Friday, June 5, 2020

Creating a Pre-Stream Checklist

It's a very common problem on Twitch: you appear on your show but the microphone is muted, or your game is in the wrong spot, or your lights aren't adjusted. These kinds of problems are embarrassing and frustrating. As a streamer, there are so many things that get set up before every broadcast, but it only takes one slip to make the whole thing feel unprofessional. These mistakes can strike at any experience level too. Even when I had over a thousand streams under my belt, small issues like the ones I mentioned would still happen to me on occasion, and I've watched many other experienced streamers go through the same thing. Isn't there some way to prevent these annoying mistakes from happening? 

A while back, I began honing a strategy that has brought me an incredible amount of success in preventing problems on my streams. I stream three times every day, seven days a week- that's over 80 individual broadcasts in a month- a lot of chances to mess up while setting up my shows! And yet it's been over a year since I've forgotten to turn on my microphone or use the right layout. I'm not particularly smart and I don't have a perfect memory. I simply cultivated a well-tuned pre-stream checklist. Upon implementing my checklist and the techniques associated with it, my stream's professionalism went up by an order of magnitude practically overnight. In this entry, I'll help you to do the same. 

As I always say in entries like this however, experience is more valuable than fine-tuning. If you haven't done at least ten official broadcasts on your channel yet, get out there and start streaming. Mistakes are the least of your worries if you haven't even been live often enough to make those mistakes in the first place. Don't get bogged down preparing to stream and allow your dream slip away in the process. For more info on breaking into the craft, see the entry Surviving Your First Ten Streams


What is a pre-stream checklist? It's a mental list (or even a physical one on paper if you need) that includes every single action you need to take before going live, down to the smallest detail. And once created, the power in this document lies in your ability to follow it, in its exact order, without the smallest question or deviation. When done right, you'll have a pre-configured script for your stream's setup process, making sure that your show will run smoothly once it starts. 

Don't let problems get out of hand.
If you've encountered recurring problems on your streams before, you'll know why a list of this sort and the accompanying discipline to follow it is necessary. The human brain is very versatile, but it has an incredible capacity for lapses in memory, judgment and focus. You may not think there's so much involved in setting up your streams now, but once you write everything down you'll realize that there are dozens and dozens of things you have to do, each time you want to go live. And over the course of tens, hundreds, thousands of streams, nobody's brain is able to keep it all straight every time without some kind of structure. If it can be quantified, why not quantify it? You'll save yourself time by not always having to think about what needs doing, there won't be as many headaches from coming up with creative solutions on the spot, and you'll cut down on the frustration of being live with the wrong OBS layout for 20 minutes without anyone telling you. When you're more rigid behind the scenes, you'll free up more mental energy to be creative and entertaining in front of your audience! 

Try going through the process of setting up a stream, and start to get a feel for every step involved. Consider what order the items typically fall into. Which aspects are creative, like writing a title or 'going live' Tweet (yes, things like this get included too) and which items are simple button presses like switching to the right layout, or turning on your microphone? Are there any creative steps that can be automated, like finding a permanent placement for your lights so you don't have to constantly rearrange them before every show? For more details of this sort, I went over specifics of how to really maximize your pre-show activities in the entry Perfecting Your Stream Prep. Essentially, write a comprehensive script for setting up a stream which lays out every step involved, as if you need to guide someone else through it. Make sure this list isn't just based on ideas in your head either- every aspect has to be from experience, from steps you've actually taken several times in streaming before. If you haven't streamed yet, or you don't do it often, don't let this process become another way for you to procrastinate.


If something goes wrong, don't panic.
Once you've made your list and you've been sticking to it while prepping your streams, you should already notice a huge boost in your consistency of professionalism. But there will likely still be slip-ups. Don't become discouraged by these, but do take notice of them. After your show is over, use the incident as a learning experience to figure out where your pre-stream regimen is lacking. Typically if something goes wrong on your streams while you're using a pre-stream checklist, it means one of three things: 

1. The list isn't complete enough. You may be glazing over steps, or not getting specific enough about the steps, leaving aspects up to chance. For example, "Set up OBS" isn't a good checklist item, because it isn't a single action. Break things down to their smallest increments.

2. You're not sticking to the list well enough. This is a question of discipline. Improve your ability to not deviate from the list. Don't simply skip a step because it doesn't seem necessary this time. An airline crew doesn't check the flight preservers only when they think their plane might crash, they check them before every single flight. And when you complete your checklist items every stream, whether they're needed in the moment or not, you solidify the habit that prevents you from forgetting 100 streams from now.

3. There might be a unique situation at play. Sometimes when software gets updated, wires get crossed, or computer parts go bad, you might experience glitches that are out of your control. The key here is to accept that first, they are not your fault, but second, they are still your responsibility. Take the error in stride as it's happening and do your best to solve it. But understand that even if there's a glitch that happens with your capture card randomly every month, it's up to you to figure out a prep strategy that prevents the problem from appearing in the future. Go back to your pre-stream checklist and see if there's a troubleshooting solution you can implement before your shows, or maybe just remove the inconsistent piece of hardware or software from your streams altogether.


For me, implementing and refining a pre-stream checklist vastly improved the quality and consistency of my streams. But you don't need to have a broadcast count in the quadruple digits like I do before you start regimenting your own process. Even a few months into streaming, if you have the basics down and you want to step up your professionalism, setting up a system that allows fewer mistakes is a great way to do that. Systems are always more important than actions in the end. An action can help you fix a problem once, but a system can prevent the problem from appearing ever again. By creating a pre-stream checklist and sticking to it, you'll be taking steps toward making this a reality.

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