By Donovan Rittenbach
O’Dowd Web Master and Videographer
I am sitting in a classroom watching a video. It has a laborious opening title that floats across the screen at a snails pace. Then it transitions to a bunch of still pictures that move slowly across the screen. I am trying to decide whether I want to nap, doodle, surf YouTube or chat with a friend. Sound familiar?
It is your job as a video editor to create the best content you can. You don’t want to create a snorathon. You want to communicate clearly and effectively and you either want to entertain, inform or persuade. The only way to do that is if you keep your audiences attention.
I want to communicate, just like you. We want people to understand what we are thinking and feeling in our head using a primitive form of telepathy called “storytelling”. Ideally they will be able to relate to our mind, and maybe even adopt its point of view. That is the meaning of the word communicate. Com means “with” and un means “one”, so you are trying to make your audience’s mind and your own become as one, and tool of choice for this tutorial is video.
If you want people to give you their most precious gifts, time and attention, you have come to the right place.
Before You Begin
Before you start editing your video, stop and think. Ask yourself some questions:
What are your assets? – Are you using photographic stills or do you have video too? Video is always preferred, but you may just have photos. What content feels like its strong and what feels like its weak? Ask a trusted friend if you aren’t sure. Throw out your weakest assets. Life is too short for bad content. Everything you put into your video should be your best. Every picture should tell a story (have a narrative) and preferrably have an emotional connect to make it more memorable.
Who is your audience? – Are they kids or adults? What is their attention span and what holds it? If you graphed your audience’s attention, where would it dip and where would it peak? What content will alienate your audience and what will resonate with their values?
O’Dowd is made of a very diverse group of people. If you are making a homeroom video or announcement, you would have to consider their many backgrounds. Most of them were born and raised in the city, but a fair amount have some connection with nature. All of them use technology and are trying to go to college. 3 out of 4 play a sport. There are social clusters of varying size that care about the environment, sports, debate, drama, science, music or some other passion. How will you connect with them?
As an example, if you are trying to convey an environmental message, it is easy to become boring. Convenience, ease of completion, and fun are some universally appreciated values that span philosophical divides. What other trigger words would describe what your audience is looking for?
Keep These in Mind When Making Your Video
It’s time to make your masterpiece. It’s going to be shown to the whole school. Everybody will know it’s you, so how do you leave a good impression?
Tell a story – We remember stories much longer than facts, and far longer than numbers. That is just how our brains are hardwired. Stories build neural connections. The more sensory associations (smell, sound, sight, touch, and taste), the more vivid the picture, the better the story will be remembered. This is especially true because every good story has emotions, and emotions are the foundation of memory.
Make it emotional – People aren’t persuaded by facts. They are persuaded by emotions. If you want to motivate action, you must first create emotion. It’s a neurological fact.
The more intense the emotional associations, the longer we will remember an experience. Emotion is the foundation of memory, so if you want to be memorable, you have to be emotional.
To illustrate this point, I am over 40. Like most adults, I don’t remember most of my high school education. I do remember my best friends. I remember that guy who was a jerk. I remember Eugene O’Neil’s tale about morphine addiction in a “A Long Days Journey Into Night” which we read in literature class, but I don’t remember how many molecules are in a mole. 99.9% of the facts, figures and formulas are gone. I do remember the Pythagorean Theorem though, because it doesn’t get simpler than A2+B2=C2, and how to figure out the area of a circle or rectangle, because I’ve used those equations quite a bit.
What is your hook? – A hook is something so compelling that you have to know what happens next.
One of the most treasured tales in Arabic literature is a “1001 Arabian Nights”. It is the story of a young woman named Scheherazade. She is going to be killed by the Sultan, so she tells him a story about Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. Day begins to break and she is too sleepy to finish. The Sultan can’t kill her, because he wants to know how the story ends.
The next night she comes back, and is almost killed when her story starts out weak. She barely recovers and saves her life. Shaken, she visits an old storyteller in the bazaar for advice.
The old man shares a storytellers trick with her. She has to “hook” the Sultan. She must start her story with something so amazing, the Sultan can’t help but want more. He gives her an example that goes something like this: “I was walking through the bazaar the other night, when I noticed Death walking towards me. I asked him if he had come for me and he said no. He said he was on his way to visit somebody else, but that I would see him tomorrow night.”
Don’t you want to know what happens? If you are like me, you can’t help yourself. Since the storyteller is telling the story, he must have escaped Death, but how? Nobody escapes death.
That is what a good hook feels like. It is so intriguing, crazy, bold and compelling that you HAVE to know what happens next.
When you are trying to communicate an idea, remember you are Scheherazade, and your audience is the Sultan. If you don’t keep your audience’s attention, they will “kill” you. They will start texting, looking for faces in the ceiling tiles or (worst of all) falling asleep. Game over. You lose.
Always have a great hook if you want to keep your audience paying attention.
End on a positive/empowering note – When informing an audience about an important issue, don’t just bum them out with doom and gloom. They’ll feel powerless, and will shut down. Give them a solution that empowers them to do something concrete to make a change. Stay away from abstraction, because the more abstract something is the less it will connect.
Stay away from large numbers. Use pictures instead – A picture really is worth a 1,000 words, at least, maybe more. Don’t use statistics and graphs unless you absolutely have too. Use easy to comprehend pictures.
Abstract ideas don’t have the impact that a great visual does. Take a look at this TED talk by Chris Jordan. Chris makes huge incomprehensible numbers that our chimp brains can’t really understand, then turns them into something anybody can immediately get. This talk is one of my all time favorites.
If you need to use numbers, relate them to something concrete – Don’t say “Bees are responsible for 33% of our food.” A much more memorable way to say the same thing is “1 in 3 bites of food is made possible by bees.” That’s something anybody can remember and share with their friends.
Follow the formula – Every type of presentation has a basic formula. Say you want to persuade an audience.
You have to start with a solid hook, a short mini story that leaves them wanting more. Now that your audience is paying attention, hit them with something emotional and concrete. Stay away from abstract ideas and show them real world examples that will convince them this problem is real. When you have invoked some fear or anxiety, show them they can make it go away by doing what you say. Make the payoff clear. Then give your call to action and provide the times and dates of availability.
The formula is almost the same for informing, only you don’t make a call to action and provide event info.
In practice it would look something like this: Cue intense music. “E-waste is a major problem. Much of it ends up in Gansu province in China.” Show polluted water, smoggy air and red clouds of acid smoke. Now that your audience is totally bummed, you have to empower them and give them hope. Cue upbeat music. “That’s why you should use O’Dowd’s eco friendly recycling program. Now is the perfect time to clean out your garage. Drop off your batteries, computers and tech devices at school from now until Saturday at 3pm. Thanks.” Show contrasting shots of cheerful people, sunny days and clean environment.
Get to the point – You have a goal. Your audience is listening for a few precious moments, but they might “change channels”, so don’t dilly dally. Keep things moving towards your goal.
Pick up the pace and vary it – Title graphics should show for about 3 seconds. If you are showing an image on the screen, like “people with a trophy” 3 seconds is a good rule of thumb, maybe 5, but never more. Putting a picture on the page longer doesn’t make it more dramatic. It makes it boring.
If you do what I suggest, your video will stay snappy.
The only transitions you should use are cuts and fast dissolves – Any other transition is distracting. Cuts are great because they cause an “orientation responses”. This makes your brain pay attention, which is why you see it in today’s best TV shows and movies. Imitate the experts and follow their lead.
Vary the emotions you invoke – You are creating an emotional rollercoaster ride. Don’t just have sad moments or happy moments. Mix them up and end with a good one. Think of how Disney paces their films.
“Here is the happy kingdom. Something horrible and traumatic happens to everybody, like a curse. There is a big struggle. Things work out at the last minute. The end.”
Variety is the spice of life, so make your video a tasty visual and auditory feast.
Ask an expert or trusted source – Most people aren’t qualified to give good feedback about your video. You need feedback from a good writer, speaker or other type of communicator to assess whether or not you did a good job. Only a qualified communicator can articulate a specific response and give feedback about flow, timing and whatever else is important.
Watch your audiences faces and listen to their vocalizations – The best performers and presenters are sensitive to unconscious and unsolicited audience feedback. They are listening to the audiences vocalized responses and watching people’s response.
Watch and listen for this feedback when your video is playing:
- Does your audience respond with the six universal emotions of anger, disgust, surprise, sadness, fear or happiness when you want them too?
- What kind of vocalizations does your audience make? How many wows do you get? Did you get any “oh”s and “ah”s? What other vocalizations do you hear?
- Do they laugh when you want them too? Are the laughs jeering, cynical, mean, loud, uncontrolled, or hysterical? Are they short or long, loud or soft? What percentage of people in the audience laugh? Do people double over or cry with laughter? Or just snicker and hrumph? Are their laughs uneasy or relaxed?
Remember that when you show something publicly, you should pay attention to your audience feedback. Assess the audience response to make sure you connected like you intended. Find the moments that connected best so you can keep getting better at communicating.
Being a great communicator is a great goal. Good communicators are successful in all walks of life. They make things happen. Use every chance you can to communicate better.
By Donovan Rittenbach
O’Dowd Web Master and Videographer