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Ten Tips For Telling Great Videostories

Buying multimedia these days is a confusing process. When you want a sight-and-sound program to tout your company in person or on the web, what do you ask for? Probably a “Flash” or a “PowerPoint”. Problem is, that’s putting the cart before the horse. Today’s audiovisual world is filled with possibilities—some are found in the way shows are shown; others in the way they are created. One thing should be sure-- video will be a part of your presentation—at least if you want to make a real splash. This article looks at the multimedia/video/presentation buying process and offers ten considerations you need to make to successfully commission—or produce—your next major audiovisual communication. I hope you will adopt them.

1. Flash? PowerPoint? Video? Don’t Rush to Conclusions. When you’ve got a story to tell and it requires sight and sound, be careful not to prescribe the solution too quickly. One man’s PowerPoint these days is another woman’s video. When people need something to run off of their computer, they’re quick to ask for “a PowerPoint show” or “one of those ‘FLASH’ things.” Right idea, but not necessarily the right spec. Flash is considered hip, and PowerPoint is considered a must. But PowerPoint and Flash often are just containers for VIDEO, just as a VHS tape and a DVD are containers for video. SO, just because you want your project on the web or on computer CD-ROM, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t incorporate—or be—video. Video is what the big boys use—often, even in major documentaries and motion pictures. Don’t choose the production method solely on the distribution method.

2. Sound Is the Secret Weapon. What’s the first thing you remember about “Star Wars”? Dah-dah, da-da-da dahhhh-dahhh! Yup, the music. And the sound effects—the hum of the light sabers, the drone of the Death Star. Can you imagine Star Wars without music? Even in corporate videos, music plays an extremely important part. But you’d be surprised how few producers actually realize that. They’ll let a narrator blab on and on, and, to add insult to injury, you’ll hear the same piece of music looping for the entire length of the show! (Flash presentations are notorious for this.) Sound tells your audience how to feel; how to distinguish what’s important; when to react and how. A picture is worth a thousand words? Music is worth a thousand emotions—like loyalty, belief, trust, enthusiasm—all potent predictors of productivity.

3. Create for the Environment. Ever see an IMAX film on home video? Is it the same as in the IMAX theater? Ever see your favorite movie on a 4-inch LCD? Was it the same as in your home theater? No, of course not. IMAX movies and major motion pictures (especially science fiction and thrillers) are created for LARGE screens, in rooms where people are quiet and the sound has impact. Commercials played in sports arenas on those big jumbotrons generally feature very little dialog. Who’d hear it? You can barely hear the music. When a video communications project is strategized, the environment in which it will be played is an important part of deciding the style and intensity of production. If your CD-ROM is never going to make it past a laptop, running out and shooting sweeping panoramas of the countryside may not be necessary—but plenty of close ups will be. Play to the room.

4. How Long Should It Be? Attention spans are short! Shouldn’t all videos be short? Well, there’s short, and short. There’s real time, and perceived time. A boring video goes on forever. An exciting video ALWAYS seems shorter than it is, and often bears seeing a second time! Audiences aren’t stupid. They don’t have short attention spans; they just don’t like to be bored. A good story will transcend time. It will seem shorter but last longer in their minds.

5. $1,000 a Minute? $200 per Slide? $3.99 a Pound? Pricing is always liable to a lot of subjectivity, and so over the years people have tried to “quantify” the production of multimedia materials. A thousand dollars a minute has been quoted since the late 1960s—for film! But let’s shatter some illusions. Video production (in fact, many creative activities) can not be judged entirely on the running time. It takes $2 million and 9 months to produce a single 24-minute episode of the Simpsons. I’ve seen industrial training tapes that ran 90 minutes and grossed the producer $2,000. Shouldn’t he have gotten $90,000? Not for pointing a camera at a podium and hitting record, and editing out awkward pauses! It is MUCH tougher to produce a great five-minute video that will rouse an audience and get specified results. To keep up a broadcast-quality pace, to have the right music, to shoot in various locales, to create high-quality 3-D and other animations. well, it’ll cost more than $5,000, I guarantee that. Sometimes, not much more, but other times, 10 times that amount. Your producer should be willing to write a proposal, tell you what she plans to do, and give you a specific quotation for that exact effort.

6. What Style Should It Be? On the surface, communications styles change often. After all, audiences like what is current and hip—to them. But different audiences come from different age groups, economic backgrounds, regions; so what is hip to a 22-year-old web designer in Atlanta might not be hip to the 45-year-old engineer in Dallas. Your producer needs to think like a chameleon. Yes, we all have our own strengths and styles, but we are working for you. And you have a corporate style and a defined audience. Too slow a pace, not enough hip animation, and maybe the twenty-somethings will snooze. Too kinetic, too flashy, too loud, and maybe the chairman of the board will have your head. Maybe you’ve never seen American Idol, but that doesn’t make it unpopular with a large part of the population. If you’re not hip on the likes of an audience, trust someone who is—your producer, or that DJ-wannabe who can name everything ever produced by Jay-Z. Uh, who?

7. Can I Have That Tuesday? If it’s your dry cleaning, yes. If it’s the multimedia project or video that is going to convince 5,000 that downsizing is good for them, well, no. Good video takes time. How much time? A well-designed, strategized, outlined, planned, written, and produced project (already it sounds long) takes time. Here’s a planning guide for a typical 10-minute video: Write proposal--1 week Script--2-3 weeks Production planning--2 weeks Shooting--2 weeks Logging and digitizing tapes--1 week Music selection, voice tracking--1 week Rough cut--1-2 weeks Review time (script, rough cut)--1 week (it’s up to you) Final edit and effects--1.5 weeks Duplication--2 weeks With overlap, overtime, and some real sweet talking from you and me to the hard-working staff, maybe we can cut that down or work some things in parallel. But don’t kill the messenger. Allowing sufficient time for the project will get you one hell of a program In the long run, when you do it right, it shows. And the spin-off benefits are enormous.

8. Use Interviews for Believability Interviews—with your customers, employees, suppliers, even you—can have a dramatic impact on the credibility engendered by your video. This is especially true for “softer” subjects, such as fundraising, public opinion, HRD company introductions, tributes, etc. Interviews are not what they seem. They appear candid (and are); they seem unscripted (and are); they seem easy to do and a way to skip scriptwriting (they ARE NOT). Interviews require research—who has the best stories, attitude, presence. Interviews require testing—a pre-interview. And they require scripting, if only as a target goal to help the interviewer frame the right questions. Never let your producer put words into people’s mouths—a pet phrase, an endorsement, a rah-rah statement—unless the interviewee came up with it candidly. There’s no faster way for all of you to look boneheaded. And I don’t think THAT was the purpose of the video.

9. Video’s Hidden Value Many “big” videos and presentations are created for meetings. They unveil the theme, set the stage, introduce a new product, whatever. But when management realizes they will be used only once, they often become “unnecessary.” Staging, projectors, production costs—that’s a lot of cabbage for 500 sales people. Couldn’t we add a second entrée at the awards dinner? Fact is, I agree with your boss—to the extent that everything should have a repurposing value. And today’s video does. Plan it right, write it right, and in no time your video—or at least scenes from it—can be used on the web, on CDs and DVDs, and in your salespeople’s PowerPoint presentations. Now you can justify the purchase and sleep a bit easier. By the way, even WITHOUT a reuse value, there is nothing like a rousing video opener at a big meeting to set the tone, redefine a company, begin the change process, and build a roaring fire under your sales team’s butts. The difference is seen in sales; they have the energy—AND new video tools to take with them. The increased revenue more than pays for the cost of the video.


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