As a writer and former trainer, I’ve always looked for ways to add other media to my words. Text is all well and good. After all, that’s how we’re communicating at this very instant! But, as any good trainer will tell you, engaging your audience requires more than one medium. My favorite one is video.
Here’s the problem. Video is a great engagement medium, but it’s not easy to produce well. A bad video can ruin your message. It can bore your audience into oblivion. It can create giant “blobs” of content that beg to be ignored.
Here’s another problem: It’s really easy to create bad videos with webcams or smartphones. Raise your hand if you’ve had to endure recordings of a speaker’s forehead, with mediocre sound, and lit mainly by the ghostly blue glare of an LCD screen. Most of us prefer video that is well-lit, with decent sound, and a presenter that doesn’t look like he’s selling you a timeshare. For “head shot” videos, I believe it’s also better if the speaker is more relaxed—giving an interview, not making a direct pitch. Looking directly at the camera is fine for emphasis, but not all the time.
I can hear the objections. “But creating studio interviews costs too much.” “You can’t get that quality with a webcam or a phone.” The first objection is true, much of the time. The second one is false.
Here are some simple ways to make better presentation videos, using webcams or smartphones. You probably won’t get all the way to 60 Minutes studio quality, but you can vastly improve on typical, homemade footage.
- Position Matters — When setting up the shot, make sure the webcam or smartphone is aimed about 10 degrees from the subject’s line of sight. To reinforce this, ask him or her to pick a spot about 10 degrees from the camera, and pretend that spot is the person being spoken to. (It’s OK to turn to the camera to emphasize something.)
- Framing — Another tip: When positioning the webcam or smartphone, make sure the subject is positioned slightly to one side, leaving room for titles to be added later.
- Background & Lighting Advice — Another setup tip: Find a part of the room that would make a good background. It should be not too cluttered, giving the audience a feel for the speaker’s world, and of course the lighting should be as good as possible.
- Equipment Notes — There is very little you need besides a decent webcam or smartphone, but I strongly recommend:
- A smartphone tripod (they’re not expensive)
- A lapel microphone, with a sufficiently long cord (ditto on cost)
- An earpiece (optional, but very handy in keeping noise levels under control)
- Do more than one “take” — If the person making the video gets flustered or wanders off topic, it’s OK to ask them to try again. (See my notes on editing, below.)
- Don’t try to record everything at once — If everyone is not in the same room, there’s no reason to try and capture the whole exchange all at once. Sure, it’s possible to do this on Google Hangouts, but focusing too much on videography during an interview can be distracting. Just set up the camera, conduct the interview, and separately record the questions. (Again, see my editing section.)
The Power of Editing
What really makes this work is video editing. Before you launch into more objections about cost, let me say it’s easier than you think. Simple editing can be done in iMovie or even Photoshop. Personally, I prefer Premiere, but that’s probably more than most trainers will need. If you’re not confident enough to do your own editing, there are any number of freelancers available to do simple tasks, such as:
- Cut out extraneous footage or sounds
- Combine question and answer clips (if they were recorded separately)
- Add titles
- Create simple transition effects
Speaking from Experience
A few weeks ago, I was given the chance to put these ideas into practice. My agent wanted to do a promotional campaign featuring their clients talking about why they write. With my son’s smartphone (taped to a chair, since I didn’t have a tripod) and a cheap lapel mic, I managed to create my submission:
©2017 – Samuel Parsons – Used with permission.
My experiment was for marketing purposes, but I’ve spoken to training and eLearning professionals who are considering this approach for their content.
Once you’ve followed these steps, you’ll be surprised how professional-looking such videos can be. They may not win an Oscar, but they’ll make your training content far more engaging and effective.