Employee engagement is a major contributor to workplace satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity at any company, and Microsoft is no exception. Interactive live events allow program leaders to effectively communicate business updates, training opportunities, announcements, and more in a way that makes an impact on the daily lives of employees and fosters ongoing collaboration and knowledge-sharing.
With the new live event capabilities in Microsoft 365, the Microsoft Digital team at Microsoft began offering event producers a modern, seamless event-production solution for employee engagement. From small-team webcasts to all-hands meetings involving thousands of attendees, the solution increases the size and types of events that Microsoft employees can host, and improves employee engagement across organizational and geographical boundaries.
Creating support for all types of live events
Employees across Microsoft need support to produce a wide range of live events, from self-service webcasts to large-scale professional studio productions through Microsoft Studios.
In the past, the multiple systems that Microsoft employees used limited the capacity of live events to 250 participants. The growing popularity of live events—which included all-hands meetings, webinars, employee trainings, and more—meant that event producers needed a way to foster engagement with larger audiences. And they needed to do so without sacrificing the quality of video or audio broadcasts and event engagement.
Microsoft Digital conducted two years of focus groups to understand how employees were producing live events. Across the board, they discovered that event producers wanted:
- An intuitive, predictable event-production environment that could be scaled for many audience sizes, audience types, and audience communication styles.
- Two-dimensional communication and content-sharing with event producers and participants, such as screen-sharing and persistent chat before, during, and after events.
- More reliable management and performance monitoring of streaming, broadcast, and content displays during live events.
- The ability to extend the shelf life of the content and messaging by segmenting event recordings quickly and sharing them across all the channels that employees use to do their work.
It was clear that the next generation of live event capabilities needed to give users a sliding scale of event-engagement and event-management options. And it needed to enable users to launch everything from self-service events for smaller audiences to executive-level meetings with audiences of thousands and large production budgets.
The solution: creating one intuitive event-production platform
New capabilities in Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Stream, plus advancements in video streaming, enabled Microsoft Digital to begin offering expanded live event capabilities in place of its previous solution, Skype Meeting Broadcast. The system architecture for live events began to coalesce around Microsoft 365, with a connected video-streaming, messaging, broadcast, and content-sharing solution.
Microsoft 365 is the hub of live event capabilities and connects the event options in multiple Microsoft products into one events platform. By consolidating live event features into one platform, Microsoft Digital can offer a seamless experience for event producers and participants while offering multiple options for production collaboration, live-broadcast management, interactive event participation, and content-sharing.
The integrated solution includes three core, interconnected solutions:
- A collaboration hub and event bridge in Microsoft Teams, where event-related teamwork occurs. Microsoft Teams brings together all the chat, video and voice calling, meetings, and shared files into one seamless event-production environment.
- Intelligent video streaming through Microsoft Stream that delivers live and on-demand video to viewers across devices. Microsoft Stream allows viewers to easily find the moments in the video that matter most, using automatic transcription, closed captioning, rich-text video search, and segment broadcast clips. Connecting Microsoft Stream to Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, and Yammer results in a richer viewing experience.
- Engaged discussions and social networking around live events in Yammer.
Live event monitoring and reporting
Microsoft Digital also uses a third-party client peering technology as a backend solution for live event monitoring and reporting. This backend allows event managers and production teams to optimize the quality of the end-user experience. As a backend system, it facilitates:
- Live monitoring and reporting to help power real-time issue resolution.
- Improvements in the quality of video buffering and pixilation.
- Automatic prioritizing of the top streaming channel, minimizing disruptions.
- Post-event recaps and reporting on event attendees, the region they joined from, performance analytics, and other engagement points for event producers.
Live event bandwidth management
Microsoft Digital also uses the same third-party peering solution for real-time monitoring of all broadcast events at Microsoft and to manage the bandwidth optimization for gateway traffic. The bandwidth monitoring tool can be embedded as a link into Microsoft 365 for a production crew to use during the event.
Live event capabilities are a critical service that allows collaboration and leader engagement to reach all employees globally in a seamless way. Due to its importance, Microsoft Digital has created its own managed production crew for use in a variety of Microsoft internal broadcast events. AV Link in Microsoft Digital:
- Offers hands-on support services for a variety of Microsoft internal events, ranging from everyday conference-room meetings to large custom events.
- Integrates the live event experience with cutting-edge campus technology, evangelizing Microsoft’s latest conferencing platforms to create a seamless audience experience.
The producer experience: event options for all scenarios
By integrating live event capabilities across the Microsoft 365 platform, Microsoft Digital can support the full spectrum of event-production scenarios for users. With these capabilities, producers can:
- Host and run self-produced, high-quality, and engaging events simply by using webcams, files, and desktop applications.
- Initiate mass-scale productions with studio-quality cameras and applications.
Microsoft 365 now provides users an array of options, depending on their event type and production budget. Figure 1 demonstrates the many ways that an event producer can utilize live event capabilities in Microsoft 365.
Centralized pre-event collaboration
In Microsoft 365, users can choose from multiple options for administering events. In one central space, they can select event logistics that best fit their audience and broadcast needs, create events easily, and begin communicating with their event team and their potential audience immediately.
- Self-start events: Anyone, regardless of technical ability, can seamlessly schedule and host an event. Events can be scheduled through Microsoft Teams or Yammer. Once initiated, event managers can also bring in a live events production team to help moderate and manage event logistics.
- Supported events: External encoders enable production needs for events that require studio production and a certain level of technical know-how for video production. Events can be scheduled through Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Stream, or Yammer.
- Event-team preparation: The entire event team (producers, presenters, and moderators) can collaborate directly in a Microsoft Teams event meeting bridge. In this space, remote collaborators can prepare content, use private chat, share files, finalize production details, and assign roles across the organization in a closed group.
- Audience engagement: Yammer can also be used to schedule events and begin engaging the audience. Producers can begin the conversation around the event topic, share files, conduct polls, and source questions from attendees.
Controlled live event production
In the past, event producers had much less control over the flow of a live broadcast. Now, users have access to:
- Controlled production view: A side-by-side content view enables producers to queue up content, where presenters can compare the live broadcast to what’s coming up next.
- Seamless moderation: Using Microsoft Teams Q&A, the production team can screen and prioritize questions before answering them. With Yammer, questions and discussions are open to all attendees before, during, and after the event, enabling viewers to engage prior to the event and continue discussions once the live event has ended. If no attendee discussion is desired, events can be broadcast from Microsoft Stream without attendee dialogue or Q&A.
- Remote presentation: With Microsoft 365, presenters can broadcast their content from anywhere, not just a desktop. That allows for live events that cross geographical lines and connect a remote workforce.
Post-event content sharing
With Microsoft 365, producers can continue sharing the primary message of their event beyond the live broadcast using:
- Broadcast uploads to Microsoft Stream: Broadcasts are uploaded to Microsoft Stream, the intelligent video service in Microsoft 365, for post-event viewing by both event attendees and those who missed the live event due to time-zone differences or scheduling conflicts. Key messages can be shared “after the fact,” helping employees feel like they are still part of the messaging being delivered to our company.
- On-demand sharing: Producers can share full broadcasts or just short clips by speaker or segment in Microsoft Teams, Yammer, and Microsoft Stream. The ability to automatically create and share bite-sized clips across channels helps event producers to continue sharing and reinforcing key points to a broader post-event audience.
- Automatic video translation and transcription: To share content, event producers no longer need to outsource or wait for video transcription and translations. Automatic video translation expands the number of languages in which a viewer can watch a broadcast, and automatic, editable transcriptions of each video improve the accessibility of content after the event. (This feature is currently in private preview.)
- Post-event analytics: Reporting from third-party applications provide event producers with deep insights into audience attendance and engagement, broadcast reliability, and more. With this reporting, users can continually iterate and understand the topics and formats that best resonate with their audience. Producers can also pull attendee-engagement information out of Microsoft Teams when using Microsoft Teams’ video and screen-sharing capabilities.
The attendee experience: seamless participation
With Microsoft 365, attendees can join and participate in live events in Microsoft Teams, Yammer, and Microsoft Stream. Having many options for participation in one integrated platform makes it easy for producers to reach employees in the systems where they conduct their daily work.
- Target attendees receive a Microsoft Outlook invitation from an event producer. The event producer can manually create a shortened URL link to the event and share the link across Outlook, Teams, Yammer, and other communication channels to drive event attendance.
- Scheduling an event directly in Yammer helps spread the word to the audience’s Yammer group, allowing members of the target audience to easily learn about the upcoming event and post questions or comments before the broadcast.
Live event participation
- Yammer groups allow for on-demand participation and two-way communication. Attendees can interact directly with event leaders and other participants, and generate a community discussion in which ideas, questions, related links, and insights are shared. Microsoft Teams also enables closed-group discussions to occur within the live event space and allows attendees to see related content that has been shared by the event team.
- For events initiated through Microsoft Teams or Yammer, live recordings can be distributed through Microsoft Stream for continued content consumption.
- With Microsoft Stream, employees who attended or those who missed the broadcast can easily rewatch content clips by speaker, topic, or time stamp, and find related broadcasts on the same topic or for the same group.
- For events that use Yammer, attendees can continue the conversation that began during the live event in the same conversation thread, providing richer context and education around the event topic over time.
Solution testing and deployment
As the earliest adopter of Microsoft technologies, Microsoft Digital tested and validated all of these live event capabilities for producer and attendee experiences. Microsoft Digital also worked closely with the product team to deliver live event capabilities that met Microsoft Accessibility Standards and could support audiences and event scenarios of all sizes.
- Microsoft Digital identified power users of Skype Meeting Broadcast. The team then offered the live event capabilities in Microsoft 365 side-by-side to both producers and event attendees to determine user preferences.
- In partnership with the product groups and the System Center Configuration Manager team, the End User Services Engineering team tested and validated viewing scenarios at scale. Currently, the platform’s recommended scale is 10,000 concurrent viewing parties, although the platform has been tested for even greater audience numbers.
- Microsoft Digital and the product team worked to integrate real-time third-party reporting into Microsoft Stream and Microsoft Teams products.
- The Microsoft Digital team also focused its initial use of live event capabilities to support the live event needs of high-level executive events, including CEO Satya Nadella’s all-hands events, which has one of the largest audiences and production budgets in the company. By proving the system could work for such a large-scale event, Microsoft Digital could validate the platform’s tenancy and attendee bandwidth, and show that the integrated platform enables critical service management for executive-level, global events.
- Word-of-mouth conversations and brown-bag series evangelized the new service throughout Microsoft, followed by an announcement of general availability in March 2019.
As a result, Microsoft Digital was able to promote live event capabilities for a wide range of use cases to communication managers, event producers, and other potential users.
How MCB Radio increases corporate culture conversations with executive-level live events
MCB Radio, a 30-minute broadcast hosted by Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer Chris Caposella, has adopted the live event capabilities in Yammer and Microsoft Stream for the program’s live broadcast and content-sharing needs. In each broadcast, Caposella and his guests explore inclusion from different perspectives in an informal discussion on a topic that is important to the guest (Figure 2).
Launched in 2019 by the Marketing and Consumer Business organization at Microsoft, MCB Radio is open to the entire company. The live-broadcast format enables audiences to experience Microsoft’s growth mindset in action by:
- Creating a safe space for employees to have authentic, ongoing conversations about difficult topics not often discussed in the workplace.
- Reinforcing Microsoft’s core initiatives that emphasize how proximity can power empathy in the workplace.
Instead of hosting these conversations in a few large events throughout the year, the team realized they could use the new live event platform to facilitate these sensitive conversations in shorter, more frequent conversations. By using a live broadcast format and complementing it with high-quality video broadcast, Caposella’s team can share these conversations across the company for more meaningful impact.
Executive-level broadcast production
For each broadcast, the MCB Radio team works directly with a producer at Microsoft Studios to manage the live video radio broadcast. Figure 3 outlines how the MCB team initiates event coordination. The event production flows seamlessly from pre-event planning to post-broadcast sharing.
- For each event, the MCB Radio team collaborates with Microsoft Studios on a Microsoft Teams channel to discuss and coordinate needs like accessibility requirements, room signage, microphones, and the process for facilitating audience Q&A.
- The MCB team gathers pre-broadcast questions and notifies potential attendees of the upcoming broadcast using its subscriber opt-in list.
- Thirty minutes before a broadcast, the MCB team posts in its Yammer group, notifying attendees that the broadcast is about to start and calling for questions. It then offers the phone number that listeners can use to call in with live questions.
- During the live event, Caposella uses a Surface Pro to monitor the discussions and questions coming in real-time in the MCB Yammer group discussion, while alternating with presubmitted questions stored in a Microsoft OneNote.
- Throughout the broadcast, the event team uses its Microsoft Teams channel to monitor the video and audio broadcast, and queue up call-in questions.
- After the live broadcast, the video stream and audio transcript are available to the entire company within Microsoft Stream. The video link is published within the Yammer group, significantly broadening the reach of the broadcast and discussion.
- With transcription services, the MCB Radio team can also extract and share snippets of the conversation on social media channels. This enables guests and attendees to easily reshare the broadcast content, which increases the visibility of Microsoft’s inclusion efforts. In this format, the MCB team can greatly increase the shelf life and consumption of content beyond the live broadcast.
The MCB team can seamlessly work between Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Stream, and Yammer to host events that best serve its diverse audience for each unique broadcast. Each broadcast, although often discussing sensitive topics, can be made more consumable and approachable for a wider audience. With live events in Microsoft 365, the MCB Radio team was able to:
- Double participant engagement from the program’s previous Q&A format in just one year.
- Foster real-time, deep discussions around sensitive topics that matter to employees seeking a more inclusive workplace.
- Use high-quality video to complement audio recordings while retaining an intimate environment for personal conversations and, at the same time, reach a large audience.
- Extend the shelf life of broadcast content by making it easy for broadcasts to be distributed and reshared with all employees across Microsoft.
How the Microsoft Teamwork Champions community engages power users with self-start events
The Microsoft Teamwork Champions community helps evangelize the use and adoption of the Microsoft Teams product across the entire company. Administered and led by the Microsoft Digital team, the Teamwork Champions community nurtures product experts across departments through product training and monthly web meetings.
The Microsoft Teamwork Champions pilot program started in 2018 with 20 user champions. Today it has nearly 1,400 members throughout the company. A robust community forum hosted in Microsoft Teams (see Figure 4) offers these Champions turnkey product training programs, support, and ongoing dialogue around how to best implement and use Microsoft Teams within their organizations.
The Champions community’s program managers were also using Microsoft Teams to host monthly meetings for its members. However, the popularity of the Champions community rapidly outpaced Microsoft Teams’ 250-person attendee chat limit during Teams meetings. The community soon realized that it needed a new method to host events, facilitate live event communications, and support meetings in a way that would scale with the group.
Supporting a self-service community
With Microsoft 365’s live event capabilities, the program’s leaders realized they could complement the collaboration and communication tools in Microsoft Teams with the power of self-start events in Yammer to host the community’s monthly live meetings. Figure 5 demonstrates how the team balances live event engagement through Yammer with self-service event production.
To start, leaders created a private Yammer group where all communication around live broadcasts could occur. Although regular community engagement and communications are managed in Microsoft Teams, transitioning live event hosting to Yammer significantly increased Champions’ engagement around the community’s live broadcasts. Now, community leaders can manage live event broadcasts in the following manner:
- Monthly events are now scheduled within Yammer, allowing program leaders to instantly notify the private community’s Yammer group about upcoming broadcasts and remind members to add it to their calendars.
- Creating the Yammer event also creates a bridge to an environment for preproduction collaboration within the live events capabilities in Microsoft 365. There, leaders can invite others to begin collaborating for the broadcast, including members of the Microsoft Teams product group and any Champions who will have a speaking role during the meeting.
- When the event is live, the audience can access the webcast on Yammer, ask questions of presenters, and chat with other Champions within the Yammer feed.
- During the broadcast, moderators and presenters can also use a private chat to control presenter and producer tasks, manage content sharing, and monitor behind-the-scenes and live community chat to self-direct the flow of the meeting.
- After the broadcast, leaders can generate rapid video-sharing and content distribution directly to the Yammer group. Even community members who couldn’t attend the broadcast can access notes, recordings, and content from the event.
By using self-start events in Yammer, the Champions group improved its ability to support the Microsoft Teamwork Champions community’s highly interactive nature during its live broadcasts. Without attendee connectivity limits, live event broadcasts are now simple to create, join, and participate in, even as membership in the community grows.
Because Yammer and Microsoft Teams are part of the same platform, the Champions community team is able to:
- Increase the number of ways product champions could discover the Champions program. Champions can join the community through Microsoft Teams and a SharePoint site or find out about the program through the Yammer group.
- Move conversations between Yammer groups to easily direct conversations and widen knowledge-sharing.
- Foster free-flowing community discussions of product knowledge and best practices in real-time.
- Reduce the number of meetings and chats required to persistently share information, documents, and product knowledge.
- Gather deeper intelligence from Yammer conversations to continually iterate and improve product training and resources.
How the Worldwide Learning Studios team supports critical messaging and training with modern webinars
The Worldwide Learning Studios team at Microsoft provides critical support services to stakeholders who want to host webinars. A staff of 12 event producers manages the virtual-event logistics, infrastructure, and support for a variety of webcasts for many stakeholder groups. In particular, the group assists marketing and sales teams for partner and product-readiness training. Figure 6 takes a behind-the-scenes look at their support of a live event.
Because the group supports large events like in-person, all-hands town halls and virtual summits, they needed a platform that could directly reach and host different audience types.
Creating webinars for many audiences with Microsoft Teams
Due to Microsoft 365’s support of event video-streaming and desktop-sharing, the Worldwide Learning Studios team naturally transitioned to Microsoft Teams for its webinar support services. Instead of worrying about webinar logistics, stakeholders can craft messaging and share it with the right audiences with help from the team. Figure 7 demonstrates the numerous types of webinar support options that Worldwide Learning Studios can offer stakeholders. Internal support for webinars occurs in the following ways:
- A dedicated webinar event producer assigned to each requested event. The producer discusses webinar needs with the stakeholder, builds out the room for event collaboration in Microsoft Teams and schedules a webinar run-through, and manages invitations to the target audience.
- The producer sends invitations to the webinar’s target audience. Invitations can be obscured behind a shortened URL link, so if event details like date and time are changed in Microsoft Teams, new registration and attendance links do not have to be generated.
- No later than 30 minutes before the webinar, a technician gathers final webinar slide-deck content in Microsoft Teams. With Microsoft Teams, the webinar team doesn’t have to rely on internal drops and can upload files directly for collaboration and access.
- During the webinar, the Worldwide Learning Studios team manages the live audience experience in Microsoft Teams, including access, audio, questions, and more. Product demos, which used to require specialized equipment and a secondary computer, can now be handled with Microsoft Teams’ desktop-sharing options. If the webinar includes large-scale production needs, the producer will monitor the camera feeds in tandem with the deck content in one view.
- Within 48 hours of the broadcast, the event producer provides a recording to the stakeholder and the webinar audience. The recording can be posted to Microsoft Stream or hosted in a secure location with a shortened URL.
- The team can also create standalone segments from each event so stakeholders can provide quick replays and short, consumable clips of key event moments to their audience.
Because live webcasts are data- and process-driven projects, the Worldwide Learning Studios team can help stakeholders host impactful events that improve sales and product training, and improve readiness at a lower cost. Integrated webinar production, audience metrics, content sharing, and live monitoring all help support Microsoft’s “create once, use many” approach to employee training and messaging. With live events, the Worldwide Learning Studios team can:
- Offer a reliable, full-service webinar production environment for multiple types of broadcasts and allow stakeholders to run interactive webcasts to complement large-scale yearly productions.
- Support new kinds of engagements, such as 24-hour broadcasts and live-streamed all-hands meetings.
- Run higher-impact events for smaller budgets. New features like video-streaming within an event no longer require stakeholders to pay for additional services, fees, and support to include in their event.
- Reduce the amount of communication noise, emails, and effort that stakeholders need to invest to get internal broadcasts up and running.
- Serve geographically diverse audiences and enable global webinar participation from one platform.
Benefits of engaging employees with live events
Since live event capabilities were rolled out to the enterprise, the preference for an integrated events platform increased event participation and engagement across all event types and production budgets.
- Event participants can fully engage with each other and event producers. A one-to-many interaction has been transformed into enriched, multifaceted discussions among employees and event hosts, with multiple options for participation.
- Event producers can run the right events for their budget, audience, and event topics. An employee community can be fostered without a big budget or fancy equipment. Every user is empowered to achieve increased employee engagement, and easily provide and share the content that’s right for their audience needs.
- Fewer IT systems that need to be licensed and supported to launch and distribute live broadcasts. By consolidating video streaming, chat, and event management into the Microsoft 365 platform, higher-quality live event capabilities can be made available to event producers of all budget sizes with much lower overhead.
- Frictionless event management improves event success. With one integrated event platform, event producers can work in a frictionless environment that enables content to flow easily from planning to live presentation to post-event follow up.
- Video-on-demand sharing, closed-caption editing, and selective video segmentation supports post-event engagement. By providing producers with the option to easily turn live event content into short, consumable clips, the shelf life of content can be extended and event viewers (especially those who missed the live event) can immediately rewatch, share, and discuss key moments.
By deploying live events across these many use cases, Microsoft Digital found that providing multiple methods of interactions ultimately enabled employees to feel more connected and engaged with corporate initiatives. The team learned that:
- Employees want to engage with live events beyond simply watching or listening to broadcasts. Once event-based conversations moved to Yammer, employees had access to embedded communication and video streaming. By providing multiple options for audience engagement, like Q&A formats, Yammer threads, and Microsoft Teams chat, live events became more dynamic and interactive.
- Event producers, especially for executive-level events, must be able to rely on system tenancy and performance to host events. Poor video-streaming quality, discontinuous broadcasts, and joining issues affect audience participation and must be tested at scale for large audiences prior to deployment.
- Pre- and post-event engagement is just as critical to event success as live event tenancy. Reinforcing corporate goals, employee engagement and concerns, and more is a revolving conversation that requires event tools that can support engagement at all times.
- Providing event producers and participants with options to gauge the response to new capabilities is paramount to effective change management. Allowing event producers to choose the technologies that work best for their events increased the success of the solution deployment and user adoption.
- Real-time and post-event monitoring were essential to optimizing the product backend. Receiving real-time information about the live-broadcast quality for thousands of viewers across the globe helped the Microsoft Digital team ensure a consistent, reliable experience for all types of live events and prove that Microsoft 365 could handle large, dispersed audiences. In-depth reporting on audience attendance and audio and video usage helped event managers prove the value of their broadcasts. It also helped them continually iterate on the content and formats they use to communicate with their audiences.
Future live event capabilities
Microsoft Digital is continually gathering feedback from users to create even more meaningful live event capabilities, including:
- A service to facilitate pre-event registration capabilities.
- Improvements to automated closed-captioning transcription and translation.
- The ability to create live events directly in Microsoft Teams channels.
- The ability to stream external encoder events to external users.
- For organizations using only Microsoft Teams, the ability to post questions or comments before the broadcast directly in Microsoft Teams.
- Deeper third-party AI integration for even better real-time live event insights and reporting.
- The ability for external guests and federated users to access, view, and participate—even present—in live events.
- A PSTN dial-in that will enable external users to join video broadcasts from a phone.
Expanding the possibilities of modern employee engagement
Integrated live events capabilities in Microsoft 365 helps build communities and drive employee engagement by expanding the types of live corporate events that are possible at all levels. From executive broadcasts to radio programs to recurring product training, live events in Microsoft 365 keeps communities engaged across boundaries in real-time and as conversations evolve. The result is an informed and more connected workforce that feels deeply engaged with their corporate environment and included in company initiatives.
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