How Microsoft moved its large meetings online with live events in Microsoft 365

Apr 8, 2020   |  

When it became clear that Microsoft was going to ask its employees to work remotely, Kimberly Nafziger knew she would need to move quickly.

She was organizing an in-person, all-hands meeting for the 5,500 employees in Microsoft’s Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO) division. A large room was secured, a film crew was ready to broadcast to those who would attend remotely, and breakfast was ordered for those who would be there in person. The “Ask Me Anything” meeting with Kurt DelBene, executive vice president of Corporate Strategy and CSEO, was set to occur the next day.

Then DelBene decided to convert the meeting to online, out of an abundance of caution over the worsening COVID-19 situation.

“At 1:00 PM on Monday, March 2, we made the decision to make the meeting virtual,” Nafziger says. The changeover was completed in just hours, she says, explaining that it wasn’t that difficult because the meeting was already scheduled to be broadcast on Microsoft’s large meeting platform, live events in Microsoft 365. “We were ready to go by Tuesday, at 9:00 AM, when the meeting was scheduled to start.”

Leaders at Microsoft use live events in Microsoft 365 to run large internal and external meetings with connected video streaming, conversations, and content sharing. Depending on their needs, the meeting host can choose between simple do-it-yourself events using Microsoft Teams or Yammer, to large-scale professional events using Yammer or Microsoft Stream. The live events capabilities are available to all customers—go here to learn more about how to select the right live event experience for your event.

Like many Microsoft products and services, live events in Microsoft 365 enable company employees to stay connected as they work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re not working from home in isolation,” says Andrew Wilson, Microsoft’s chief digital officer and corporate vice president of Core Services Engineering (CSE). “This is about our digital platforms empowering us to make human connections at a time when coming together and supporting each other is super important—it’s allowing us to be a fluid workforce that is staying productive in tough circumstances.”

Wilson says Microsoft leaders are using live events and other company technology to support their teams.

“There is an absolute need for leaders to be accessible, social, interactive, and communicative during times like these,” he says. “Even if there wasn’t a crisis, using technology to stay connected with your employees is a table-stakes requirement for any leader to be effective today.”

As for DelBene’s “Ask Me Anything” meeting?

“At first, it felt like a scary decision to go all virtual because there were a lot of logistics that needed to come together, but it went very well,” Nafziger says. “Having the meeting already set up to leverage the live events capabilities was pivotal.”

She says DelBene and his leadership team gathered in the conference room because the video crew was already set up to shoot there.

“We had all of our speakers attend in person,” she says, explaining that Microsoft had not yet made the decision to have all non-essential employees work remotely. “They did great even though there wasn’t an audience in the room.”

Nafziger says it ended up being the largest online audience they ever had for DelBene’s “Ask Me Anything” meeting. Additionally, the virtual attendees weren’t shy—they used Yammer’s conversation feature to ask DelBene, Wilson, and the rest of the leadership team questions about how the company was responding to COVID-19.

“Using Yammer allowed us to draw our employees into the meeting,” Nafziger says. “They could see each other’s questions and comments pop up while watching the presentation. It was fun to see them answering questions and engaging with each other even though we were all in separate locations.”

To include the audience even more, the team appointed a moderator to read questions coming through on Yammer to DelBene and his leadership team. The moderator sparked the conversation with pre-submitted questions and then switched to live questions as they appeared on the Yammer feed.

After the event, the video was automatically published in Stream as an on-demand recording. “We posted the recording to our organization’s SharePoint site for employees to watch at their convenience,” Nafziger says.

Usage of live events has spiked across Microsoft as the entire company has moved exclusively to remote working. No matter the scale of the meeting, leaders are using it to replicate the human connection that happens when they meet with their teams in person.

That was certainly true for the Field Engagement and Delivery (FED) and Global Support teams, which count on its in-person global meeting held every two years to bring together its 258 employees across 46 countries and 80 cities.

D’Almeida, Deverson, and Liu pose for the camera, with D’Almeida and Liu both wearing original 'Micro-Soft' tee shirts.
Jason William D’Almeida (left), Belinda Deverson, and David James Liu share what the scene was in Sydney during their team’s “virtual” global meeting. Team members shared photos and videos from their home offices during the meeting that brought together 258 employees from 46 countries and 80 cities.

“Our teams are very dispersed across the globe,” says Belinda Deverson, from Global Support based in Sydney, Australia. “We all look forward to this conference to connect with each other in person.”

Due to COVID-19, the team made the tough decision to switch to a virtual-only meeting just days before it was scheduled to start. They used the live events capabilities to broadcast the leadership team’s presentation to everyone at all their dispersed locations and used Microsoft Teams and Yammer to engage with their team members.

“On February 19, our leadership team sent an email announcing that we were moving to a virtual conference,” Deverson says. “We made the change in five business days.”

It was a change that required coordination by many people in many different countries and time zones. The leadership team made the decision to make their presentations at two different times so that employees could watch it live at a time that was convenient for them. Additionally, smaller groups of employees met via a series of Microsoft Teams meetings to reconnect, bond, and participate in fun team-building exercises.

“Shifting to virtual still felt inclusive because we were interacting together in the moment,” says Deverson. Being intentional about connecting with each other and making sure everyone’s cameras were on helped. “Even though we were thousands of miles away from each other, we were able to use our technology to create a collaborative and productive virtual environment while building a stronger community.”

[Read this case study on how Microsoft uses live events in Microsoft 365.]

Interest in live events is spiking

“At times like these, you need to be pumping out your readiness material,” says Eva Etchells, a business program manager in CSEO who shows employees how to get the most out of using Microsoft 365 products. “We have been pulling together all our existing content and combining it in new ways to reflect the new remote working world that we are in,” she says.

Microsoft customers are facing the same situation as Microsoft employees. They need to connect with colleagues who suddenly feel disconnected and isolated.

“Just like us, they’re trying to figure it out, and they find it really useful to see how we’re doing it here at Microsoft,” says Alex Vo, a senior services engineer in CSEO who shows external companies how Microsoft uses live events in Microsoft 365. “A lot of them are heavy users of Microsoft 365 who are using our older product, Skype Meeting Broadcast. They want us to tell them what they’ll get out of upgrading to live events in Microsoft 365.”

Vo is hearing from a variety of customers. Some have large offices of people that are used to working together and are now working from home, and others have small teams of employees dispersed across the country and the world.

“In both cases, they want to have better engagement with their employees,” Vo says.

Most companies he talks to have just a few people who are responsible for figuring out how to run the remote meetings, who their companies are suddenly relying on.

“They want high-end, production-quality video so that they can get their people to participate. But their budgets are tight, so they’re looking for something that doesn’t cost a lot of money,” he says. “They also want to know how hard it is to set up and how to get started.”

Vo walks them through how Microsoft uses live events and lets them know that it’s something that they likely already have or can easily add to their Microsoft 365 subscription. He also connects them with product group managers like Ashwin Appiah and Kasia Krzoska, who show customers how to use live events (Appiah from the point of view of Microsoft Teams, and Krzoska with a focus on Yammer).

Both Appiah and Krzoska say interest in the live events capabilities has surged, with many customers asking how to run their own events. They, like Vo, say the way Microsoft is using the product really helps them show customers what it can do.

“It’s really great to see, during times of crisis, how well everyone at Microsoft has been able to transition from an offline or hybrid experience to working exclusively online,” Appiah says. “We have provided tools for them to do that, but they are the ones who are running with it and making it work.”

Krzoska agrees, saying it’s great to see Microsoft employees use these tools to get work done during the crisis, but it’s even more impressive how they’re supporting each other on a human level.

“This just shows what a great company culture we have,” she says. “What has been remarkable is seeing how employees are using our products to cultivate togetherness and keep their conversations going.”

How to use live events in Microsoft 365

CSEO uses live events in Microsoft 365 to create, run, and share events of different types, audiences, and budgets, says Frank Delia, a senior program manager in CSEO. Those range from global all-hands meetings with thousands of participants to team meeting-style webinars that are too big to be a regular Microsoft Teams meeting.

“This is how our leaders from around the company connect with their people,” Delia says. “It’s how they drive employee engagement, share information, and get feedback.”

So how do live events work?

Depending on the needs of the event, Microsoft Teams, Stream, and Yammer work together to create an event. But it goes beyond that, Delia says. They all combine audio and video and have recordings available in Stream. Here’s how they each contribute:

  • Microsoft Teams events allow for external attendees and moderated Q&A, relying on a seamless event-production environment that provides screen sharing and video without the need for third-party apps or services.
  • Stream brings video streaming that works live and on-demand on many different viewers and devices. It includes video recording, automatic transcription, closed captioning, rich-text video search, and segment broadcast clips that work across all live events in Microsoft 365. You can also embed Stream into a SharePoint site.
  • Yammer brings rich conversations and a dedicated event page to drive engagement before, during, and after the event. You can produce events hosted in Yammer using Microsoft Teams or with a third-party encoder, but the events are not available to external attendees.

Microsoft uses Yammer for company town halls that require open discussion, Microsoft Teams for one-to-many scenarios and events with partners and customers, and Stream for events that will be embedded and viewed on the company intranet.

When high-end video production is needed, live events in Yammer and Stream can connect to a third-party encoder, which gives event managers and production teams more tools to manage the meeting broadcast. These tools range from managing video quality, to choosing what to show their audience, to producing the flow of the presentation.

Delia says that leaders across Microsoft are clearly using live events much more—usage has gone up by about 300 percent—now that most employees are working remotely. “It’s really holding up well,” he says. “It’s teaching us a lot about what we can do when it comes to remote working.”

Microsoft is learning from the recent uptick in usage and is working hard to add features and additional scalability to support larger events, including a new live events resource site dedicated to helping customers understand how to host and manage live events, Appiah says.

“We think we can learn from this,” he says. “We can learn how to build a better product.”

Launching live events in Microsoft 365

Get a primer on getting started on live events.

Watch this live events primer video.

Go here to get a detailed overview of live events.

Get assistance running your live event.

Go here for a primer on how admins can get started with both Microsoft Teams and live events meetings.

Here are additional resources to learn more about how Microsoft uses live events internally:

Read this case study on how Microsoft uses live events in Microsoft 365.

Chasing the sun with live events in Microsoft Teams.

IT expert roundtable: Migrating to live events in Microsoft 365 from Skype Meeting Broadcast.

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