Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Online Video Beyond YouTube - Part Two

This is the second in a series of posts that will explore the wacky world of online video. Let’s investigate how to create and utilize online video to effectively promote your message. There are some critical steps that must be taken when undertaking a video project.

Way before you press the record button on your camcorder, you need to consider a few things:

1. Think about what and to whom you’re trying to communicate

Generally, when we are attempting to communicate, we are actually trying to influence someone else. Buy my product. Support my cause. Agree with me.

How do we do that? According to Robert Cialdini in his thought-provoking book, “Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion,” the art of influencing others can be broken down into six basic tenets:

  • Reciprocation – Offer information and value before you request it from others
  • Commitment/consistency – You will be more successful if you expect something from someone with an existing commitment along the lines of your expectations
  • Social validation – People are more likely to be swayed in your direction if they see evidence of others doing so
  • Likeability – We are all attracted to someone who we deem likeable (rarely do we move in the direction of someone we dislike)
  • Authority – If you come off as an authority on your subject, people are more open to what you have to say
  • Scarcity – If someone feels that your “offer” is rare or dwindling in availability, they are more likely to give it more credence

Apply these qualities to your video production and you stand a much greater chance of getting your point across more effectively.

2. Produce Within Your Means

I can’t stress this point enough. Consider your budget and resources. And be realistic about it. Don’t try to serve caviar on a peanut butter budget.

Granted, YouTube has lowered expectations as far as video production quality is concerned. Capitalize on that if you don’t have a Spielberg-sized wallet. The home-brewed look can be very effective. It’s real and very accessible to a wide viewing audience.

Spend your time, energy and money on a solid concept and a quality script. That will go a lot further than a lousy, overproduced script.

3. Planning, planning, planning

Organization is king when approaching any video project. This is true whether you are creating a Hollywood blockbuster or a simple, home-brewed production. Consider your key points and how you might effectively communicate and support them. This process usually manifests itself in the form of a script.

There are two aspects to any script:

  1. What you are saying
  2. What you are showing

So how do you create a good script? It’s a process. I have found my best work comes when I follow a certain workflow:

Create an outline: I always start out by generating an outline of the content. This helps me organize my thoughts and how I intend to flesh out the details. Outlining allows me to identify the important from the unimportant and to prioritize my information.

Create the script: I typically use a three column table format for my scripts. The leftmost column is for scene numbers. This helps keep things organized when creating content for the video. The second column is for visuals, and the right column is for dialog. I always start by creating the dialog.

Dialog – Follow the flow of your outline. It provides a great roadmap for you to lay down your thoughts. It’s a stream of consciousness thing. Just type away. You can always come back and edit, shorten, re-explain and re-order later. When you’re done, read it aloud to yourself. Several times. If it doesn’t roll off the tongue when you do, go back and streamline where possible.

Visuals – When you’re satisfied with what’s being said, go back to the beginning and start to visualize your thoughts. Break the dialog up into shorter chunks and think about the best ways to illustrate your points. Don’t have a single, static visual support 3, 4 or more sentences of dialog. Trust me, it will die on the screen.

Support your thoughts with graphics, text or metaphorical imagery/photos. A great, affordable source for both still images and video is iStockphoto. Simply type in the concept of a particular scene into the iStock search field and you will be presented with a myriad of photos, graphics and videos that support your idea. I highly recommend them.

4. Keep it short

The secret to effective online video is brevity. Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher, once wrote a letter to a colleague with this apology (rough translation): "The present letter is a very long one, simply because I didn't have enough time to make it shorter." He's right. Making your point in less space is very difficult. But it's worth it.Nobody is going to sit at their computer for 15 minutes to hear your message.

According to YouTube, the average viewing time is about 2 minutes 45 seconds. That's really hard to do. Sometimes you have to exceed that optimum length. Go ahead, if your content is worthwhile, it can push that limit. Generally, a good rule of thumb for your video should be about 4 to 5 minutes. Any longer and you risk tune-out.

5. Plan your production

If your project includes shooting, make a shot list and organize your efforts.

Shot list – You don’t want to shoot your video in the order the scenes appear in your script. Group your shots according to similar setups and locations. In other words, if a scene at the beginning of the script is similar to one at the end of the script, group those two shots together and shoot them out of order. It makes no sense to set a shot for the first scene, then break it down and reset it later for the scene at the end of the script.

When shooting out of order, I highly recommend that you be cognizant of the scenes directly before and after the one you are shooting. When you edit them together, you want to be sure they will flow smoothly.

Slate your shots – Use a small piece of white plexiglass and a dry marker to create a slate. Simply write the scene number (from the script) on the slate and hold it in front of the camera before shooting a scene. This will be invaluable when going through the footage during editing.

In the next installment I will explore ways to improve the quality of your video production. Doing so doesn’t necessarily mean a bigger budget. There are simple things you can do to improve the quality your work – even if you are producing on a shoestring budget.

Let me know what you think. I invite you to post your comments below.

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