First Online Award Ceremony in Russia
Russia was the first EUSTORY Network Member to develop a digital format for their history competition’s award ceremony that had to be cancelled due to restrictions caused by the Corona pandemic – a challenging experience with some unexpected outcomes.
In spring 2020, MEMORIAL faced the task to organise the finale of another very successful competition round: 1,501 students from 71 regions in Russia had handed in 1,332 research works. As an alternative to a joint award ceremony together with prizewinners, tutors and supporters that was planned in Moscow on 28 April 2020, MEMORIAL instead broadcasted a one-hour video, launched a special website and opened live interactive communication channels for prizewinners, parents, tutors, supporters, partners and visitors on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram on the very moment of the originally planned event. In preparation of the digital event, MEMORIAL had asked the prizewinners to prepare short videos with their smartphones in which they introduce themselves and their work. Those short films became the basis for the ceremony’s video. Two filmmakers edited the videos of 46 prizewinners, inserted additional documents and photos used in the entries and produced video interviews with the jury members. A cartoon drawer worked on figures and designs, a technical engineer provided broadcasting, a PR manager disseminated information online and offline, while a team of competition organisers stayed in close contact with the prizewinners and coordinated the whole process.
The video that was finally published presents different elements of previous Russian award ceremonies to an online audience: After the introductory words given by the competition organiser Irina Sherbakova, the jury members Nikolai Svanidze and Nikita Sokolov as well as the chair of jury, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, congratulated the winners. This is followed by video messages from the prizewinners in which they introduced themselves and presented their works. In an accompanying online chat on YouTube, numerous viewers from all over Russia and several other European countries commented on the event.
Lyubov Grishina (LG), coordinator of the competition, and Natalia Josef (NJ), filmmaker and camerawoman, were both intensively involved in the preparation and implementation of the new format. In an interview with Inka Siuts, Programme Manager at EUSTORY’s International Office, they reflect their experiences with the new online format.
What were the main challenges and difficulties during the preparation phase of the digital event?
LG: One of the main difficulty was the lack of proper internet connections. We faced some troubles with the telephone connections, too. Sometimes we tried to get in contact with prizewinners for several times without success. The teachers of those students helped us a lot. One teacher walked to the next village to inform her student that she is one of the prizewinners! Not everyone had a good camera, not everyone understood the technical demands that we sent in advance. Often, students had to record their videos again.
NJ: Yes, I agree, the greatest challenges we had were technical ones. We sent a manual with technical recommendations and devices regarding video productions to the students. For instance, we asked to take a horizontal picture, pay attention to the sound, the light and any details in the background. Also, we asked for additional visuals, such as photos and documents, to include into the video later on. We also asked to send photos of the prizewinners’ homes and home towns to show the geographical coverage of the competition.
Nevertheless, the videos of the students were recorded with different equipment and smartphones, and then sent to us in various formats with varying codecs. We had to reconvert the fragments. The introduction of the participants and their entries in the final video lasts 40 minutes. We needed to cut all fragments and find the best order, e.g. to avoid repetition and boredom. Frankly speaking, it was a lot of work to do in a limited time.
What should one pay attention to when using live chat?
NJ: I was responsible for broadcasting the video on YouTube. I downloaded the video to the platform in advance and marked the date and time of the premiere. Five minutes before the broadcast started, I opened the chat asking where our audience is from. This question launched the dialogue. It was important to intensively support the conversation during the broadcast, e.g. to answer questions, to post interesting facts about the competition, such as the number of entries and participants, or the prizes such as university scholarships. One needs to be aware of the fact that the YouTube chat restricts the number of characters you can type, so you might need to reduce your written messages.
LG: We did not expect to receive that many questions on “formal issues” of the competition in the chat. People asked, for instance, when exactly we would send the certificates or what it means that their work got to the second level of evaluation. The person who supervises the chat needs to be very well informed and it might be advisable to prepare a manual. However, it seems that all together we managed to answer all the questions soon enough.
Where do you see the most significant advantage and disadvantage of a digital format compared to a physical one?
LG: Of course, you cannot compare the digital ceremony with the physical, offline one. Travelling to the award ceremony is an important personal event for many of our prizewinners. Many of them were upset when they learnt that we had to postpone this travel. The significant advantage is that a large number of people saw the ceremony. We have more than 1,200 views by now. An offline ceremony reaches around 250 spectators. Many people who were not interested in our competition before have watched the ceremony. This is a big advantage. Some of our prizewinners told us that their parents even took a day off at work to have a chance to watch the ceremony live with their family.
NJ: I agree with Lyubov that the ceremony was very successful. We have even started to think of combined formats for the next years. The physical ceremony is absolutely valuable for the prizewinners, but it would definitely add an additional value if we could complement it with an online format. Thus, e.g. parents, teachers and friends of our prizewinners who usually don’t come to the ceremony in Moscow, could participate and join the ceremony at least virtually. So, it’s a good question how we can develop this experience in the future!
Further details (all in Russian language)