Elevate Your Video Game

by S. Morrill

September 2013

Elevate Your Video Game

My daughter learned her first video production tip before she turned two:

“Big smile Daddy?” she asked as I turned our video camera to record a picture she had colored for Momma.  “Yeah, but show me the picture too,” I replied.

These two instructions are probably the best tips I can share about creating effective video – a smile and a demonstration are all it takes for many forms of successful communication and whether you realize it or not, you most likely mastered those skills at a very young age.

At its core, video is simply a tool that can be used to capture and repeat a message. It’s never been cheaper or easier to produce a video and most owners of a smart phone can create and share a video with the world.  In fact, YouTube reports that over 100 hours of video content are uploaded each minute on their video-sharing site.  At that rate it would take a fulltime employee 23 years to watch all of the video that will be uploaded on any given day.

However, as comedian Deon Cole has noted, there are a billion smart phones in the world and at any given time, 300 million of them are filming something stupid.  The purpose of this article is to encourage you to use video as a business tool and to share with you three very basic tips that can elevate your message to a professional look and feel.

Video can be used either live or on-demand.  Live video is primarily for communications – video conferencing and webinars for example.  Business use for on-demand video is primarily for training, marketing, and producing intellectual capital.  The questions I field are normally related to the startup use of video in training programs so the three tips in this article will be within that context.

Tip #1:  The type of camera you use won’t really matter until you learn how to manipulate several other basic audio-video elements.

I often recommend that beginners use an inexpensive or borrowed camera to develop their workflow before they invest in purchasing a camera or cameras.   That’s because in terms of visual quality, a $100 camera is adequate to produce something like a corporate training video.  However, visual quality is not the most important element of most videos.  For a professional look and feel, audio quality, lighting, and the ability to switch between video sources are more important than an upgrade in visual quality.  Audio quality, lighting, camera placement, content and performance are like links in a chain and a weakness in any one of those areas can affect the effectiveness of the entire production.  You can achieve some control of these factors by spending more on camera features but you will most likely find it more beneficial to invest first in an excellent tripod, a diverse audio recording system, a post-production editing system and some practice.  The good news is that because of technology advances, you can do more today with $20,000 in equipment than most TV stations could do ten years ago with $250,000 in equipment.

Tip #2: In my opinion, the production element that is most likely to be overlooked by a beginner is audio quality.  It’s also an element you can improve vastly for an investment of less than $1,000.

$1,000 may seem like a lot if you have a mindset that the camera is the only critical piece of equipment (it’s not, see tip #1).  However, if you look at this expenditure after the production of your 100th video you’re going to realize that this was the best money you ever spent.

For all of the improvements in audio-video technology, audio capture still depends on a microphone catching sound waves as they pass through air.  Generally speaking, you will get better quality audio as you get closer to the source.  However, there are a number of things that can complicate this ideal.  For example, what if someone in the audience asks a great question?  The resulting discussion is sometimes the most valuable portion of the presentation but a single microphone located on or close to the presenter will not be able to capture the discussion.

Audio capture is complicated enough that most production teams either employ or consult with a sound engineer when planning any unique or important production.  It’s also simple enough that you will easily master basic techniques that will be sufficient for the majority of your productions.  You might not discern the importance of audio in the first few videos that you produce – in part because you’ll be so excited to have achieved the visual portion of the capture.  But similar to enjoying a fine wine, with time you’ll appreciate the ease and value of elevating your audio to a professional level.

Tip #3: You’ve got 30 seconds to earn five minutes of attention.

The rule of thumb I’ve been taught suggests that 85% of people who start a 30 second video will watch it entirely while only 50% will completely watch a video two to ten minutes long.  Obviously the content and the quality of the video influence the effectiveness of the video.  But it’s also obvious that one advantage of video is that learning can be broken into small, easily digested segments and a large percentage of your audience will prefer it that way.  That implies that you will need to invest time in post-production in order to maximize the value of your recording.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Ultimately video is just another evolution in the way we communicate.  Businesses that accept and adapt will have a competitive advantage over those which ignore.  Fortunately, almost everyone is producing some kind of video.  You can easily elevate your productions to a professional look and feel with a little practice, an investment in audio capture, and by offering short excerpts of long presentations.