In order to pick the optimum camera location, check with event producers to find out where the speaker(s) will be during the presentation. Also check to see if there will be a single speaker or a team, whether the speakers will present from a podium or other fixed location or will be moving around, and if they will be using visual aids (projections or props). In most cases, the back of the room is preferable, but the physical layout or seating may prevent that. Plan ahead, and do a site walk-through. Get a program of events (if available) or an outline from the client. Check for obstructions, especially from the audience (if it's a commercial client, there are no excuses).
If you are shooting a talking head-type presentation, where a single presenter is just speaking without any significant movement, you shouldn't have any problems with light, but if there is more than one presenter or if the presentation is of the "show and tell" variety, then you could face issues. The biggest "if" is projection. Depending on the overall budget of your project, you may want to procure the PowerPoint or video that will be used, so you can insert the content into your final product in post. This will provide a cleaner look than shooting a projection screen would.
For low-budget, single-camera production, moving back and forth between the speaker (who's usually not very well lit) and a projection screen can pose some problems. It's generally better to concentrate on the screen, rather than panning back and forth between the face and screen. With the latter, not only will there be the iris issue (lighting), but you'll also have focusing troubles. There is nothing worse than having two elements of the picture "hunting." With two cameras, you can have one free-run recording the screen and use the other getting varied shots of the presenter (the speaker may move but the screen won't), then edit it in post. You could also ask to have the lighting for the speaker increased or possibly provide your own.
Regarding audio, depending on the level of the production (e.g., small room versus corporate/conference), circumstances may vary from no sound reinforcement to multiple mics and wireless systems. Regardless, plan on using your own audio pickup. I like to use my own podium mic, or—if I have a roving speaker—a wireless on the presenter. Tie-ins to house systems are great, but don't count on one, especially in hotels. Most hotel systems are designed to provide speaker output feeds only and are hardwired. You could use a mic splitter to feed to your audio input. An audio mixer is also a necessity, providing a variety of inputs to compensate for whatever is thrown at you.
When editing, the amount of time you spend on the speaker instead of the screen depends on content. In most cases, the screen will be providing most, if not all, of the information, so that takes precedence. You can still hear the presenter, but seeing his or her face is not paramount. The presenter is most important during the opening and closing. If you have a second camera, you can also use it for some B-roll footage—audience reaction, participation, and so on. Make sure you log the shots. B-roll is there to add variety to the presentation, so you really don't have to match your cameras.
Many of these videos will only be used for reference, so find out what the ultimate use of the recording will be and edit accordingly. If it will be used for anything other than archiving, edit it tight: eliminate pauses and walks to shorten the time spent watching it, use cutaways, and alternate between the screen and presenter. In short, try to make it more interesting—if there's room in your budget.
For those of you using miniDV, either coordinate with the presenter or producers for tape changes, or better yet, use a hard drive recording system or Serious Magic DV Rack for continuous recording. Not only will this reduce your headaches (timing tape changes), but it will also eliminate capture time in post. DV Rack is also perfectly suited for these types of events with in-line image correction, the use of the laptop's larger screen as your viewfinder, and several hours (using the computer's hard drive) of continuous capture.
Be sure to get the names (and correct spellings) of all the participants for on-screen recognition. Here you can go with lower thirds or simple text. Below the name, add the speaker's title; don't assume that all viewers of the video will know the speaker. You can use the name more than once, but (depending on the length of the presentation) don't go overboard.
These shoots are not hard but can be boring, depending on the subject. On the positive side, they can be lucrative. One way to enter this niche market is to talk to hotel meeting organizers, who almost always go outside for video. Some hotels have contracts with full-service AV companies, so don't be discouraged if some say, "We already have someone to do that." Contact smaller venues that regularly hold these type of events, too; who knows, you may even get some other bookings at the same time.
Ed Wardyga, owner of Keepsake Video and KVI Media in Rhode Island, has been producing event video since 1989, specializing in stage productions. He runs the website www.thegadgetbag.net and is the recipient of the WEVA Walter Bennett Service to the Industry Award.