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This week, I’m starting on three brand-new projects that will put bread on the table. (For you foodies, I’ll disclose that the bread will be the Harvest loaf from Nashoba Brook Bakery.) I’m flying to Virginia this evening and am so flat-out that I don’t have time to compose a big post for Seeing Your Story. As a consequence, you’re on your own as you ardently seek to improve your online video storytelling skills.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, will be to watch other people’s online videos and think hard about how well the makers have done at presenting their stories. Look at some corporate websites, and also the websites of not-for-profit orgs.
Each time you watch a video, ask yourself: What’s the story they’re trying to tell? Do they get their main points across? Are the picture quality and sound clarity good enough not to interfere with the storytelling? Do they make good use of on-camera interviewees? Is the video engaging–do you like it and would you recommend others watch it? Is it short enough not to waste your time?
Make up some additional questions to ask yourself.
You can learn a lot by watching other people’s videos, as long as you do it consciously.
Enjoy! And let me know about any noteworthy videos you come across.
Isaiah Mustafa is the man of the hour. Or he was last week, when nearly a quadrillion people watched his commercials and dozens of quickie videos he and Old Spice’s genius team cranked out.
In case you’ve been off the grid hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail lately, here’s what one of the most brilliant spots in the history of commercials looks like:
What’s to say? Writers, directors and actors are all tearing up their union cards and becoming game wardens; why go on when you’ll never reach this level of creative cool?!
Despair not. If you make online videos, Isaiah has 3 tips for you that will turbo-charge your next production.
The first is simple: Dare to be different, but keep the core.
A men’s fragrance ad “should” feature an average dude who has no luck with the women until he splashes on the product. Presto, he’s surrounded by beautiful females. You’ve seen variations on this theme a thousand times.
What you haven’t seen from the cologne crowd is a guy who would be insufferable were he not self-mocking … said guy log-rolling, walking on water, catching a birthday cake (not difficult for a former NFL wide receiver), jumping gracefully into a hot tub, etc. The deal is that the creative team pared the theme down to its very core–this incredible man uses Old Spice body wash–then took it to crazy heights.
Second tip: Polish your script ’til the shine hurts your eyes.
Catch this prose:
“Hello ladies. How are you? Fantastic! Does your man look like me? No. Can he smell like me? Yes.”
We’re barely 6 seconds into a 30-second spot and already a full commercial’s worth of message has rattled your eardrums: Your man can be an incredible hunk if you get him the long and wide product I’m holding in my hand.
Now, your video may be about fighting terrorists, baking cupcakes or maintaining oral hygiene. You may have constraints where Mr. Mustafa has freedom. Granted. But no matter what, if you’re working from a script, spend all the time you need to get the words right. Read it out loud to yourself, and revise until you like what you’re hearing.
Tip #3: Remember, your on-camera talent is a minor deity.
Maybe not so minor in Old Spice Man’s case, but that’s not the point. Whenever you put someone on camera to be a spokesperson for your company or group, make sure to do right by the talent. It may be the CFO of your corporation, it may be the pastor of your church, it may be a hired actor. Whoever it is, that’s the point person your audience is relating to.
If you’re working with someone whose charisma has gone missing, do the best you can to eke out an acceptable performance. Don’t stint on this. When all else fails, you can cover most of their standups with B-roll (shots of what the talent is talking about).
And if you’re filming someone the camera loves, exploit the hell out of their performance. That’s what Old Spice did with Isaiah Mustafa.
I’ll leave you with one of the quickie videos from last week. You can find more on YouTube’s Old Spice Channel. This one’s a response to a tweet from TV journalist George Stephanopoulos:
Hey Old Spice Man — Political question: President’s lost some female support. How does WH get those women voters back?
When we were kids, “Once upon a time …” cued us to settle down for a nice story. With online video, it isn’t that simple. People don’t settle down; they stay poised to click the Stop button if you don’t deliver the goods … and fast. Audio is the quickest way to grab them.
Though they’re called “videos,” a well-conceived audio track is nearly always more important than the images. Especially if you’re trying to make a point to your audience. We’re conceptual critters, and the words you hear convey those concepts. Images are more impressionistic.
So let’s settle down–take your hand off that mouse!–and talk about sound for a couple of minutes. Not technical stuff, like the inverse square law, but storytelling stuff.
Let’s start with an example. Here’s a video with no words. Watch a bit of it, then read on …
There’s something compelling about this little show, because the guy is obviously in great shape and pulls off some pretty amazing feats barefoot–ouch! In terms of persuasion, though, I don’t know what to do with it. I need to read the accompanying text to find out that I’m seeing the results of the Natural Movement Coaching System®, and maybe I should get trained and go to Corsica and jump from rock to rock–still ouch! Video alone seldom makes coherent arguments.
Sure, you should think of eyeball-searing images when you script and shoot your next online video. But first, think of the audio. If the verbal script (narration and sound bites) joggles the mind, the heart, the soul, you’ve got something. But to do this, the verbal track usually must be coherent.
Yes, coherent. To demo this, I just made a quickie experimental video. I excerpted 30 seconds from a TED talk. The audio was clearly recorded and made sense. Then I laid totally unrelated video over the sound. If you can follow what the speaker is saying, then that argues for the primacy of sound over video. I think your brain will choose to follow the audio. Try it:
Could you follow what the speaker was saying? Sure you could. By the way, the TED talker is Julian Treasure, an expert in sound. He studies this medium and advises businesses on how best to use it. At the end of this post, I’ll link to the full 6-minute talk. It’s totally relevant … and you’ll like it.
Since audio trumps video, when you “see your story” before telling it, make sure you have the elements to craft a powerful story even without pictures. Embrace your script, even if it’s not a written script.
Of course, sound, when it’s not done right, gets in the way of good storytelling. This is a clear and present danger in the era of flip cams, most of which only have built-in mikes. If the camera is far away, so is the microphone. (The famous exception is the Kodak Zi8, which has a mike input.) Noisy environments are deadly when you can’t put a mike close to your subject. Here’s an example from the innovative travel advice site with a sexist name Man on the Go:
Why didn’t Robin Mallery–who surely was free to move around the airport–bother to find a less noisy spot to deliver her truly worthwhile spiel? (For that matter, why didn’t she plunk herself down where there was more light on her face than on the background?) I’m not trying to make a technical point here. I’m saying that you won’t be able to tell a good story if your listeners can’t hear the words effortlessly.
That’s enough of my thoughts for today. I’ll say goodbye and leave you in the very competent hands of Julian Treasure. As always, I welcome your comments and questions.
I surfed a wave of July 4 patriotism over to my two senators’ websites. I wanted to see how savvy they are about presenting their stories with videos. Legislators are constantly pitching us–each bill is like a startup enterprise, which will succeed or fail in the marketplace. And startups need stories to move them forward. An Independence Day post by Audrey Watters asks: Does Your Startup Have a Good Story? Do my senators’ proposals have good stories? Let’s find out.
Senator John Kerry
Senator Scott Brown
Massachusetts is where I pahk my cah, so my senators (in order of seniority) are John Kerry and Scott Brown. In this Seeing Your Story video dissection, I’ll try to avoid politics and focus entirely on the storytelling aspects of their videos.
* * *
Following protocol–after all, the guy has been in the Senate since 1985–let’s look at Senator Kerry’s homepage first. Today, there’s just one video in evidence. (I like it when webpages show the “Play” triangle smack in the middle of images, so you know they’re videos. Videos are usually more exciting than still pix, don’t you think?) Feel free to watch the video through, or just watch a bit before reading on.
Oops! … I may have to re-think my notion about videos being more exciting than still pictures. We’re seeing the senator right after a caucus on energy issues, and he even says how exciting the meeting was: “This was one of the most motivating, energized and even inspirational caucuses that I’ve been part of since I’ve been here in the Senate for 26 years.” But he’s absolutely expressionless. So which is the real story, the verbal tale of inspiration or the visual one of dullness?
For too long, given a total length of just 1:35, the senator speaks in generalities we’ve heard a thousand times: “moving forward,” “creating millions of jobs for America,” “reducing our dependency on foreign oil.” Only after more than a half minute (plenty of time to hit the Stop button) does he offer something specific: The proposed legislation is “based on the principle that the polluter pays for the pollution that they create.” And Kerry ends with words that, from the larynx of a gifted orator, could inspire: This legislation would “help Americans to be able to grab ahold of the future, and not leave it to China and India, Brazil, other countries that are moving much faster than we are.” But again, there’s no expression … reminding us of Storytelling Principle #76: Your story is more than your words. It’s also the expression on your face and the tone of your voice.
If this video were just one among a dozen on Senator Kerry’s homepage, its faults might be acceptable. After all, he’s delivering information on an important topic. But it’s not. It’s a solo act.
Clicking over to Senator Brown’s site, the first thing to hit me visually is that the senator’s portrait is set over a colorful shot of Fenway Park during a night game. Go Sox! Right below is a video headlined “Brown Offers Bill To Break Logjam On Funding For State Programs Without Raising Taxes Or Increasing National Debt.” Really? He’ll fund programs without raising taxes or raising the debt? Let’s see how …
Senator Brown’s proposal “uses unspent stimulus funds and cuts wasteful and unnecessary spending in other areas.” He speaks of $37 billion in stimulus money “just sitting in a Washington, D.C., slush fund.” Of course you can argue that that $37 billion would, if spent, increase the national debt. Or not. Those are debatable political contentions. Here we’re more interested in storytelling contentions.
The main difference between the two senators’ video offerings is that Brown and his handlers know how to tell a story that goes beyond the words. He changes his expression, alters his pacing, moves his hands–all of which give an impression of spontaneity and directness. You could say that the flags behind him and on his lapel, along with the red tie and the tony furniture, are Washington standup clichés. But they work. The words, expression and images make him seem … well … senatorial. Which is all they need to do, considering that Scott Brown was just a state senator until less than half a year ago.
The numbers say something, too. Maybe they speak louder than anything else. When I looked this morning, Senator Brown’s video had been viewed 2,586 times since June 28. Senator Kerry’s, which has been up longer, had been viewed a mere 46 times!