Keynote VJing… Supporting Spoken Word Events With Live Mixed Visuals

Last weekend, I was at the Bestival… Whilst a lot of big festival acts tour with their own video production support, the Bestival main stage this year was complemented by VJ support from Each year I return from the Bestival thinking that I really should have a play with some VJ software to support an “academic” presentation, half bouncing the idea of those radical presenters that are Brian Lamb, Scott Leslie, Jim Groom and Alan Levine, but never really chasing the idea down. But this year? This year I have an inkling for one way of how it might work… in support of opening and closing keynotes…*.

* or maybe as a way of making the backchannel a more effective complement to what a presenter is saying?

(Here’s another example: Travel Trip. Just imagine a few words/phrases ghosted in there as well… It also shows how video may play a role in the visuals… Note to self: find a better example, one that seems to tell some sort of ‘academic’ relevant story…)

For at least a couple of years now, I’ve been a fan of using as few words as possible on Powerpoint slides, preferring instead to go for one or two words, or just a single strong image, inspired by presenters such as Lawrence Lessig, as well as the Presentation Zen approach. (Closer to home, I’ve also see Martin Weller, Andy Powell and Mike Ellis all use a similar style). So when I was reminded – following a boisterous backchannel for the opening keynote at ALTC2010 – that an effective opening keynote may be one that gets emotions going, a couple of things fell into place…

Firstly, VJ presentations are about provoking some sort of emotional response through visual representations that complement the music. Secondly, if a keynote is not so much about communicating information as inspiring an audience, that is, motivating an emotional response, then it doesn’t need wordy slides… Which is to say – maybe we could get away with supporting a keynote with a VJ set prepared in close collaboration with the presenter that uses visuals (slogans, images, maybe even video) that the VJ drops in at the appropriate times to complement what the speaker is saying, rather than the speaker religiously following a fixed slide deck. (I’m often struck by how compelling talks can be that don’t make use of any visual support, as well as how simple, strong graphics and one slides can be far more effective at communicating key points than traditional DBP slides…;-)

VJ mixes might also be appropriate for a closing keynote, particularly where the speaker is (at least in part) summarising key points that have been raised throughout the conference. In this case, the VJ may be able to draw on images and slides already presented during the event (another good reason for using openly licensed images that supporting remixing in your presentations;-), as well as photos and videos captured during it.

So – are there any conference organisers out there interested in finding a willing keynote and a skilled “spoken word”-savvy VJ and who fancy giving this approach a go? (Or failing that, is there an organiser who’d be willing to experiment with a VJ moderated backchannel display somewhere?) Or if you know of a conference that has tried this: where, when and how did it go?

Hmm – I wonder – are there any VJs out there who do make a habit out of supporting spoken word events?

PS I was motivated to write this after posting a comment on The Cognitive Surplus of a conference revisited. As Paul Lowe suggested in response, a couple of people may well be required. In the first case, the VJ would need to prepare their side of the presentation in close consultation with the speaker (and a rehearsal or two may even be required!). Secondly, it might also be handy to have someone on hand capturing quotes and keyphrases, maybe even backchannel comments, and feeding these as raw resources for the VJ to mix in to the visuals.

Many conferences have experimented with a simple twitterwall backchannel – but how much more engaging – and complementary of what the speaker is saying – of this was moderated by a skilled VJ?

PPS I also wonder whether a short VJ mix might be an interesting medium for an exercise in @jimgroom’s Digital Storytelling class…?