8 Tips for a Great Live Stream at your Zoo, Aquarium, or Museum

“Going live” is an exciting but unnerving experience, especially for a beginner.  A live stream on a museum or zoo social media platform is a great tool to educate viewers and reach potential new members.
As a wildlife and conservation education specialist, I would like to give your team some helpful tips on how to create an engaging live stream for your zoo, aquarium, or museum fans. Trust me, after 5 years of doing live broadcasts for zoos, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and CuriosityStream, I have had my fair share of lost connections, long-winded answers, stubborn animals, and ugly backgrounds. Just enough to, well, write a blog on. I believe the tips below will help you make a fantastic impression on your fans.
1. Connection- First and foremost, test your live video first by using the “Only Me,” Privacy setting. If it seems like a good connection, go for it! If not, find a new location or invest in an internet booster. I have tried to do live streams in the penguin exhibit at Omaha’s Zoo to the Masai Mara; You may have a rad animal or exhibit to show off but if you have a poor connection, your viewers will drop like flies.
2. Stabilize – Don’t make your audience throw up and scroll up because of a shaky camera; Invest in a tripod, gimbal, or stabilizer for your camera or phone. I will never forget the day I did a live stream on a boat without a stabilizer and a National Geographic filmmaker said she had to immediately click off because I made her sick; I was mortified. From that point on, I try to always use something to stabilize the camera. Quick tip, if you’re live broadcasting from your phone, rest it against something (a cup, the wall, a stack of books) and, if you need to move, try holding the phone with two hands for a slightly less-shaky video.
3. Mic-check – Having good audio can make or break ya. Pick a quiet place and try to turn off all radios, fountains, heaters, faucets, hoses, and electronics (microphones love to pick up high-pitch sounds) before pushing the, “live” button. Only have the necessary people in the room; not only does this prevent coughs or laughs but it also helps the host focus. I recommend getting an attachable mini-microphone for your phone or use lapel mics that can plug into a smart phone. It’s important to assume the audience can hear everything, with or without extra microphones. Bonus tip (from a friend)- Don’t go to the bathroom with lapel mics on. 😉
4. Background – Make sure you have an attractive background. Aquariums and displays are always a winner. If you do a live stream behind-the-scenes of your exhibit, make sure to clean the space, remove things that need an explanation unless you have time to give one, ie. bars/cages, enrichment, tools, etc.
5. BEFORE you go “LIVE” – What is your headline and topic? Choose something that is eye-catching and sparks curiosity. How long will you speak? The audience wants to know if this will be a five or fifteen minute commitment; the struggle to scroll is real! Remind your audience how much time is left and if you plan to extend your time because of the great questions and/or an amazing animal interaction.
Go over the format and steps with the team beforehand. Make sure everyone on your team is aware of when you will officially hit the “live” button. Try to avoid someone saying, “Oh shoot! We are “live?” the first 5 seconds of your institution’s first live stream. I’d also recommend having an introduction prepared before starting, especially if you want to wait for more viewers to jump on. Here is an example that clues everyone in on what’s gonna happen, while preventing people from leaving while your team is waiting for more viewers.
“Hi, ______ Aquarium viewers! My name is ___________, the Education Specialist here at the Aquarium and we are excited to do a live stream about penguin adaptations. This live stream will be around 10-15 minutes long and will end with a fun pop quiz and a link to watch a film called, “Saving Penguins,” all about how conservationists and people like you are helping to save penguins in the wild! While we are waiting 30 seconds or so for a few more people to join, we want to show you the inside of a penguin’s mouth. I guarantee it will shock you!”
Are you showing an animal behavior, adaptation, or an animal with enrichment? Make sure the camera is really close to you and the animal to better connect with your audience and so the camera operator isn’t moving back and forth between you and the animal; It can make people dizzy and scroll up. As we know, animals can be unpredictable, have a back-up plan if your animal ambassador isn’t in the mood to be the center of attention. You can have a back-up ambassador or biofact. You can also take a couple minutes to explain animal training, enrichment, or exhibit design.
6. Personality – Be enthusiastic, spontaneous, and genuine. The good thing is, it’s “OK” to stutter, repeat, or make mistakes on a live stream. Avoid being monotone. Show some expression! Reintroduce yourself, your title, and the topic several times. Don’t forget your name; you might laugh now, but it happens.
7. Questions & Engagement –  I recommend answering a good question every couple of minutes to keep viewers engaged and have the camera operator “wave,” at people who join (make people feel seen and special). I’d recommend the camera-operator read one good question (using the first name of the person asking the question) to the host to keep things moving smoothly. 
Have staff members and friends ready on the sidelines with comments and questions. Not only does it encourage viewers to engage but it also sets up answers you want to share with your audience, ie. “How can I help blue iguanas?”, “Can I get membership online?”, “How is the zoo saving local and global species,” etc.  Also, the more questions asked and answered on the live stream, and in the comment section, results in your live ending up in more newsfeeds. Oh yeah! If you don’t know an answer to a question, it’s ok to admit it. Just tell the person you will follow up with them in the comment section ASAP.
8. Call-to-action – It’s time to encourage viewers to get a membership or to visit the website to learn how to save a species from extinction. Provide the audience with a link in the comment section to a website, the membership page, or an educational animal profile page.  Before you sign-off, share a reason why your facility is important for both local and global conservation and express your gratitude for their attention, passion for animals, and support of your facility.

Need More Help?

Like you, educating the public about wildlife and wild places is important to me; The more credible science communicators out there sharing conservation messages in unique and engaging ways, the better. However, I know it can be intimidating and daunting. If you have questions or would like me to work with your team on live-streams, science communication, or video content, visit my contact page. I’ll look forward to hearing from you. Happy educating! – Steph