Step 1: Preparing your content for media production
The ability to communicate online via video, podcasts, and even interactive experiences has never been more accessible. But each medium has its own pros and cons, and all require a significantly different approach to presenting in person.
In this step, we’ve broken things down into three areas starting with what to do before you start writing, tips for writing your script, and finally some tips on effective storytelling for researchers.
What to do before you start writing - finding your why, who, what, and how
While it can be tempting to launch straight into scripting your video, we’ve found that answering these four questions can go a long way towards ensuring that your video successfully achieves the outcomes you want.
Why are you making this video?
There's a million reasons you might want to make a video, but it's important to pick one as your priority. What's the most important outcome you're hoping to achieve after someone watches your video?
For example, if you're a researcher with an exciting new project, you might want people to change their behaviour based on the results of your study, or perhaps you might be hoping to secure more funding for your project, or you might want to attract more world-class researchers to your team. If you try to achieve all three goals in the one video, chances are you’ll end up with a video which doesn’t do a particularly good job getting you towards any of them. Focusing on one key aim per video will give you much better prospects.
Who are you making it for?
It’s critical that you target the right audience in order to achieve your goals.
Once again, if you're a researcher looking for more funding, then you need to make sure your video is specifically targeting the kinds of people who can provide that funding, not your students, not your colleagues, boss, best friend, pet cat, or anyone else who's not related to your why.
Once you've figured out who your audience is, it's important to learn more about them. Audience research can be invaluable. Even just a few short conversations with people representative of your target audience can help.
What is your key take away?
Once you're clear on your primary aim and your target audience, it's important to figure out what take away is going to have the biggest impact on those viewers in order to achieve your goals. Once you've got your take away, focus your video around that.
How are you going to communicate it?
Finally, in order to write your script you'll need to figure out what's the best way to communicate your key take away, to your target audience, in order to achieve your desired outcome.
For example, if you want to give optometry students a better understanding of how telescopes work, then a practical demo where the camera can get right up close to the action is likely to be far more effective than a lecture and PowerPoint slides.
Writing your video script
Getting your script right is one of the most important steps in creating a successful video. No matter how interesting the subject matter, if it's not communicated in a way that's clear and engaging it's not going to have the impact you want.
Here’s four tips to help set you up for success before you hit record.
Craft a strong opening
With the internet offering boundless distractions, it’s never been more important to grab your audience’s attention right from the start.
Consider your target audience and what's most likely to hook them in? There's no right answer, so don't be afraid to experiment. And remember, there's a lot more to making a video than simply appealing to someone's intellect — consider attempting to engage with their imagination and emotions as well.
Make it engaging
Even if all you're making is a simple video of someone talking to the camera, framing your message with metaphors, real world examples, or stories can be a great way to keep viewers interested. And as film is a visual medium, we whole-heartedly encourage you to embrace the adage “show don't tell’ wherever possible.
Take a look at the videos that have made the biggest impact on you. How did they capture their attention and what about them do you most remember?
Even better — can you source some references from your target audience? As we outlined in What to do before you start writing, finding the right strategy is going to depend on understanding exactly who your target audience is.
Use the right tone of voice
You'll almost always have more success engaging your audience if the language used is relaxed and informal.
If you're not used to writing with a conversational tone, try improvising out loud and recording what you say. Even if you don't end up transcribing things word for word, you'll still have a better chance of capturing your natural speaking voice compared to if you just sat down and started typing.
Once you've got a first draft, practice out loud and do a test recording or perform it for a trusted friend. Getting feedback from them or listening back to the test recording will allow you to iron out any bumps, and assess if you need to make the script shorter. (Pro tip: you almost always can and should make it shorter).
Review your draft to make sure you're getting to the heart of what you want to say quickly and clearly — both at the macro and micro level.
As we outlined in what to do before you start writing, focusing on one key message per video and ensuring all of the video’s content supports that central take away — just like all the material in an essay should support the thesis — will increase your chances of success.
On the micro level, redraft to favour active sentences, avoid long complex sentences and tongue twisters, and do your best to capture your natural speaking voice if appropriate.
How researchers can use video for effective storytelling
Video is a powerful way to communicate research and engage broad audiences. This new series of 3 videos help develop graduate researchers’ skills in creating high quality, engaging research stories, video abstracts and digital explainers for employers, funders, collaborators, media and the public. From finding your why to your video lab at home, these short videos will guide you through the process of self recording and explain your research project in video like a pro.