Practice Practice Pointer

How to webcast lectures and conferences

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b31 (Published 30 January 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b31
  1. Mark A Westwood, consultant cardiologist1,
  2. Andrew S Flett, clinical research fellow2,
  3. Phil Riding, e-learning advisor3,
  4. James C Moon, consultant cardiologist134
  1. 1Department of Cardiology, Heart Hospital, University College London Hospitals NHS Trust, London W1G 8PH.
  2. 2London Chest Hospital, London E2 9JX
  3. 3University College London, London WC1E 6BT
  4. 4Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance, Mount Royal, NJ 08061, USA
  1. Correspondence to: J C Moon, Department of Cardiology, Heart Hospital, London W1G 8PH james.moon{at}uclh.nhs.uk
  • Accepted 17 June 2008

This article describes how doctors with little previous experience have approached the recording and online broadcasting of talks and conferences

Being unable to attend a key talk or conference can be frustrating. But it is now technically straightforward, with computer software, for anyone to record presentations as a movie for permanent access on the internet. Such recordings can act as an invaluable library and learning resource long after the event is over. They greatly increase the potential reach of a message, aiding medical education, research, and the originators—think YouTube for medicine—as well as potentially reducing the relative carbon footprint and cost of medical education.

The software required is widely available and cheap—even free—and the only additional kit needed is a digital dictaphone with a microphone. Distribution of the recorded talks on the internet is also cheap and increasingly simple, and may be supported by the local hospital or university’s information technology department. In this article, we share our experience of recording 10 conferences in our field—cardiovascular magnetic resonance—ranging from a single local lecture to a large international conference with 1000 delegates, and resulting in an online library of 100 lectures. Although technically straightforward, the process still requires thought and consideration, and a cautious approach for the initial rollout. This guide should point individuals and organisations considering web casting in the right direction to get started.

Webcasting

We prepare for webcasting (broadcasting on the internet) in four stages: planning, recording, producing, and uploading (figure). Webcasting has two forms: a live video feed broadcast in real time from the conference, or video on demand. Sometimes entire conferences are webcast live. The on demand approach is most beneficial, because it is easiest and creates a permanently available lecture.

Recording

What to record

“Screencapture” software unobtrusively records the speaker’s computer screen and speech. The audio and visual recordings are then combined into one file that can be webcast. We screencapture live PowerPoint presentations (including speaker’s mouse movements and embedded movies) and record the audio separately, using either the auditorium sound system or a digital dictaphone and microphone on the podium. For medical talks, video recording a talking head and locating it on the slides as a “picture-in-picture” does not seem worth while—a photo of the speaker in the online index suffices. We do not record informal sessions such as discussions (owing to lack of permission from participants), question and answer sessions, interactive case presentations, patient identifiable data, and new unpublished data.

Amateur versus professional recording

New technologies have made the recording process increasingly easy for amateurs. Professionals bring advantages, but can be expensive. At larger conferences, we have found that a hybrid approach works well: professionals record the audio and presentations, and a non-professional team produces and uploads the movies.

Capture software

Several screencapture software options are available, many of them free (for example, Wink http://www.debugmode.com/wink and Camstudio http://camstudio.org). Presentation programs such as PowerPoint (PC) and Keynote (Mac) include recording solutions as standard. However, when recording several sequential presentations, we recommend using screencapture software with a PowerPoint plug-in. In this case, the presentation is started from software embedded in PowerPoint with a screencapture toolbar. The slides and presentation run as usual, but simultaneously all slides, movies, mouse movements, and audio are recorded as a movie for subsequent webcasting (table).

Screencast software with PowerPoint plug-ins

View this table:

Many screencapture software companies offer hosting options (for example screencast.com—prices range from free to $100 per year). This solution is worth considering if you are new to the process. Companies often seamlessly upload presentations from the software to the servers, and provide you with a URL (the link to the video) that you can place on your website. They can also offer technical support.

Planning

Proposal to record and practice

We wanted to record the Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance annual meetings as an educational resource. As a proof of principle, we recorded several in house meetings (using the free trial version of the software) before our first national meeting and used these recordings to create a proposal and budget to submit to the organising committee. We recorded a mixture of cutting edge scientific sessions and basic educational sessions, starting with a pre-conference session to iron out problems. Practice and local experience gave us the confidence that we could record at a large conference in an unfamiliar venue. We liaised with the society’s website team and decided to host the recordings directly on the website rather than uploading them to a specialist company.

Speaker permissions

It is easiest to seek permission to record and webcast from speakers prospectively at the time of invitation. Reassure speakers that only a movie of the slides is broadcast, rather than the actual slides themselves. We also add the conference logo in production as a watermark. Speakers can be asked to provide a short summary of the talk and a photo of themselves to aid online indexing.

Speakers should be asked to bring their presentations with the expectation of them being run from a central computer rather than from their own laptop. Find out if they are using Mac presentations, which will have to be converted to PowerPoint and run separately on an audience laptop (PowerPoint loads Mac Keynote presentations, but movies need to be converted from QuickTime).

Slides including data from publications should be correctly referenced and are generally acceptable, if the recording is educational and not for profit. In a manner similar to an open access online journal, we leave copyright residing with the speaker. Patient identifiable information should not be presented—if such data are included, informed consent should be obtained exactly as it would be for publication.

For speakers with new data, speakers should not present more data than they would place in a conference abstract, otherwise final publication could be threatened by a claim of duplicate publication. If such concerns are raised, alternatives include not recording the talk, deleting slides (and audio) with novel data, or embargoing the whole talk for a period.

Onsite initial setup

Communicate with the conference centre’s audiovisual team in advance. Although the software is reliable, you may decide not to put it on the venue’s computer, to avoid being blamed if talks go wrong. As an alternative, we often put a team member in the audience with a copy of the speaker’s PowerPoint presentation on a laptop, screencapturing by cloning the speaker’s slide-advances and mouse movements. This method is robust and cannot affect the main presentation, but is more labour intensive than recording from the venue’s computer.

We prefer to add the audio track during production. If necessary, using the speaker’s slides and room audio, you can re-create talks afterwards (perhaps using blank slides where new data were presented) by re-running the presentation, changing slides in sync with the audio. Even if the venue’s audiovisual team are recording the audio, a backup option is worth while in case of technical faults or missed recordings. A USB handheld digital recorder with 256 megabytes or more of memory and a lapel condenser microphone (we use Olympus WS-311M digital voice recorders with ME15 tieclip microphones, total cost less than £80) can record a whole day’s talks: place on the podium, turn on at the beginning of the day, lock the buttons (to prevent accidental stoppage), and collect at the end of the day. Batteries should be changed every day, whether they are running low or not.

Conference day

If possible, get used to the venue by recording a pre-conference workshop or satellite symposium. A low profile team of two people per room is ideal. Distribute pre-arranged planning documents and file names and get details of last minute changes in speakers. Try to identify potential computer problems in advance. Generally, be wary of using the very latest software. Ensure computers are set up for recording—check the software is loaded, screen resolution is not too high (1024×768), and PC hardware acceleration is low (using display properties, settings, advanced, troubleshoot; in Windows XP, not Vista). Check that antivirus software is working and up to date.

Producing

Audio can be added to the visual recording during production, although if you have recorded the audio with the screencapture software, this step may not be necessary. Production also allows optimisation of files for the internet so that streaming is fast and smooth. We aim for a file size of 1 megabyte per minute of talk. For speakers using many embedded movies (for example, at imaging conferences), we produce at a resolution of 320×240 pixels; but use higher resolution (800×600) for other talks. Options for optimisation of bandwidth—the amount of data being transmitted and received by the host to the viewerinclude reducing mono-audio quality (don’t set this too low if clarity is an issue, for example with speakers using a second language), colour quality (16 bit instead of 32 bit), and frame rate (for example to 5 frames per second). We add other optional features, including a table of contents and a watermark or copyright statement, at this stage.

Uploading

The produced talks need to be stored somewhere that they can be accessed easily and quickly. This service is provided by web hosts (probably the same company that hosts your website, or you may use a specific web host for this purpose). Uploading—the process of sending your files to the host—is straightforward, particularly if you are using the screencapture software company for web hosting, as the software often has tools to make uploading seamless. Basically, talks are saved on to the web server and a specific link to each is placed on your website, allowing them to be opened.

We email speakers and invite them to review their talks before general release. Once the talks are available on the website, we add a paragraph of introduction from the conference organiser (and acknowledgment to the recording team). We then delete any of the presenters’ original PowerPoint files from our computers.

If you have recorded a large conference for the first time, let web traffic grow gradually by not immediately advertising the recordings, to avoid large spikes of demand, which could slow your website down if it is hosted on a shared rather than dedicated server. If all goes well the implications may be large, so be prepared to change and rescale future plans and consider making the previous year’s talks available to non-members.

Key points

  • Recording lectures and putting them online has many advantages

  • The process is technically straightforward

  • Learning how to do it is relatively easy

  • Non-technical issues should be addressed in advance

  • Preparation, preparation, preparation

Glossary

  • Screencapture: using software to record a movie of what is on a computer screen

  • Screencasting: playing back a screencapture (with audio)

  • Webcast: screencasting on the web

  • PowerPoint plug-in: an add-in to PowerPoint that appears as an extra toolbar; used to run PowerPoint and, at the same time, screencapture the presentation

  • Video on demand: videos available on the internet and played at a time chosen by the user

  • Picture in picture: the positioning of one picture or channel within another—for webcasting, typically a “talking head” within the slide show

What we did

Initially, we (three medical doctors) worked together with the venue’s audiovisual team, who were paid to record the audio and run the presentation computers using Camtasia. A pre-conference workshop helped iron out problems. We recorded two rooms for three days, aiming to record 53 talks. We produced movies each evening, adding audio and optimising for webcasting. Three speakers declined permission, and five talks had to be re-created (one to embargo slides with new data, two where recording was omitted in error, and two for Mac presentations). Back-up audio was used for one talk. The total recording cost was about 1% of the total income from registration for the conference. Since then, we have recorded seven more conferences.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2009;337:b31

Footnotes

  • Contributors: The authors—all UK based cardiologists without remarkable pre-existing internet skills—have successfully captured, produced, and uploaded about 100 key presentations from local and international conferences including the 2008 annual Society of Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance conference in Los Angeles and EuroCMR 2008 in Lisbon. These recordings are now freely available online for members of the society at www.scmr.org. JCM is guarantor. JCM and MAW took part in the conception, design, drafting, and final approval of the manuscript; ASF and PR took part in design, drafting, and final approval.

  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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