer or client.
When livestreaming, it's critical to remember that it's not about you — it's about the difference you're going to make in the life of the person you're impacting with the information you're delivering!
Many of us are doing two types of livestreaming these days: online meetings or webinars with colleagues, and livestreams related to promoting our products or services.
For our purposes we'll focus on the second type of livestreaming: promoting a product or service.
Livestreaming is a powerful tool to help entrepreneurs and small businesses differentiate themselves and connect with customers (or potential ones).
And doing it well can make a huge difference in your impact — and your earnings.
Vancouver therapist Julia Kristina, who holds a Master's degree in Psychology, used live video as a springboard to create a thriving online business to compliment her existing in-person clinical practice.
She told me, "I began showing up live on Periscope and Facebook, nearly every day at first, doing short talks about different mental wellness topics."
"Doing all those unscripted livestreams, either from home or from my office downtown, made me an even better public speaker. At the same time, it grew a loyal audience whose lives were being impacted by what I was teaching."
Kristina eventually began creating and selling live online group coaching and recorded video courses on topics such as having healthy boundaries, overcoming anxiety, and building confidence.
Last fall, Kristina launched her membership program, "The Shift Society," which features both live video coaching and recorded video content for members.
"Livestreams don't need to be perfect," Kristina says. "You just need to show up, be yourself, and let your passion for the topic be the magnet that draws your ideal audience in."
Particularly in 2020 when many brick-and-mortar shops needed to shift largely online, livestreaming can provide opportunities for small businesses to connect with their customers and prospects in real-time.
Miranda Pinto, owner of La Piccolina Baby Boutique in Lincoln, CA, turned to Facebook Live in an effort to keep sales afloat after having to close her doors to walk-in customers.
Initial livestream attempts were hampered by poor internet upload speeds at her store, so she and an assistant grabbed piles of clothing and headed to Pinto's house to do their first big online sale.
"I felt totally out of my element as a video host, but I know my product, so I just kept talking and describing each item."
Pinto says the sales just kept coming in. "We use a subscription-based tool called 'Comment Sold' to track sales and send invoices."
"I credit livestreaming with saving my business and giving homebound moms an easy and fun way to shop locally for baby clothing."
Pinto says each sale she conducts on Facebook Live lasts 1-2 hours, and creates the income normally earned in 2-4 days of walk-in sales when the store is open.
Live Streaming Platforms
So if these stories have inspired you, it's time to choose a livestreaming platform to focus on. That involves figuring out where your potential audience is (or, upon which platform you want to build a presence). There are more choices than ever, but it's better to get started with one.
Next, let's go over a brief overview of each popular livestreaming platform.
1. Facebook Live
Facebook is undeniably the most popular social platform worldwide, with more than 2.7 billion monthly active users.
Facebook Live allows you to broadcast to the world in real-time, and live video is more often prioritized by the algorithm and shown in your news feed.
Facebook Live is an effective way of providing training and information in Facebook Groups, and many Business Pages use it to reach out to followers with how-to demonstrations, product unboxings, trainings, and sales events.
2. Twitter and Periscope
Periscope is Twitter's live broadcasting app, which launched in March 2015. When you go live, you broadcast to the app and your followers get a push notification that you're live.
Your livestream is also shown in user's Twitter feeds if your accounts are linked with the same username.
For this reason, use of hashtags in the broadcast title can result in a bigger audience.
You can also broadcast directly from the Twitter app using the "Live" button. Twitter is known as the place to go for "what's happening now", so livestreams involving timely events are popular.
3. Instagram Live
2020 marks Instagram's 10th year of operation, and the service has about 1 billion active users.
That userbase could grow even more with Instagram's recent release of Reels, its answer to Tik Tok for creating short videos that can go viral.
Instagram Live also offers a feature that lets you bring one guest at a time into the broadcast.
Instead of expiring after 24 hours, any Instagram Live broadcasts that you want to save can now be shared to your Instagram TV channel.
Best Livestreaming Equipment
Once you've chosen the right platform for your needs, you'll need to ensure you have the equipment necessary to create high-quality live videos.
Livestreams don't have to be perfect, but it is critical to have good lighting, great audio, and a steady shot. Here are some of the options I recommend regularly to clients who want to put on a great broadcast.
Natural light on your face always looks great, so if your computer desk faces a window that lets in ambient outdoor light (rather than direct, harsh sunlight), it will provide a natural look.
If natural light isn't available, you can add LED lighting. Dimmable LED ring lights are popular, and the better ones are bi-color.
That means they have control knobs to let you "warm" the color of the light to match the tone of the room, or "cool" the color to mimick the look of outdoor light.
Ring lights, such as the Dracast Halo 180, come in a popular 18" size, which generally requires mounting on an aluminum light stand.
A smartphone or video camera can be mounted inside the ring and set at eye-level, giving your face a nice, even glow.
There are also smaller desktop ring lights available, such as the Neewer 10" ring light, or GVM rectangular ring light, which can hold your smartphone or serve as a webcam light by peeking over the top of your computer monitor.
The Lume Cube company has created LED lighting specifically for video conferencing, including a rectangular light with a suction mount that sticks to the back of your computer monitor.
Viewers will often put up with less-than-perfect video quality, but if the audio is poor, don't expect them to hang around your livestream for long.
Poor audio is an issue for either smartphone broadcasting — where the built-in microphone picks up lots of annoying background noise — or for streaming from a laptop computer, where the cheap internal mic often produces thin-sounding audio that's hard to listen to for long periods of time.
One solution for smartphones is a simple wired lavaliere smartphone mic, such as the YouMic.
The mic clips onto your shirt, blouse or blazer, and the cord connects to the audio jack on your smartphone.
If you have an iPhone 7 or newer, you'll also need the Lightning-to-3.5mm headphone adapter that came with your phone.
Connect your mic to the adapter, and the adapter to the Lightning port.
If you'd prefer to go wireless, a dependable lightweight system like the Rode Wireless Go is a great solution. The receiver and transmitter are very small and operate for seven hours on built-in rechargeable batteries.
Additionally, the transmitter has a built-in mic, so you can just clip it to your jacket.
Or, to be more discreet, Rode's plug-in Lavaliere Go mic can be purchased separately so you can ditch the transmitter in a pocket and use the small clip-on microphone.
Another option is the similar Pixel wireless lavaliere microphone.
If you've had experiences sitting on a Zoom call for hours, you know how hard it can be on the brain to listen to tinny audio from participants speaking from echo-y home offices.
A solution for this is to use a plug-in USB microphone with your laptop or desktop computer so you can get your voice closer to a microphone.
One option is the Fifine wired clip-on lavaliere USB microphone. Simply plug the connector into any available USB port on your computer, and then change the audio selection in your webinar software or livestreaming app to the new audio source.
Another high-quality option would be a USB microphone typically used for recording podcasts.
The Audio-Technica ATR-2100X, the Fifine PC Microphone, and the Rode NT USB microphones are all examples of podcasting-style mics that connect quickly to your computer and will skyrocket the quality of your audio.
Note that although these microphones all come with small desktop stands, the best approach is to mount them to an articulating boom arm that clamps to the edge of your desk. That will prevent the mic stand from transmitting any thumps and bumps created by your hands or elbows tapping your desk surface.
Shaky video can be incredibly distracting and frustrating when someone is watching a livestream.
Fortunately, there are lots of options to help you have a steady shot. If you already have a video or camera tripod and will be livestreaming from a smartphone, you can simply attach a smartphone mount.
My favorites are the Square Jellyfish metal smartphone mount, or the Arkon Road-Vise heavy duty smartphone mount.If you don't have a tripod, one place to begin is with a mini-tripod that sits on a desk and has an extendable middle column.
The Benro BK-15, when placed on a desk, will extend to the equivalent of full standing height for standup presentations or interviews.
The advantage to a small tripod like this is that you can easily move it from room to room, walk with it while you talk, or throw it in your messenger bag so you're always prepared to livestream.
For other uses, you might need a floorstanding tripod. The least expensive option is to buy a basic tripod like this Endurax aluminum tripod. It extends to 66 inches.
Tripods in this price range often have a plastic pan/tilt assembly, which is fine if your camera will be locked down and not moved, but often doesn't allow for smooth camera movement.
If you'll be panning and tilting and following the action during your livestream, go for a more expensive tripod that has a fluid head.
A fluid head mechanism gives very smooth camera movements which look professional. One of my personal favorites is the Manfrotto Be Free aluminum Lever Lock video tripod. It is only 16" long when folded for transport.
And for livestreaming on the go, there's nothing like a 3-axis electric smartphone gimbal. A gimbal holds your smartphone level and steady while you walk, giving you silky-smooth Steadicam-like results.
I use the Benro 3XS gimbal, and one of the main reasons I love it is because it does not block the Lightning port on a smartphone like many gimbals do — that's important if you want to connect a microphone to the port do to a walk-and-talk narration during your livestream.
A single push of a button rotates the phone from horizontal to vertical, and the mounting arm also folds for compact storage.
New equipment is constantly coming out for smartphone video shooting and livestreaming, allowing you to ensure that your video will be wonderfully watchable.
Assuming you have selected your platform, have a smartphone mic, LED light and tripod, it's time to curate your confidence so you come across well on video. Keep in mind the following tips:
- No, you don't look weird or sound weird on video, so stop judging yourself!
- We usually need to ramp up our energy a bit for video. If it helps, before you go live play a favorite song from your playlist that gets you pumped up. Dance around like a crazy person for a couple of minutes. Anything to get the blood moving and get a dose of energy!
- Remember, like I told you earlier, it's not about you. Focus on the people you're helping.
- If you're livestreaming from a laptop, do whatever you need to do to get the webcam lens at eye level. That may require propping your laptop up on a box or a stack of books if you're using the unit's internal webcam.
- Be sure to smile (as appropriate). You want to appear open, approachable, and authentic.
- If you normally gesture wildly as you talk, reel it in so your movements are appropriate for a tighter webcam image.
- If you're in charge of the livestream and are primarily the one presenting information, do whatever you can to keep people engaged. Ask questions and tell viewers to put their answers in the chat. You can also "flag" important points, by saying things like: "If you're multi-tasking right now, come back to me because I'm about to give you some really important information."
Remember, livestreaming is a mix of using your best presentation skills and some smart tech to make sure that you're communicating clearly and effectively.
It is also a skill that you can develop over time. If you're looking for more tips related to livestreaming, take a look at our checklist for getting started with your first livestream.