As a touring musician and speaker, Peter Katz was affected more than most by the arrival of the coronavirus earlier this year. The subsequent shutdown of live events meant cancelled gigs and postponed engagements, but he decided to pivot and find ways to change with the moment.
Since March, he’s been busy with numerous virtual engagements—including a recent event where he performed and spoke for the House of Commons—connecting with audiences remotely, and learning how to make the most of video presentations. Eager to share some of the knowledge he’s picked up along the way, Peter put together a video (linked below) that offers a quick crash course on many of the important technical and logistical elements of presenting virtually. We reached out to Peter to chat more about his experiences of going virtual and adapting to the new format.
Prior to the pandemic, did you ever had much interest in doing virtual events, whether in terms of speaking or with your music? Had you done many virtual engagements before?
No. I had been part of a few video networking events before, but I was just there as a participant. It was mainly a tool for meeting with people, not to give keynotes or perform concerts or anything like that. I’ve always loved being in the room with people. That’s kinda why I signed up to do what I do!
Things changed very quickly in the spring. I did my last in-person event on March 12, for RBC, and right before my presentation the person introducing me had to make an announcement that someone on the same floor where they all worked had been sent home with a suspected COVID case. That was my introduction!
The next night, I think, the NBA was cancelled and everything changed. I very quickly saw [most events] disappear, and I thought “I need to do something right away.” I bought my camera March 14 and I immediately wanted to try to create something that wasn’t just a lesser version of the in-person events. I actually have my degree in theatre, and we would study theatre performance vs. film performance. It can be a mistake to try to be a stage actor on film—it’s way too much—and it can be a mistake to be a film actor on stage—because it’s way too little. So, I thought, “This is a new medium. How can I create something that’s going to be great in this medium?”
I saw people right away doing things like people going online and singing into their iPhones with terrible audio and grainy video, and I thought, there’s no way that will be sustainable. People wouldn’t like it. So, first and foremost I started with audio because obviously I’m a musician and I wanted that to be good. I locked myself in the room I’m talking to you from and, I’m not kidding, I spent three weeks figuring it out. I had to just figure out platforms and audio interfaces, really just learning, learning, learning so that I could have great audio and video. And I emerged on the other side of that with a product that people were telling me was comparable to the quality of Netflix or something like that. It’s been off to the races ever since. The other day I hit the mark of reaching over 25,000 people virtually since this all started.
So, it was not something that I ever intended, but there’s been a lot that it allows because it is its own medium. There are things that I’m able to do in the virtual realm that are special and that you can’t really do in-person. Utilizing the chat for example—you could never get feedback from so many people live, all at once like that.
All that is to say, that I’ve embraced the medium and I’ve tried to highlight the aspects of it that are unique to it, and come up with ways to make it a special experience.
I think that’s an interesting approach, and highlighting the advantages of the medium is a positive idea. I know that I’ve heard from some people that virtual/video events offer improved accessibility for audiences for example. They can hear better, see better, make sure they have a chance to have their questions heard. I think that’s a big thing.
Yeah, and I think that it’s important to move ourselves away from comparing it to the in-person event. You would never compare going to see a Broadway musical live to watching a video on YouTube. But you can have an amazing YouTube video and you can have an amazing live theatre experience. We have to accept virtual for what it is and within that create a great experience. Part of why I wanted to make this video, and some other content I’ve made for musicians and speakers, is that I’ve been on a mission to be an advocate for the value you can achieve in this new setting. I’ve been overwhelmed with people’s feedback from the virtual format, so I want to help speakers and meeting planners and people in this world to create great things. There are things that you can do with it to make it a high value and a high impact experience. It can be something that people look forward to and genuinely enjoy.
Peter Katz is a JUNO Award and Canadian Screen Award-nominated singer-songwriter who has spent the past 15 years touring internationally, sharing the stage and studio with legendary musicians and releasing five albums. A gifted storyteller, Peter infuses his presentations with songs which inspire audiences to create their own path, overcome obstacles, and find success in whatever they desire.