Communicate Good

Making Web Video Work

Posted on: January 13, 2010

I’m not a fan of the monthly “newsletter.” In general, I toss them upon arrival, and I typically advise clients against using them. There is, however, one monthly newsletter that I read religiously. It’s called Free Range Thinking, and not coincidentally, it deals with effective communications practices. Free Range Thinking is put out by a communications expert named Andy Goodman who has achieved guru-like status in the nonprofit and philanthropy sectors. His seminars and talks feel more like entertainment than work, which means he practices what he preaches.

The cover story in this month’s newsletter is a great piece about how organizations can make compelling Web-based video. The article draws on the expertise of professional movie director Steve Stockman, who is currently writing Why Bad Video Happens to Good People (and how to keep it from happening to you). Chock-full of practical information and real videos to click on, I thought this would be an ideal article to reprint on Communicate Good. I checked with Andy Goodman, and he gave it the green light! Incidentally … if you would like to sign up for Free Range Thinking, you can do so here.

Web Video Worth Watching

A veteran director offers five tips for improving the videos on your website.

Now that you can hold an HD camera in one hand and upload your file to the web with the other, an increasing number of nonprofits are adding video to their sites. The process is inexpensive, easy to learn, and breathtakingly fast, but that doesn’t guarantee a watchable end product. In fact, in many cases the smooth path is more of a slippery slope. Good causes, meet bad videos.
 
Having joined the video revolution, your organization may be prone to the same mistakes everyone else has been making – i.e., web videos that are too long, badly shot, and generally impossible to watch from start to finish. So take a moment and meet Steve Stockman, who has directed a feature film, numerous television shows and music videos, and over 200 commercials.
 
Stockman is currently writing Why Bad Video Happens to Good People (and how to keep it from happening to you), due this fall from Workman Publishing. The book is filled with practical advice on how to produce videos especially for viewing on the web, and as an exclusive sneak preview, we offer five of Stockman’s tips here along with sample videos that happily follow (or sadly ignore) these tips:
 
Tell a story.
Sutter Health, a network of hospitals and physicians in Northern California, uses video on its site to tell the story of Caitlyn Barker, who was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 14. The video does many things well, Stockman says, but above all it succeeds by telling a compelling story in ninety seconds. “The components I look for are a hero, along with a beginning, middle and end,” he says. “Sutter Health is conveying the fact that they helped this 14 year old girl, but the video tells a story and makes me feel something for her that goes beyond the mere fact.”

Make one point.
PATH, an international nonprofit focused on health, offers the video “From Innovation to Impact” as an overview of its work in India. The video profiles half a dozen programs in roughly seven minutes, and while the production value is high, it’s difficult to watch all the way through. PATH does extraordinary work, but in trying to cover too much ground, the nonprofit overstays its welcome with the viewer. “You shouldn’t expect a short piece of video to convey more than one point,” says Stockman. “This video jumps from topic to topic when it would be better to focus on just one.”

Get to the point quickly.
The Student Conservation Association, which puts kids to work preserving and protecting the environment, posted this video on YouTube as an overview of its approach. “The video suffers from over-introductionitis,” says Stockman. “You have establishing shots in the wild, the kids introduce themselves, and for 40 seconds you still don’t know why you’re watching. And if you don’t know why you’re watching, you’re gone.” Website visitors are notoriously impatient, so if you have something to say – in video or otherwise – waste no time saying it.
 
Always make your star look good.
“Even if you’re catching someone on the fly,” Stockman says, “clip a lavalier microphone on them so they can be heard clearly and pay attention to what’s around them.” The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund would have done well to heed this advice when recording a testimonial from cartoonist Jeff Smith. Smith is poorly lit, must compete with background noise to be heard, and looks silly thanks to a background that makes it appear his head has sprouted wings.
 
The Sierra Club does only marginally better with a video introducing president Allison Chin. While she is sufficiently well lit and can be heard clearly, “there is no visual interest in this video at all,” says Stockman. Chin is situated dead center, the least interesting part of the frame, and looks off to the left, which has the odd effect of drawing attention to the books behind her left shoulder.
 
For contrast, Stockman points to “Success is Right There in Front of Us,” a video featured on Good Shepherd Services’ website. The speakers in this series of testimonials are lit more dramatically, and by situating them on the right side of the frame and having them look to the left, the viewer’s eyes are drawn back to their faces.
 
Video is for motion and emotion.
AchieveKids, which works with special needs students, recorded a series of testimonials from students and staff, clearly constrained by a tight budget. The video must be downloaded from the home page – a time-consuming step that can reduce viewership – but it succeeds where many others fail because it conveys authentic emotions. “The camera lets you capture motion, which is attractive to the eye, and can tell a story, which reaches the heart. If you don’t have motion or emotion,” Stockman concludes, “don’t use video.”(When he’s not directing, Steve Stockman teaches organizations how to use video better.  To learn more, email him at steve@customproductions.tv.)

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