Live streaming your Virtual User Group meeting without OBS Studio!

Introduction

May 18, 2022, marked the day of LA Data Platform User Group’s first attempt to augment the MS Teams environment by live-streaming our user group meeting to a LinkedIn and Twitter using Restream.IO without OBS Studio. Restream.IO Studio allows you to simply live-stream your session content within the browser.

This blog post explains how to live stream your existing MS Teams meeting using your internet browser. If you are planning to use Restream.IO with OBS Studio and need help, please check out this blog post – https://datadriventechnologies.org/2022/02/12/live-streaming-virtual-user-group-meeting/.

Problem

Since MS Teams can’t directly stream to social media, you need a “man-in-the-middle” like Restream.IO to connect between your screen & audio share and social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. In Restream.IO, you would need to create destinations for your social media channels (See Fig #1) connecting to your existing social media accounts.

Fig #1

Once destinations are all working, you would need to decide how to live-stream your content – using Studio (read: internet browser) or OBS Studio.

Fig #2

In a more sophisticated streaming setup, you would be using OBS Studio which supports picture-in-picture (PIP), external sound sources, and even adding a green screen. What if you didn’t need that many options? What if you just need to stream your audio and video as simply and fast as possible?

While OBS Studio provides a great way to screen capture video and audio content, it’s feature-heavy and has a learning curve. Additionally, it still requires you to grab a Streaming Key from Restream.IO (Fig #3) and connect it to OBS Studio (Fig #4).

Fig #3
Fig #4

Solution

Introducing Restream.IO with Studio (not to confuse with OBS Studio). Restream.IO Studio allows you to simply live to stream your video and audio from within the browser. You don’t need to download anything and configure it (Fig #5).

Fig #5

Just select a few input options such as camera, and microphone, hit Enter Studio button and you are all set to start live streaming (Fig #6). Don’t worry, you can change those options later as well.

Fig #6

Now click the Share Screen button, choose an Entire Screen (this is the only way to stream both video and audio), checkbox on a Share system audio, and click Share button (see Fig #7).

Fig #7

To start your live stream, toggle visibility and click Go Live button (Fig #8). You are all set.

Fig #8

As you probably see on the right panel, you can also add bells and whistles like Overlay, Backgrounds, or even a video introduction (Video Clips), but those are all extras. If you did everything correctly, you are now live-streaming your content (Fig #9).

Fig #9

Don’t forget to hit the End Stream button to finish your live stream.

Fig #10

Summary

To conclude, what did we gain from using Restream.IO Studio? We have avoided an overhead associated with OBS Studio and went from thinking of live-streaming to actually live-streaming in just a few minutes.

A TechSmith Camtasia video editing boot camp

Introduction

Digital content is the king. Record, run video editing software, upload to a resource like YouTube or Rumble, and it will stay there forever. There are many benefits in recording and sharing knowledge via video: it can improve the speaker’s ability to deliver material, anybody can see it again and again. This blog post is going to cover a number of easy-to-follow steps to do video editing using TechSmith Camtasia.

Problem

Let’s talk about video editing. Making video content is usually split into 2 phases – pre-production (recording) and post-production (perfecting). While recording video is fairly obvious and mostly involves hitting the red record button, perfecting video is usually a time-consuming and scary process. Let’s make it easy. The following steps and screenshots will help you to get up to speed in creating video content as quickly as possible.

Solution

  • Add media artifacts

Start with downloading the mp4 from MS Teams. Now proceed with opening Camtasia and add a thumbnail, downloaded video, and intro (see Fig #1).

Fig #1 – Add Media artifacts
  • Add media artifacts to a track

Drag and drop media artifacts from the Media Bin into Track1 in the following order intro, thumbnail, and then video (Fig #2). Make sure that all 3 are stacked up one after the other, meaning that there is no space between them.

Fig #2 – Adding media to track 1
  • Edit the video to lose anything that is not important

Left double-click on the video, drag the red time tracker, and then choose Cut (Fig #3).

Fig #3 – edit recorded video
  • Remove noise

Apply noise reduction audio effect to remove any undesired noise from the recorded video by Clicking Audio Effects, choosing Noise Removal, and dragging and dropping it to the video.

Fig #4 – Remove noise
  • Make sure your video is perfect

Left double-click on the intro to bring back the triangle-shaped time tracker to the beginning, and hit the play button (Fig #5) to watch the entire video to make sure it’s all perfect.

Fig #5
  • Make it a video file (mp4)

Choose Share from a menu item above, and then click on Local File (see Fig #6). Depending on your machine, dimension, and format as well as the TechSmith version, this step might take between 30-90 minutes.

Fig #6 – Make a video file
  • Enjoy it

Create a YouTube account with a channel, upload your mp4 file, and let everyone know that it’s ready for public consumption (Fig #7). Don’t forget to make it public.

Fig #7 – YouTube video
  • Syndicate your content

While YouTube drives most of the viewers to channel, others platforms like Rumble are becoming more and more popular. Why not push your content to other platforms?

While you might think it’s not worth the time due to an effort that involves re-uploading your content, in reality, most YouTube competitors have a syncing capability built-in. Make your content available on YouTube, create an account in a competing platform, give that platform permission to access YouTube, and walla, your YouTube content will become available on the other platform as well.

Fig #8 – Content syndication

Disclaimer

This blog post is made possible by two great products Snag-It and Camtasia by the TechSmith Corporation.

Build your User Group schedule far in advance

Introduction

There is a number of factors that affect your User Group attendance: good luck, great content, meeting consistency, ease of commute, and advanced notice messaging to members.

While controlling luck is virtually impossible, everything else on that list is a fair game. Great content involves inviting popular speakers and sessions while meeting consistency is built around keeping the same day and same venue. Securing an easily accessible venue requires as a minimum a commute as possible (the best fit here is a virtual meeting) while advanced notice messaging assumes a schedule built in advance. This blog post is going to provide key points to help build your User Group schedule efficiently way ahead of the next monthly meeting.

Problem

Building a schedule is time-consuming. Reaching out to speakers is time-consuming. Reaching each speaker with a personal message is even more time-consuming. Luckily, copy-and-paste is here to help.

Solution

Build and grow your personal network on LinkedIn and Twitter

Do not be afraid to personally reach out to people that never heard of you

Learn how to deal with rejection

Make a template – have a small generic message that you can send to any speaker (see Fig #1)

Fig #1 – Templated message

Focus on quantity vs. quality – send as many messages as you possibly

Be responsive and book sessions as fast as you can (see Fig #2)

Fig #2 – Schedule fast

Make a placeholder for a speaker with no session (see Fig #3)

Fig #3 – Meeting placeholder

It helps if you have a session submission form like we have here – https://datadriventechnologies.org/2021/06/02/speakers-wanted/

Outcome

Once you are doing booking at least 12 or 24 months ahead (see Fig #4 and Fig #5), you can relax and spend more time attracting attendees by marketing your monthly event meetings

Fig #4 – 2022 LA Data Platform UG schedule
Fig #5 – 2023 LA Data Platform UG schedule

Make your User Group session and event recordings available to the public

Introduction

There is plenty of free and paid content available online already and yet tomorrow we will see even more content available. That begs the inevitable question – why bother with recording and sharing on YouTube/Rumble? The main reason is, it’s a one-time investment that continues to pay off forever. This blog post is going to dive into how to minimize the overhead of the post-production process, i.e. the most time-consuming part of making content.

Problem

Where do you find the content? How to record? How to do post-production and how to make it visible to the public?

That being said, the most important question is how do manage the overhead – how to make content consistently and efficiently?

Solution

Let’s talk about solutions.

Your User Group meetings and SQL Saturday event have speakers and sessions. All it takes is to ask permission to record. Most if not all speakers would love to be recorded as it promotes them and their content.

If you are running virtual meetings using Zoom/Teams, you already have that capability built-in. Just hit the record button once your presenter gives you the green light and hit the record button once again to stop recording. Don’t forget to download that recorded video once it’s ready.

You don’t need to be a professional Editor-in-Chief to edit video. If you have never done that before, you just need patience, tons of patience. While initially, you are not going to enjoy the steep learning curve with all new techniques and vocabulary that you might not be familiar with, on your second and third video, it will get really easy, copy-and-paste easy.

Thinking in economic terms, what is an opportunity cost here? Once you become familiar with software like TechSmith Camtasia, it will take you somewhere between 30-60 minutes to produce each video.

Fig #1 – Camtasia

Here is a short boot-camp intro into video editing using Camtasia – https://datadriventechnologies.org/2022/02/18/a-techsmith-camtasia-video-editing-bootcamp/.

Once you are done with perfecting the video (removing noise, making cuts on both ends of the video, and adding intro), you are ready to make it an mp4 movie file. Once you have that file, feel free to upload your newly minted content to YouTube where it will stay there forever. It will stay forever to promote the content, speaker, and event.

Just to give you an idea of what LA Data Platform and SQL Saturday in Los Angeles video stats are looking like.

Fig #2 – YouTube numbers

Live streaming your Virtual User Group meeting!

Introduction

January 19, 2022, marked the day of LA Data Platform User Group’s first (and also first successful) attempt to enhance the MS Teams environment by opening up our user group meeting to a broader audience. This blog post explains how to add a Facebook Live (live stream) option to your existing MS Teams set up.

Problem

While MS Teams provides a great way to run virtual meetings, it is limited in its distribution. Unfortunately, MS Teams is not designed to play well with other distribution platforms (other than itself). MS Teams allows people with a meeting hyperlink to join using either a desktop app (full experience) and/or a web browser (limited experience). Both of those options keep users locked into a Microsoft ecosystem, but what if you wanted to invite users beyond Microsoft?

The main problem is how Teams handles Real-Time Messaging Protocol (“RTMP”). RTMP is the standard protocol that allows Teams to send A/V data to the server. Unfortunately, as of now, Microsoft does not expose any server details. This is where OBS Studio and Restream.io come in to bridge this gap.

Solution

Introducing Restream.IO (freemium) and OBS Studio (free). Both tools allow our User Group to escape the MS Teams “bubble” and to live stream our session to Facebook Live (and more social media channels in the future). In nutshell, we will use OBS to stream MS Teams while using Restream to connect OBS stream to Facebook.

Restream.io – Restream allows you to broadcast live content to 30+ social media channels (free tier is limited to 2 social media channels).

You would need to visit https://restream.io/, create an account, and set up your feed destinations (social media channels). Hit Add Destination button and proceed to your selected social media channel. In our case, we added the LA Data Platform Facebook account.

Fig #1 – Setup destinations

OBS Studio – free and open-source software for video recording and live streaming. Works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Download it from here – https://obsproject.com.

While the main purpose of OBS Studio is to help record content, we are going to use it to capture screen/audio and stream it in real-time to restream.io services. Essentially, we are using OBS capture and stream MS Teams window (see Fig #2).

Fig #2 – OBS Studio Screen capture

To make OBS Studio work, you would need to decide on the display capture and set up the streaming.

Under OBS Studio sources, you will find Display Capture that allows you to select the Display that is going to be captured (see Fig #3).

Fig #3 – Source setup

Click on Settings, then Stream, and choose Restream.io service from a drop-down (see Fig #4).

Fig #4 – Stream setup

Now, click on the Get Stream Key button which would lead you to the restream.io website to copy Stream Key (see Fig #5) which you would need to type/paste to a Stream Key textbox.

Fig #5 – Restream.io Stream Key

If you did everything correctly, you are all set now (see Fig #6).

Fig #6 – Restream account connected

Summary

To conclude, what did we gain from Facebook Live? Despite the fact that we didn’t gain any immediate Facebook likes/follows, our Facebook Group got much more visibility now in form of # people reached and # engagements. Here is what our User Group January 2022 session live stream looked like on Facebook (see Fig #7).

Fig #7 – Facebook Live

Disclaimer

This blog post is partially based on the following resources:

https://www.dacast.com/blog/rtmp-real-time-messaging-protocol/

https://www.onmsft.com/news/microsoft-teams-is-getting-rtmp-support-for-streaming-large-meetings-on-other-platforms

LA Data Platform 2022 schedule

Announcing Los Angeles Data Platform User Group 2022 schedule:

FEB 16, 2022 – How I Cut My Maintenance Plans by 80% by Paresh Motiwala

MAR 16, 2022 – Paginated Reporting: Jaspersoft versus SSRS by Eugene Meidinger

APR 20, 2022 – DevOps Your Databases by Paul Hunter

MAY 18, 2022 – Build a blog worth reading by Blythe Morrow

JUN 15, 2022 – AWS RDS SQL Server Security by Sudarshan Roy

JUL 20, 2022 – Managing HADR with DBA Tools by Frank Gill

AUG 2022 – Change Management with Change Tracking and Temporary Tables by Tim Mitchell

SEP 21, 2022 – Reusable Notebooks for DBA’s and Developers by Deepthi Goguri

OCT 19, 2022 – Tame Your Unruly Data With Constraints by Rob Volk

NOV 16, 2022 – Modernize your Data wrangling approach for Datalakes by Dan King

DEC 21, 2022 – Analyse your Power BI Refresh by Phil Seamark

Hello MailerLite and Goodbye Moosend

After enjoying a 6+ months of free forever service by MooSend, the new owner (SiteCore) decided to remove that option (see Fig #1). We are back to MailerLite. Luckily for us, we were familiar with MailerLite, didn’t close our account and still familiar with the interface. This blog post is going to cover all the needed changes to go from MooSend to MailerLite.

Fig #1 – 30-day “eviction” letter

Moving email platform is nothing new to us (this is our 4th move), but here is what it takes to move between the platforms. If this is your first-time, you need to allocate somewhere between 30 to 120 minutes.

You can move to your new email marketing platforms in 5 easy steps:

  1. Email List – copy list with all the email addressees
  2. Email campaigns – copy HTML-based email newsletters
  3. Signup form – create a new hyperlink to allow people to subscribe your contact list
  4. DNS records – adjust MX setting to improve email deliverability
  5. Test email campaigns sending it to test accounts

Email List

Export contacts from MooSend (see Fig #2), downloaded the list, and imported that list into MailerLite (see Fig #3).

Fig #2 – MooSend
Fig #3 – MailerLite

Email campaigns

Recreate email campaigns and since MailerLite doesn’t allow custom-HTML option with a free account, we just recreated all the building blocks to match as best as we can our current 5 email campaigns and most importantly copied over all the unique images used in email campaigns (Fig #4).

Fig #4 – Rebuilding email campaign from MooSend to Mailerlite

Signup form

Create a new form to allow people to subscribe by adding their email address to a main email list (Fig #5)

Fig #5 – Recreating sign from MooSend to Mailerlite

DNS records

Follow instruction on MailerLite and make adjustments to you web site DNS records. You would need to add/update your MX, TXT, and CNAME records prior to getting everything green (Fig #6).

Fig #6 -DKIM/SPF approved

Enjoy your new email marketing platform – MailerLite.

Communicate using freemium tools

The Communication Team at the Data Driven Technologies is using the following freemium services to keep LA Data Platform User Group and SQL Saturday in Los Angeles relevant on social media. We choose those tools primarily due to their price and ease of use.

sender

To send all our email campaigns, we use a combination of Moosend MailerLite and Sender.

MailerLite.com is a freemium service (completely free under 1000 email contacts with less than 12,000 emails a month) to schedule and compose email newsletters. We use it to communicate with Los Angeles Data Platform User Group members. It’s more important for us to constantly engage our core User Group members, so we stay under 1,000 subscribers while sending as much volume of emails as possible. We send over 10+ scheduled email campaigns every month which translates into close to less than 12,000 emails monthly, so with MailerLite we can achieve email volume for free. Sender.net is a freemium service (free with 15,000 emails monthly limit) to schedule and compose email newsletters. We use it to communicate with 1.5K+ SQL Saturday in Los Angeles members. We send about 5-6 scheduled email campaigns for 3-4 months prior to an event in June and 2-3 campaigns after the event, so we want a limitless contact list while we can compromise on a total monthly volume of emails.

To manage social media posts, we use a combination of Buffer (free with 3 social media channels and 10 scheduled posts) and Planoly (free with 2 social media channels and photos only). Buffer.com is a freemium service to schedule posts to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more while Planoly.com is a freemium service to schedule posts to Instagram and Pinterest. We have 2 separate accounts (one for LA Data Platform User Group and one for SQL Saturday in Los Angeles) to separate 2 activities.

Image result for linktree logo
linktree

Another great freemium service (a free account is more than enough) that we are using is Linktree.com. Linktree.com manages all our digital touchpoints in one single place as well as collects views/clicks statistics. We keep all the essential links for both LA Data Platform User Group and SQL Saturday in Los Angeles members and use 2 separate accounts for each.

Image result for databox logo
databox

Many sponsors are asking us for the audience numbers to make decisions, so we need an easy way to communicate those trends and numbers. This is where we found a handy Databox.com freemium service (free with 3 social media sources limit). Databox.com makes dashboards to highlight different social media KPIs. We have one account for each: LA Data Platform and SQL Saturday in LA.

Image result for tweetdeck.twitter.com logo
Tweetdeck

Tweetdeck.twitter.com is a completely free solution (TweetDeck is owned by Twitter) to manage and organize multiple Twitter accounts. We occasionally use it to like, retweet, mention, and participate in interesting topics from @LASQLBootCamp, @LADataPlatform, and @SQLSatLA Twitter accounts.

mxtoolbox.com

mxtoolbox.com is a freemium monitoring service for your MX records to check on your email deliverability. We use it to check on our LA Data Platform and SQL Sat LA email campaigns.

uptime robot

https://uptimerobot.com is a freemium monitoring service for your HTTPS, website. We use it to check on our web site up-time.

Just Do It! Keep your local community vibrant and relevant! Virtual event is better than no event at all!

Introduction

What keeps your local tech community gatherings (User Group, SQL Saturday, and others) is you, your team, and your events. What might be obvious to some, might not obvious to all – having no events, no activities in your tech community will erode the foundation of your community and will lead to its demise.

Yes, we all agree that 2020 and 2021 have completely changed the game of running community events with many mature in-person events downsizing or completely closing its doors due to COVID and the local regulations that came with it. At the same time, is not to say that you can’t run events. If your local regulations are preventing you from running an in-person event, just run a virtual event, at least for the time being. And while virtual events are not a full replacement for in-person (primarily due to completely missing out on the networking aspect), it’s still way better than no event at all.

Problem

While the cost of virtual event is close to none and it requires less preparation, it’s does require new skills. Running a virtual event is very different than in-person, but it also much easier than in-person event. So, what do you to go from organizing in-person event to a virtual event?

Solution

For your user group monthly meeting, all you need is you (and maybe a backup person just in case), catch all tech support email account, tools to organize the event (Eventbrite.com), some marketing campaigns to promote the meeting, and some experience (and patience for few hours) with Zoom/MS Teams/other remote meeting software of your choice. If you want to go fancy, some familiarity with TechSmith Camtasia and YouTube would be needed to record and share recorded session.

If this is going to be a full day event with multiple rooms like a SQL Saturday event, you would need a great team of volunteers, catch all tech support email account, tools to organize the event (Eventbrite.com/SQLSaturday.com/Sessionize.com/and few custom Microsoft Forms), well thought through marketing campaign to promote the event and decent familiarity with software to run a long remote meeting. If you want to go fancy, some familiarity with TechSmith Camtasia and YouTube would be needed to record and share recorded sessions.

Great Team

You would need a team of really dedicated volunteers to moderate virtual rooms, preferably one volunteer dedicated per each virtual room for 8 hours.

Marketing

You need to involve email marketing, social media, but more importantly you need to reach out to organizers of similar events to help you out reaching out wider audience.

Consider adding Meetup to your marketing toolbelt. Please reach out to ms-data at microsoft.com to join Azure Data Tech Groups and get your Meetup cost comped by Microsoft.

Remote meeting software

Here you need to decide on Zoom, MS Teams or something else, get comfortable with it, have few dry runs with volunteers and speakers, setup 8 hours long meeting per each virtual room, and pray for it to work flawlessly.

To conclude

The Data Driven Technologies Team is running Los Angeles Data Platform User Group virtually for 2-3 years now. We have also organized and delivered 2 Virtual SQL Saturday in Los Angeles events (2020 and 2021).

If you need help, I am here for you. Let’s me help you with running your virtual event with handholding and guidance. I can help you out with everything your need – technology tools, marketing, speakers, attendees, sponsors, etc…

I want your User Group, SQL Saturday event and more importantly SQL Saturday brand to stay relevant.

Retrospective on LA Data Platform User Group performance in 2021

As we are approaching 2022, it’s time to review 2021, see what we have accomplished, what worked well and what could be improved.

Despite 2021 being out of an ordinary year for tech community as a whole with many community events being forced to adapt to a new norm of running remote meeting, it’s being really great for us so far. Part of the reason was our prior experience with running virtual community meetings. LA Data Platform User Group almost exclusively went virtual at the beginning of 2019 (see Fig #1) as we couldn’t secure a venue and got very comfortable with it.

Fig #1 – January 2019

While that might not be true for other cities, states, countries, Los Angeles is known for a very bad commute (I-405 is considered to be the worst in the nation). The city is very poorly planned and very spread-out making commuting from home to work and back a very unpleasant experience. Commuting to and from tech events for attendees, speakers, and volunteers is even less pleasant. Add to that difficulty with finding a somewhat central and affordable location to host your tech event with somewhat easy parking, and you are virtually having nothing to choose from.

Prior to going all virtual, we had a very low registrations (see Fig #2) and attendance numbers (between 5-15 people).

Fig #2 – 2018 EventBrite registration

Compare that to running a virtual event and suddenly there are plenty of options: more attendees can attend, more speakers can present, no time/money wasted in commuting and parking. Needless to mention it, virtual event cost is close to zero as there is no need to buy food and beverages.

Accomplishments and what worked really well

If prior to going all virtual we have struggled to run monthly meetings due to speaker shortage and venue availability while watching the number of attendees shrinking, this all changed, and we have fully embraced virtual meetings. In 2021, we got running remote meetings down to a science. Within just few weeks in December 2020, we booked an entire 2021 leaving room for just marketing the upcoming meetings. No longer need to worry about if meeting is going to happen or not, just focus on promoting the meeting and increasing registration and attendance.

The other part of science of running remote meetings is communication. When you are running in-person meetings, you have plenty of natural opportunities to interact and communicate with attendees. Virtual setup makes is harder. We were essentially forced to learn new tricks. We started to heavily overcommunicate using email newsletter and social media to compensate on missing an in-person interaction. Prior to 2021, we were usually sending few emails a month and used social media sporadically. In 2021, we excelled at using Moosend.com (freemium email marketing platform) and buffer.com (freemium social media scheduler) to create a constant flow of communication between monthly meetings.

Our attendance grew to a steady 20-50 remote attendees (see Fig #3). Our members now instinctively looking forward to an interesting data topic every 3rd Wednesday @ 7PM PST of every month. Attendees also know that all sessions are getting recorded and with speaker’s approval will make it to YouTube.com (we also recently added Rumble.com).

Fig #3 – 2021 EventBrite registration

Due to a PASS sunset (a community organization that provided us with a free web site hosting) that happened In January 2021, we received a free access to Meetup via Azure Data Tech Group (funded by Microsoft). We now have a presence on Meetup and quickly approaching 200 member’s mark.

We have added a new member to our team to help out with digital marketing – Maria Lopez. Maria has helped us to transform a very chaotic digital marketing effort into a very streamlined, well-oiled marketing plan. We now have a well-planned and scheduled communication cadence, one single place to maintain all our digital touchpoints via linktree.com (see Fig #4), a growing YouTube channel, as well as a Spring Store for fans to buy merch.

Fig #4 – Linktree

To spark some interest in 2021 from existing and new members, we have introduced a t-shirt raffle. We are raffling a custom LA Data Platform User Group t-shirt (see Fig #5) every monthly meeting and making some members happier. Although, we didn’t notice any significant increase in attendance yet, we think it’s worth the try.

Fig #5 – LA Data Platform UG custom t-shirt

To double down on our successful 2021 effort of planning ahead, we have booked an entire 2022 (and even some 2023) monthly meetings (see Fig #6) in advance. That allow us to focus on communication and promotion.

Fig #6 – 2022 EventBrite registrations

What could be improved?

We need to schedule at least few in-person meetings, we need a social get together. While virtual meetings are much easy to arrange and run, it’s missing a human touch and it’s missing much needed networking opportunities.

Multiple site streaming is another item on the list to consider. Currently, our remote meeting can be only attended via MS Teams. If we use something like StreamYard.com or ReStream.io, we can get more exposure (and hopefully more attendance) from social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Twitch, and LinkedIn.