The Power of Story in Video

As an educator and trainer, I’ve delivered presentations to hundreds of audiences over the years. And there’s one unmistakable theme that appears to be consistent with audiences everywhere. Regardless of how early in the morning it is, or how tired an audience might be after lunch, once a story is shared, every eye turns toward the stage and every ear perks up.

What is it about stories that make them so compelling? So powerful?

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, stories are everywhere. Ironically, stories have been with us as long as there have been human beings to share them. From pre-historic drawings on cave dwellings depicting stories of the hunt to gripping tales shared in oral cultures to multimedia stories shared through today’s amazing digital technology.

As neuroscientists and the learning sciences remind us, our brains are naturally wired for stories. When a colleague, peer, or friend tells a story, our attention is immediately riveted. Our engagement increases and our awareness becomes focused.

Why?

Quite simply, we want to know what’s going to happen next.

Wondering how a story will end is why we turn pages in novels, it’s why we stay hooked on movies, and it’s why we keep listening to speakers share stories as bestselling author and Jack Canfield and others will attest. As listeners, audience members, colleagues, and viewers, we want to know how a story will end. Stories also similate our natural experience in life so seamlessly that the cognitive work feels effortless.

Leveraging the power of story, can also be applied to video presentations. Begin by identifying what the point of your video message is. Is it to persuade? To inform? To teach? What is the central idea you want to leave with viewers? What are the sub-points you are making to support your central idea? Then recall a story of your own or a story you’ve heard that perfectly illustrates the point or claim you’re making to your viewers. With video, of course, stories have to be brief as most viewers prefer video lengths of four minutes or less. However, a story can still be shared succinctly, just ensure the video story is brief and leaves out non-essentials.

For example, President Obama once shared a story of a time when he was attempting to drum up more support for his first national campaign. He later received support from one political individual with the agreement that Obama would make a visit to this person’s hometown. This trip came about much later but required him to travel to a very remote town where only a handful of people attended in the middle of a downpour. To make matters worse, it was an early morning call. Obama went on to say that the people who had gathered there looked just as unhappy to be there as he was. But after shaking hands with everyone and meeting attendees, there was one lady in the back of the room who began to shout “Fired Up?” and the crowd responded back “Fired Up!” Then she yelled “Ready to go?” and the crowd yelled “Ready to Go!” And this continued for awhile until President Obama–who was a Senator at the time–admitted that even he began to feel fired up, and the crowd’s energy began to change as well. They went on to have a great meeting. The point, President Obama went on, was that “one voice can change a room.” And if one voice can change a room, one voice can change a city, a state, a country, and the world. The story’s point that “one voice can change a room” was relevant and fitting, and used to move his own message forward.

So the next time you need to craft a video message, first identify what main point and sub-points you’re trying to make, and then consider your your own stories and experiences to see if there is a fitting story you could share that helps illustrate your message.

Some stories just never get old . . .

What say you?

The Case of Shaky Cam vs. Steady Cam

User Question:  “Is it okay if I hold my video camera to shoot videography?”

If you’re a YouTube junkie, you’ve undoubtedly watched some of the published videos that unintentionally make you feel like the video is being shot right near the San Andreas fault line. You know the ones I mean, where the videos are so shaky, pan too fast, or move up and down so quickly that the effect on viewers is well, . . . not pretty.

There is another way.

These “earthquake” videos are caused by well-intentioned handheld videography. When you simply hold your video camera yourself, there will be horizon lines that are off, quick movements that are hard to watch in succession, jerky visuals, and the list goes on. The shortened term for this is “Shaky Cam.”

But rather than make your viewers dizzy, here are some things you can do to ensure that your videography produces a more–shall we say–pleasant effect on your viewers. To shoot video with a steady cam, consider the following:

Tip #1 – Secure your video camera on a tripod. 

If you’re shooting videography with a mobile device, there are so many available online resources now. For example, it is fairly inexpensive to purchase an attachment for securing your recording mobile device to a tripod when recording. If you’re shooting video on a traditional video camera, there are tripods readily available for purchase.

Tip #2 – Place your video camera on a table or steady platform.

Even placing your recording device on a raised knee if you’re sitting, or on a colleague’s shoulder if you’re interviewing a subject, is still better than a handheld shaky cam. If a high table is accessible, this is preferred. Just ensure the eye line of your video presenter or subject aligns with the camera lens, so viewers don’t feel like they’re sharply looking up or down at the video presenter.

Tip #3 – Brace your arms against your body to shoot handheld video.

If you absolutely must use a handheld video camera for whatever reason, brace your arms against your body and hold your arms tight to your chest while shooting video. Resist the temptation to hold your mobile device out with your arms, as most people do when taking photos. This takes the pressure off your arm muscles, provides more of a steady frame, and reduces some of the shakiness.

Remember, you want you viewers to be pay attention to you and your message. You don’t want them distracted by the shaky scenery that leaves them feeling motion sickness, among other things.

With just a few extra steps and an openness to being resourceful, you can transform your videos from “shaky cam” to “steady cam” rather smoothly. And “smoothly” here, is definitely the point.

Shake, anyone?

Summer Conference Take-aways

Have you attended a conference recently that transformed the way you worked after returning to your office? Conferences are a great way to network with others, hear salient ideas from thought leaders, and be inspired by colleagues from any number of disciplines.

This year I was fortunate to attend six conferences, one of which, was the UW-Madison Distance Teaching and Learning Conference held this summer in Madison, Wisconsin. Although there were many great insights and lessons learned at this conference, I especially enjoyed the sessions on video and interactive video content and their relevance in today’s training and educational world.

For example, James Moore from DePaul University shared take-aways from video best practices and educational videos. He explored how you can create engaging video for instruction using ScreenFlow, Screencast, or Camtasia. He encouraged content creators to use content from open sources. Referencing Richard Mayer’s multimedia principles, he underscored the importance of applying several of these principles to video as well. To help with poor audio, he suggested using a pop filter as a best practice to minimize audio distractions. In terms of recording video on mobile devices, he reminded those who videotape themselves to turn their phones sideways before recording video. Watching videos in portrait mode requires the brain to scan vertically, and it’s not conducive to the way we normally view the world.

Additionally, because many people are uncomfortable when presenting in front of a camera or often look quite scared, Moore suggests creating bullets on the Teleprompter for on-camera talent so they are not tempted to read verbatim. This helps them to not be as tied down to the teleprompter and hopefully, relax more. Additionally, Moore emphasized that many more viewers are watching video only on their phones, especially millennials, so realize your videos will most likely be viewed on small screens.

Matt Pierce from TechSmith was another presenter at the conference who also discussed the use of video for learning. According to a 2016 study conducted by TechSmith, participants watching instructional and informative videos often stopped watching the videos after around one minute, and their main reasons for stopping the video were because they were bored or it wasn’t providing them what they were looking for generally. This raises the bigger question of the need to continually explore how to engage viewers through video.

For those who wish to integrate content with video, there are some applications that allow you to create video content and then pause and allow students to respond in a comment or a question box. Learners may select an answer and then receive immediate, corrective feedback. As we know from multiple research studies that show the results of the testing effect, frequent quizzes that test recall often and give corrective feedback are essential for learning. John Orlando from Northcentral University recommends a variety of interactive content applications which include:  EDpuzzle; dot storming; Videoant; Thinglink; and Touchcast.

In terms of actual video production, Pierce suggests that if you do make a mistake while recording video to simply speak the line again. This is a more efficient way to record, rather than starting completely over as a new “take.” In post-production, the error can be edited out or smoothed over with a transition or cut-away clip. There are also ways to underscore your video productions and cue the viewers as to the most important content and parts of your video. For example, you can use a verbal signpost such as “If you hear nothing else, remember this . . . ” Phrases such as these alert the listener to pay extra special attention.

The best take-away from conferences, of course, is the ability to return to the workplace and apply something new. And hopefully, you and your organization will reap the benefits of transformation somewhere along the way . . .

What is one of your key take-aways from professional development or conferences you’ve attended this year?

What You Should Know About Being On Camera

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As a former model, I know that there are two important facial features that sell print ads.

Eyes and mouth.

This is where personality, intrigue, attitude, emotion, interest, and curiosity emerge from. These human dimension features either pull us toward the ad and the product or push us away.

When you present on video, these same two facial features are also critically important. If we cannot see both your eyes or watch your mouth moving, we will not connect as well with you as viewers. Why is this important? Because you are the carrier of the message. If we are not drawn to you, we may not hear what you have to say. This week we’ll  focus on the importance of making sure both eyes can be seen on camera, and next week we’ll focus on the importance of not blocking your mouth in the camera frame (happens all the time when people lean forward or gesture excessively).

As the old adage says, the eyes truly are the “window to the soul.” By establishing eye contact with another, we can sense mood, attitude, emotion, enthusiasm, apathy, energy, engagement, disappointment, interest, disinterest, and the list goes on.

The same is true for video.

When you present on camera, we want to be able to see your eyes to make that vital connection. As babies, we are drawn to faces to sub-consciously determine cues about what is happening. Obstacles that may hinder this connection include poor lighting, poor positioning on camera, inappropriately placed rollover text or icons added in post-production, or hand gestures or body movements that block viewers’ contact with your eyes. Let’s explore these one by one.

Lighting is really important, as good video requires lots of light. When you’re recording yourself on video, make sure your face is lit well from the front, which will likely require a side light to remove shadows from the face. If the presenter is in the dark, viewers won’t be able to make that “invisible” eye contact or feel like you’re looking at us.

Another obstacle is that some presenters may also have awkward positioning that doesn’t allow us to see a presenter’s eyes all of the time they are speaking on camera. If they are turned to the side, or worse, their back to us in parts, we are missing vital communication cues with the on-camera presenter. So make sure the presenter is looking at the lens, and viewers are able to see both eyes within the frame.

In the editing process, sometimes text or other images also get added to the bottom, top, or sides of the screen. Or if your video is overlaid on a video platform frame, certain icons may be added as well. Again, test the playback to make sure your eyes are not covered by these emblems, or modify if they are, as this can be a frustrating experience for viewers.

One last obstacle I often see is unintentional gestures. Unknowingly enthusiastic or presenters who gesture excessively may cover portions of their face when they speak on camera. People easily foget that they are talking within a framed boundary and that by moving their hands as they normally would, they actually may raise them too high and partially cover an important source of connection with viewers — their eyes. When you first come on a video set, ask how big your camera frame is so you know approximately where to place your arms when you gesture. Then, keep gestures below your neck so viewers can always see your eyes when you’re speaking. Adding add cut-away shots, B roll, and supporting visuals into your video add many benefits to your overall video, and obviously, these segments would not require an on-camera presenter to provide eye contact with the lens, A.K.A., the viewer.

Overall, when you present on video, remember the importance of eye contact when you first establish a connection with others – even if your audience is off camera.

So don’t start speaking, until your videographer says he/she can “see the whites of your eyes.”

What say you?

Online Video: The “Slight Shift” Difference

I had an editor once request I change a word in my title because, as he explained it, a singular word can either “kill or boost readership” depending on the word, of course.

Now that’s powerful.

Most of us would be in a hurry to shrug off any difference a slight adjustment might make on a bigger outcome. Yet analytics tell us a different story. Research studies prove otherwise as well.

Apparently, one word can make a difference.

Magazine editors know this truth well. The image selected to grace the cover of a magazine can determine whether or not a magazine sells well. Book editors know that a book’s title can make the difference in whether or not the book has the potential to be a bestseller.

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These minor adjustments are all slight shifts and may seem minute, but ultimately . . . they can make a big difference.

Let’s apply this notion to online video. Some of the widespread beliefs about video are: “online video doesn’t have to be high quality”; “just get it done and post it on YouTube”; “don’t sweat the small stuff”; “viewers of online video are used to low quality”; “just turn on the video camera and start talking”; etc.

Yet there’s definitely something missing in this thinking.

As it turns out, little things can make an impact. For example, by directing your eye contact right at the camera lens, you can connect with viewers in a more powerful and compelling way. By smiling when it’s appropriate in your content, you establish rapport with your viewer, increase likability, and may be watched longer because you’re perceived as inviting and friendly. By taking the time to frame your shot and remove potential distracting background items from view, you help to direct focus on the speaker and his/her message.

Have you noticed a pattern?

All of these adjustments are slight shifts. Slight shifts in the way an online presenter on video comes across, slight shifts in on-camera presence, slight shifts that don’t take that long to make . . . yet, which ultimately . . . make a big difference.

 

What are the collective “slight shifts” you can make in your video presentations?

Why You Need to Invite Viewers (of video) To Participate

Last week, we explored the power of fostering a participative community in today’s multimedia-rich age. Today’s consumers, customers, and users now expect to participate in the process of learning, viewing, voting, competing, entertaining, etc.

Period.

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Our technological age has ushered in this desire for end-users to connect and participate with those “inside” the media they consume. Time and space are no longer barriers in our virtual world. Also gone are the days of passive observers. Because the technological capability is available, we expect to be given the opportunity to participate.

So how does this apply to creating online video presentations?

When you present on video, whether you are teaching, selling, informing, or entertaining, you are addressing a virtual audience that wants to be part of the experience. Let’s explore some of the ways you might involve viewers.

  1. Ask Questions in Your Video
    Asking rhetorical questions in your video presentation and pausing briefly to allow viewers to think about their response is one way to involve viewers. Rhetorical questions can be useful on the front-end, as closing punctuation, or even throughout your video.
  2. Invite Posts and Comments
    Requesting viewers communicate what they want to hear, comment on what you’ve discussed, ask questions, and add their own suggestions to your ideas are all ways to solicit comments and engage viewers.
  3. Request Photos from Viewers
    You can also request viewers send images of how they’ve applied what you’ve shared. For example, if you’ve created a video to show customers how to make a gluten-free cake, ask them to send a photo of the cake they made using your instructions or encourage them to post the image on social media.
  4. Encourage Viewers to Create a Video
    In response to what you’ve shared on your video, encourage viewers to create their own videos to demonstrate ideas, showcase what they’ve learned, or ask direct questions.
  5. Notice your Language – Keep it Personal and Informal
    When you are presenting on video, you can include more personal pronouns in your delivery so we are once again reminded that you are really talking to us. Additionally, you can include phrases such as “now you might be thinking, . . .” In this way, you are reaching out to viewers and including what they might be thinking in your video.

Just because we can’t physically see our audience in video, doesn’t mean we can’t involve them, invite them to participate, and of course, connect with them. A virtual audience member for online videos is still a real viewer.  And yes, they want to be part of your video experience. So make sure . . . they receive an invitation.

What are your ideas for including viewers in online video presentations?

Video Lessons from a Flight Attendant

On a recent flight, I observed the actions of one flight attendant that made this particular Delta employee “stand out from the rest.”

Let’s call him Sam.

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Rather than bore frequent travelers with the usual, repetitive safety instructions in a monotone fashion, Sam did something unique.

In fact, it was the opposite of what you might have seen in the 1986 hit movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” where Ferris’ Economics teacher famously droned on with “Anyone, Anyone?” while students fell asleep.

True, Sam was required to perform his job duties and explain and model flight safety instructions. But rather, than sitting back and allowing his audience/customers to be passive recipients of the information, he included us in the process.

After explaining that there were four exits in the aircraft while simultaneously pointing to them, he suddenly stopped and asked with a twinkle in his eye, “So how many exits are there?” To my surprise, the normally drowsy half-listening crowd shouted back “four”!

Sam then spoke into the microphone and said, “I have extra snacks for the first person who can show me where their Safety Card is.” Once again, to my surprise, a gentleman in row one immediately whipped out his safety card from the seat in front of him, only to be rewarded with not one, but three extra Biscoff cookies.

Free food always motivates. Always.

Sam went on to say that the lucky winner in row one would now demonstrate how best to apply an oxygen mask to which the lucky winner and the rest of us laughed – appreciating his sense of humor.

As you can imagine, by now, Sam had all of our attention.

Do you see what Sam was doing?

Sam had created a space where the audience could participate. A participatory audience not only enjoys the experience more, but also directs riveted attention to what is being said. As cognitive psychology and the learning sciences prove, attention is an essential ingredient for learning and retention.

So what are lessons from Sam we can apply to online videos and video learning?

The bottom line is that in the age of digital multimedia, audiences want to participate.

Think about the popular reality shows where viewers are able to vote off participants or select winners from competitions. Think about your engagement in social media and your ability to post reactions or disagree with a post. Think about your ability to submit comments on YouTube and request topics you would like to see addressed in the near future.

As viewers, we want to be involved in process. Gone are the days of passive recipients.

So as we move forward to pioneer effective online videos, especially in the learning space, let’s remember what Sam taught us. We need to create a space where viewers can participate, and not just because . . . we’ll give them extra cookies.

Tune in next week, as we explore ways for viewers to participate in online videos you create.

What are your ideas for viewer participation?

Video: The New Literacy

In an address last year, Bill Rankin (Apple’s Director of Learning) said “making videos is a new literacy.” With the explosive growth of video in the last few years and its trajectory for continued growth, video is quickly becoming the dominant communication medium. According to Syndacast,  74% of all Internet traffic by next year will be video.

This notion of being “video literate” is intriquing. Ages ago in the Egyptian culture, only 1% of the population could read or write. These literate scribes were entrusted with writing and reading skills, as well as translations on behalf of their citizenry. Then in various cultures over the ages, literacy began to grow at variable rates. The advent of the printing press and the wider distribution of books also accelerated the spread of literacy. Benjamin Franklin’s idea to create lending institutions for sharing books without fees (our modern day library) also contributed to the cause, as did many other educational variables, and cultural shifts.

Today, we are faced with a need for a new literacy – video literacy. Many professionals have not been trained as videographers, cinematographer, on-camera talent, lighting specialists, and video script writers. Yet in the age of digital media, almost everyone has access to HD video cameras on smart phones and tablets. Publically accessible video platforms such as YouTube and vimeo have made it easy for us to record video ourselves and distribute them with relative ease to a global audience.

However, after watching many of the videos available to global viewers, you may notice some interesting trends. Videos are often handheld creating the “shaky cam” syndrome which is difficult for viewers to watch. Other videos are shot in the dark or backlit, as video requires lots of light. Some video messages ramble on and lose viewers within the first 30 seconds. Other videos showcase very poor audio quality. Some presenters on video aren’t sure where to look, how to move, and reveal their discomfort on-camera, and the list goes on.

So is recording a quality, effective video a new literacy?

Absolutely. As we transition to this age of dominant video communication, there are slight shifts all of us can make to raise the quality and improve our effectiveness. From technical aspects to visual framing, and from message design to on-camera presence, competencies exist that many professionals don’t yet know that they don’t know. By learning how to change a few things in video in order to create a greater impact, we align ourselves to reach our video message goals.

Video literacy begins with learning what those slight shifts are that we need to make. We need to learn and practice how to improve our ability to communicate effectively in this new medium. It is an exciting time for pioneering . . . are you ready?

What’s one thing you’ve noticed recently that video presenters could improve? Would love to hear from you in the comments below.

The Common Mistake Presenters Make On Video

What is the most common mistake video presenters make? After coaching various clients on video presentations, the most common mistake I see is actually quite simple. As is often the case with many mistakes, it’s also one presenters don’t realize they’re making.

The mistake is that people present on video as if they were in a large face-to-face environment.

It’s easy to see why. It’s only natural to take what we know from the real world and map it on to video. However, presenting in person to a live audience uses a very different space, presence, and medium than presenting to a limited camera frame.

For example, when most people present on camera, they often think they can just talk as they normally would in conversation or a speech. Contrary to popular opinion, presenters should not just press record and start talking. Rambling on about your subject area of choice is not the best use of the video medium. So including the usual “interesting” tangents and sub-topic trails in video presentations is the first mistake.

Yes, it’s important to keep your video presentation conversational, but in video, it’s even more important to be succinct. Video presentations need to be short and to the point in order to keep viewers watching. It needs to be conversational, but tighter.

So make your point and move on. We can always replay your video, if needed.

Another example can be seen in video presenters’ body movement. In front of a live audience, speakers are used to being able to move from one side of the room to the other, and this movement can serve as transitions between points. Even moving toward an audience can serve as a point of emphasis.

In video, however, the camera provides the movement. Depending on your content and message, video presenters remain in the same spot, while the camera varies the shot. For example, the camera may show a wide shot initially, then a close-up, and then  a medium shot. The camera also provides movement with camera angles which provides a dynamic flow.

A third example of this common mistake can be seen in hand gestures. The camera frame is much smaller than a face-to-face room, and gestures need to be visible in the camera frame to be seen. If gestures are jerky movements that come into the camera’s view and then exit just as quickly, this can be very distracting to viewers.

Instead, video presenters need to realize that their presentation space is now smaller and rectangular. Your communication space is limited to the confines of the camera lens. Ask your videographer, “how big is my frame?” to best leverage the camera medium and realize where your gestures should be placed to be seen.

So the next time you need to present on video, keep these tips in mind. Make sure you’re not the one making the “common mistake” . . .

What say you?

Video Presentations: The Power of Conversational Delivery

In the last blog, we highlighted the importance of coming across in a personable way when you present on video. Establishing eye contact with viewers through the camera lens is one way to accomplish this.

Another way to connect with viewers and communicate in a personable way is to be conversational.

If someone were to coach your next video presentation and remind you to relax and “talk” as if your viewers were right there with you in your living room, it might seem laughable to you. However, you coach has–in fact–hit upon an ingredient that will make your videos more successful.

If the viewer feels like you are having a conversation with them, that you are talking with them as if it was just the two of you in your living room, their natural communication instincts will engage and they will be more inclined to be attentive.

The real question, however, is how do we achieve that conversational quality?

In our everyday, normal lives we all know how to do this naturally. We share thoughts formed as words, we listen to other’s responses, and we respond to other’s comments. Words are in the moment, spontaneous, informal, and real.

The obvious challenge with video is that the reality of the video is artificial, while the effect needs to be real. Sure, it’s staged and yes, it’s been scripted. However, the real trick is communicating your message in such a way that we retain the freshness of the moment as if that line or sentence is just being thought of at that time.

There are several ways to come across conversationally, and we’ll explore more of these ways in the coming posts. For now, let’s focus on one strategy in particular. To be more conversational, script your message ahead of time. The task of carving out time before your video shoot day to carefully think through what you’ll say, and more importantly, how you say it is vital. In this process of thoughtful preparation, you’ll become more familiar with the content and how to recall it.

After scripting your message and thoughts in a way that feels smooth and genuine, practice out loud several times by initially just reading it. Next, identify the key main points and/or sub-points that must be communicated. To help remind you what to say, you can even post these key points on posters or paper notes right next to your lens or use a teleprompter.

Before you shoot your video, rehearse your script by looking at the camera and choosing the words that you speak at the time that you speak them. Your preparation in writing the script down helps your preparation process, but doesn’t necessarily need to be read verbatim when you record your video. This is one way to ensure that your message will be extemporaneous, and of course, conversational.

Stay tuned for future posts on additional tips you can use to be more conversational on camera.

What say you?