How To Tell A Meaningful Story Through Video
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
By Neil St. Clair
This article was originally published on Forbes.com (November 30, 2014)
Telling your story on-camera. For mature and emerging brands, startups and Fortune 500s, B2B and B2C companies, the very concept can be daunting. But it’s becoming part of the prerequisite for sales pitches, investor and board presentations, accelerator applications, VC presentations, wherever visuals can have an impact.
Video is now de riguer in part due to science: Our brains process visual information 60,000 times faster than words, and one minute of video is considered equivalent to around 1.8 million words. And in part due to business: Content-based (especially video-based) marketing is said to increase qualified marketing leads 512% and revenue by more than 6x.
The goal of any video is not to sell, but to get the next meeting through a combination of information and entertainment. Fill in the details later.
So, where do you start? What do you say? How, in short, do you make a meaningful piece of video? Well, that’s why I’m here. To help you tell a concise and meaningful story, on-camera via Five Simple Strategies:
1. Don’t Go Cheap
Invest in Equipment and/or Personnel:
While I don’t recommend going out and splurging on a $50k RED Camera or Sony 4K, you may want to make the investment in some decent equipment or an outsourced content production firm.
Production Values over Virality: In marketing, you’re judged by your weakest link, and if you put together a video that looks like it was shot inside the trunk of your car, you simply won’t get the type of high-quality customer traffic you need. Yes, I know some lousy production value videos go viral. Laughing Baby? Sneezing Panda? These are the exception, not the rule.
What to get: If you’re going the DIY route, find a reputable outlet where the staff knows a thing or two. Do your research and know the price you should be paying.
Aside from the camera, make an investment in wireless lavalier mics and basic lighting equipment. All told, you can do this for under $10k as a starter kit.
There’s some cheap editing software out there, but AVID, Adobe Premier with CS or Final Cut Pro (7 not X) are still the professionals’ choice.
And take some time to pick proper music, animation, screen capture, and graphics, these do make a major difference.
Go Pro if you’re unsure: There’s still a lot you can do incorrectly up even with good equipment (as we’ll talk about in the next section), so it does make sense to have someone on staff that knows what they’re doing--or look for outside firms depending on your cost and needs. Remember, DIY video isn’t a cost saver if it’s unusable or lousy.
2. Practice & Learn
Take a class: Filming and editing take practice and skill. You won’t pick up a camera and become Kurosawa. Do you know how not to back-light your subject? At what frame rate to film? The proper camera angle for an interview? If you’re going to go the DIY road, invest some time in a film and editing class.
Rules for Appearing On Camera: Whether or not you do hire an outside firm, you’ll still have to appear on camera. People want to hear from you, not some disarmingly handsome actor (unless Hugh Grant’s your uncle). So a few quick rules:
You should wear makeup. Especially if you’re a gent.
You should practice what you’re going to say, how your body looks, your pace, tone, and timbre.
Don’t suffer yourself to say um and uh…it doesn't seem "natural," just unprofessional.
Pick out clothes that appear well on camera (no stripes).
Pick a setting that illuminates well and reflects you and your brand.
A lot to think about, right? It’s all these little things that in the "video gestalt" add up to make a big difference.
3. Preproduction: Have a Brand
This is one of those gossamer ideas. Brand. But you certainly should have a strong idea of your brand, your message/tone, your visuals, and your identity before filming anything. If not, you’ll end up filming it again when you do have an idea.
Take some time to really think about who you are, and how you can communicate that visually. Does anyone remember the Dollar Shave Club Video? Epic. It said something about who they were.
4. Show Your Personality…Don’t Tell
Who Are You? Dovetailing with Brand, you want to showcase your own personality. Are you weird, quirky, offbeat, colorful, vengeful, artistic, cool, smooth, lewd, crude…whatever? Show it off.
“Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Taken.” Oscar Wilde has a good point here. There is nothing more boring to an audience than a) you trying to be a reporter, or b) someone trying to be who they’re not. It comes across as disingenuous and just plain wrong. Have fun. Relax.
Be Natural—Some Examples: One of our correspondents at AlleyWire, Meg Maley, really demonstrates this well with her story on Stray Boots. You get a real sense of her personality. And check out the folks here with BeltBox. There’s a connection to this company and its founders in just a short time because they’re genuine.
Show And Don’t Tell! This is one of those hackneyed lines repeated ad nauseum by journalism professors. And for once, the ivory tower is right. This is a visual medium. Don’t have “just you” talking on camera in your office for any more than 5-10 seconds. Cover it up with some b-roll and quick cuts—visually represent yourself and the company.
5. Tell Small Stories in Short Time
Don’t Be Long-Winded: A long-time sufferer from logorrhea, I had a hard time early in my career telling a story simply and concisely. But this you must do. You have around nine seconds to capture an audience’s attention. Start out with some natural sound…something funny or unexpected…a pop of music…anything to make your viewers pick their heads up and focus.
Don’t Use Big Words: Logorrhea? Unless you’re at the National Spelling Bee finals, this word should not be spoken on-camera. Keep it simple and unpretentious and you’ll sound more natural.
Be Aware of Time: Most videos should be 30 seconds up to two minutes at most. Any more, and you’re losing your audience. And trust me, any story you can tell in 30 seconds you can probably tell in 10. Try it. Give yourself an assignment, and tell a 30-second story on camera—then try to do it in 20, 15, 10 seconds. Get it to its core. I make all my correspondents practice this. (See "The Importance of Being Brief")
Keep it Simple…Genius: Make a video series, each focusing on a particular topic or thought. Give it focus. Put yourself in your audiences’ shoes—would you want to listen to you spout on for 30 minutes straight?
Story Diagram: The big point you’re trying to communicate comes first…supporting facts and sound bytes in between…reiterate your main point…end. Those little facts and interstitial comments that you feel you must have? It helps obfuscate your story. The goal of any video is not to sell, but to get the next meeting through a combination of information and entertainment. Fill in the details later.
So to review
Spend some money to get quality product
Practice your filmmaking and on-camera skills
Have a strong idea of your brand before filming
Be authentic, and show who you really are
Tell a story, and entertain as concisely as possible.
To paraphrase/rip off of a famous Edward R. Murrow speech: This instrument (video) can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that Executives and Marketers are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely noise and pictures on a YouTube screen.
To further your video education, here are some basic terms that will help:
NATSOT = Natural Sound like a match striking or door closing.
SOT = Sound on Tape or a Sound Byte
B-Roll = Supporting shots as opposed to an interview
Neil St. Clair is a respected social entrepreneur, journalist, and philanthropist. He is currently CEO & Founder of social change consultancy, NES Impact as well as fear-focused venture studio, Notimor. An advocate for children and gender equity, he founded and chairs The NextMen Foundation. Follow him on IG @neilstclair