KILL me now. Content Version Control at Creative Events

KILL ME NOW!  Version control is the greatest challenge, nightmare and headache for content developers & your creative events team. Save yourself.  Great creative events demand executive speaker coaching and content development. Newest installment of 15-part White Paper series on BIG creative events production.

Let’s review. In our last installment on surviving the content development process we discussed how to make your creative events speaker content more interesting and effective, now let’s make sure the right version gets to the stage. Has this ever happened to you? 

Executive Speaker: Here’s my latest draft for you, draft six.

Content Developer: That’s not possible, actually, we’re on draft eight now – didn’t you get the last two revised drafts that I sent you?

Executive Speaker: Well, I renamed one of the drafts that I thought had been mistakenly named, and sent it around to my team to review. Then I’m not sure what happened.

Content Developer: So … your team is reviewing an older draft that you renamed as a newer draft? 

Executive Speaker: I thought I was being proactive.

***

OUCH!  Version control is the greatest challenge, nightmare and headache for creative events content developers and your team of events professionals. It takes a sharp mind and the patience of Job to coordinate feedback from multiple sources, track each change, and update the document names that critically differentiates the drafts—not to mention the distribution process.

Project management applications such as Basecamp and Google Drive have made version control a little easier, by making it possible to post all drafts on a single, designated page. I find the excessive detail supplied by BaseCamp overwhelming however.  But, even with these tracking tools, there is a learning curve and the potential for human error is no less present. And, the danger of periodic stress-related meltdown by all parties a real possibility.

DropBox: We have found that a simple solution is to establish one centralized DropBox account with multiple speaker folders. Instead of emailing anything, it becomes the speakers’ responsibility to post their latest and greatest for anyone on the team to access and download. And, when the content review team is done with their magic, they re-post the speech with a new name back up to DropBox. Now, I will tell you that some IT departments frown on the use of DropBox due to the expansive nature of how it duplicates data of their servers. But, there are other solutions too. Citrix (the GoToMeeting people) offer an enterprise-level, more secure, cloud-based centralized storage solution like DropBox that allows large files to be sent securely right through Outlook. I mean LARGE files. This is great for those beefy PowerPoint files with the heavy graphics that round out to about 250 megabytes. This enables the executive to merely send it though their Outlook like a normal email. And, it keeps each executive from having to become a DroxBox user. However, the downside is that each executive needs a registered seat of the online Citrix online software. Still, for certain highly sensitive projects where data security is a must, this is a better solution than DropBox.

Eliminate Drama:  Decide to eliminate unnecessary drama at your event. I mean just say NO to taking on the additional stress that version control ultimately creates. How? Establish a tight, formal process for writing, posting, collecting and updating draft submissions. And when we mean tight, we mean it squeaks. Make sure that everybody who will write or review a draft understands the process and has made a commitment to conform to the designated standards. Make one person, and only one, responsible to make changes and post or distribute the revisions to the entire team.

Yes. Yes. Yes. But, what about Mr. Big who always does it his way and only his way! Well, how many Mr. Big’s can there be? If there is one exception to the rule, OK. But, he or she better be the one responsible for signing everyone’s checks for such dispensation from a process that will ultimately save lives. I mean I have seen macabre scenes played out the day of an event usually after everything has been loaded onto teleprompter and the lights are on. You’ve been there, I know you have!  The executive standing at the podium in his pink golf shirt waiting to head out to tee off at the hotel golf course the day before the event while at his only 1 hour rehearsal slot. And, all the wrong damn content is now scrolling before his eyes. The only tee off, is the one directed at you. It makes my skin crawl just to think of it.  “What do you meeeeeeaaaaaan you can’t find my latest draft? I finished it last week before I left for my trip to the Galapagos!”

NO "Final" Copy: Resist the temptation to name any document “final”—unless it’s really final. If there are additional “final” drafts be sure to have a clear coding system to distinguish between them, such as “CEO remarks_Final_A_June 1.” As there could be many drafts of the same script generated in a single day (particularly nearer the event), It’s also a good idea to include the time of day, as in “CEO remarks_Final_K_June 1_10am,” because, productions being what they are you’ll probably need to create another version at 10:05! KILL ME NOW.

The Show Book: In most big creative events, a “show book” is put together one week or so before the show. The show book contains the show schedule, meal times, crew calls, team contact information … and, all of the speaker outlines or scripts, slide printouts, and MC introductions and announcements. The show book contains the latest version of everything and is used to anticipate the cues for lighting, cameras, music, and presenters. It is the freakin’ BIBLE for the executive producer, events manager, content developer, and crew members—especially teleprompter operators, when applicable.

The necessity of version control was famously demonstrated in 1993 on a political stage.  At the start of President Clinton’s live address to Congress, an older version of his speech appeared on the teleprompter. Catching the error, Clinton winged it masterfully for about seven minutes, while his aides presumably fought off heart attacks searching for the final draft. Clinton surely was the best person you could have winging anything.

In an unrelated, but another Washington DC story worth mentioning, I was told by an insider in the Regan administration, that Ronnie hated electronic teleprompters, (didn’t trust ‘em), and would only use older sheet fed teleprompters where you actually had a TV camera filming a sheet of paper and projecting it on a presidential glass. He liked large sections of this speech seen on one page.  Once I was told on that on national television, a page was fed into the teleprompter UPSIDE-DOWN. Without flinching, I was told that Ronnie read it without so much as a hic-up. Maybe it’s legend, but, I’m pretty sure that it’s possible.

Now, let’s get back to the show book. At articulate creative communications, we have learned to always expect the unexpected. So, expect the show book to change frequently in the days leading up to the show and quite likely on the show day itself. The content developer and the creative events team will typically be seen onsite running the latest replacement pages to the various show book owners, so that everyone is literally on the same page.

So … let’s review:

1.    Centralized version tracking software or solution

2.    No drama. Get an organizational structure in place early

3.    Hold back on “Final Version”

4.    Anal retentive file naming only

5.    Show Book is God and expect it to change until the word “Places” is announced

(c) 2014 All Rights Reserved, Articulate Creative Communications

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