This article is a series of topic excerpts from my forthcoming book (working title) How to Present on Video. In this chapter, “Clara” (a composite of various client issues) is learning about the importance of basic video principles.
Clara confessed that she was deeply unhappy with her attempts at creating, fronting and self-producing her own business brand videos. Rather she wants to create videos that don’t trigger her internal cringe radar. But most of all she wants videos that she can feel proud of and confidently share with her peers, professional network, and to her target audience.
Clara wants to learn how to easily edit her own videos and to avoid the common (amateur) editing mistakes. The ones that can undermine her on-camera presence and authority that she sees frequently in a lot of self-produced videos. At some stage, she wants to be able to confidently brief her video editor, on her likes and dislikes, and what editing techniques to avoid using for her brand archetype and audience demographics.
More importantly, she wants to avoid the popular herd trap. Just because it’s a popular “editing” thing to do does not mean its good nor of quality or the right thing for her thought-leadership, or demographics. Clara doesn’t want amateur video edits impacting her viewer’s retention and comprehension of her message.
Instead, she wants to create timeless, evergreen video content. Quality videos that promote her and her expertise in a positive light today, and in the months and years to come. She wants to deliver her key messages in the most effective way possible, and create punchy, dynamic short videos that are visually engaging, entertaining are easily digestible and informative. Videos that continue to add value to her audience and brand over the long-term.
R-e-a-l-l-y…Should it Be a Video?
Back to Clara…
After an entire day of self-filming, loaded with hours of raw footage (mistake #1) and multiple takes of various shots to incorporate in her videos.
Clara checks out competitors in her category of expertise (mistake #2). She notes that most of them seem to be just one long continuous shot of themselves speaking direct-to-camera aka a Talking Head format (where the presenter’s head and shoulders are visible and confined within the frame or screen).
Clara’s intuition tells her that this kind of format too one-dimensional. As a viewer Clara struggles to pay attention, her eyes dart around her office, searching for more visual stimulation than these talking-head videos are providing.
For Clara, this format reminds her of the many emotionless lectures and powerpoint presentations she had to attend. She muses that she’d rather chew tinfoil then continue watching.
Her instincts tell her that this format would be better suited as an audio podcast. She’s not alone. Sure enough, Clara clicks away to explore another video for ideas (mistake #3)…
Like a Shark – Video Footage Must Move or it Dies
Clara’s gut-reaction is spot on. Video is for showing, not talking the viewer to death. If there is no visual change-up to help keep the eye and the primitive brain engaged you’ll likely strike poor viewer retention or engagement issues.
What information consumes is the attention of its recipients – a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.
– Herbert Simon, Nobel Winning Economist circa 1977
Even if you are “the most interesting person in the world” you are competing for attention. More so when your viewers are viewing your video on small-screen mobile devices. They are surrounded by visual competition in their environment and are often distracted with short attention spans. Many are psychologically (neurochemically) hooked to the barrage of incoming notifications on their device or have the need for instant gratification from what they view.
More importantly, you are competing with millions of years of evolution; the primitive survival brain and all of its unconscious conditioning.
Without enticing visual strategies, newcomers to your video or brand may not have the time or mental energy to focus on an unedited talking-head video. Let alone remain distraction-free to fully comprehend your message or stick around long enough to hear you out.
It’s Unnatural. Your Primitive Brain Directs the Shots
In the visual medium watching one continuous shot of a “talking head video” is not a natural viewing human behavior. The Primitive brain gets distracted. Without direct conscious effort, the brain (to persevere energy) will switch between two modes: Focused (problem-solving, learning, etc) and Diffused (daydreaming, imaginative connections between ideas).
Millions of years of evolution equipped our ancestors with inbuilt survival mechanisms. As a result, most of the time the unconscious primitive brain calls the shots on what to pay attention to. It eagerly works in the background, scanning the environment for certain kinds of stimulus namely food, sex or danger. It’s continuing asking;
- Can I eat it?
- Have sex with it?
- Can I kill it?
- Or will it kill me?
To survive the wide-open (wide-screen) spaces of the Africain plains our primitive brain developed reflexive, quick-acting impulses to zero in on any signs of movement, and the danger of lurking big cats, slithering snakes, and creeping spiders. This basic survival system helped our ancestors to thrive and survive life on Savanna.
But it’s not helpful for video.
The Human Desire of the Scanning Eye
Bored and Distracted Brains
It’s unnatural for humans to focus their eyes and attention on the same thing for long periods of time. From an evolutionary standpoint, early humans learned the hard way. If they focused their eyes on one thing for too long (central vision) i.e sharpening a rock or cloud gazing they might not notice a lion creeping up in the grass around them in their peripheral vision. Those early humans who had poor or underutilized peripheral vision didn’t live long enough to pass on their genes.
In research, Dimitri Bayle (2009) timed how long it took for the emotional part of the brain (the amygdala) to register frightening objects or pictures in the peripheral vision over that of the central vision. For the peripheral vision, it took 80 milliseconds for the amygdala to react. In the central vision, experiment, however, it took 140 to 190 milliseconds. Every millisecond counted on the Savanna or most of us wouldn’t be alive today.
The Brain Struggles to Stay Engaged – It’s Not Personal
Although we no longer sharpen rocks on the Savanna. The primitive brain struggles (when it’s forced) into a central vision mode for long periods of time. The very same vision we use for looking at our small screen mobile devices. Unless you are looking at sex, danger, horror, violence, or food the primitive brain will become distracted. The eyes don’t want to be trapped with you inside the confines of your video frame. Your brain desperately wants to scan the environment.
Big data, the eyeball economy, “the race to the bottom of the brain stem,” media companies and advertisers will do almost anything to keep your eyes locked where they want them. Tristan Harris is a design thinker, philosopher, and entrepreneur.
Filmmakers, visual media creators, TV advertisers the music industry, etc caught on to the human desire to scan the environment. Over the decades the moving image industry has developed skillful editing techniques to keep our eyeballs hooked on the screen and our attention off our own physical environment.
The next time you watch a big name brand TV commercial, engage with social media platforms, or gaming apps, etc. Notice how often the visual images change from one “shot” to another to another every few seconds in a rapid sequence. With TV advertising, note the variety of different camera angles, and changes in frame size, from close-ups to wide angles and everything in-between.
It’s standard to see “motivated edits”, swishes, pans, and images moving from one sequence to another, changing at a rate of 10 seconds or less in the attempt to keep the eyeballs and brain hooked before it either gets bored, distracted or switches between focused or diffused brain modes. They combine it all with various graphics, transitions and sound effects to tell a compelling story in 30 seconds or less.
Death by a 1000 Cuts – Find the Right Balance of Edits For your Demographic
Research findings confirm that keeping the viewer’s attention comes at a serious cost to comprehension. A review of multiple studies (Scott Armstrong 2010, 276–77) demonstrated that random scene and camera angle changes to attract attention result in less persuasion.
Other studies found that viewers felt confused, couldn’t comprehend or recall what they had just seen or heard, or missed the entire point of the ad, or got the brands confused.
Video edits are designed to continually catch and re-engage the eye (brain) as it scans for new information. However, if there is no new visual information or the scene still looks the same (i.e. it’s still your talking head) or you’ve become visually predictable – you will lose them. You need to find the right balance that supports the context of the message, your key points and your demographic. For example, if you have an older viewing demographic the wrong editing choices could be highly confusing, visually painful, and mentally draining to them.
Make the Right Stylistic Choices
To hold visual interest it essential to know how to make the right stylistic choices. Ones that appeal and speak to your demographic, rather than blindly follow over-hyped editing styles that happen to be popular or fashionable at the time.
Well, folks, that concludes some of the subtopics that I cover in this chapter. I’ve included a list below of the key topics that you’ll get to explore and dip into. Plus you’ll learn more about video edits and transitions, what they mean, their purpose, and how they can make your video presentations more visually engaging and dynamic. You’ll discover what to avoid doing using easy to apply fundamental production techniques.
Key Topics You’ll Learn
What doesn’t move becomes invisible to the eye
- Sex, Danger, and Food. The Brain Searches for Meaning
You Must Reduce Viewing Pain
- Avoid the brain drain – the Brain wants to conserve energy, find pleasure and avoid pain
- The brain needs to close the mental loop – use this to your advantage
Survivorship Bias: Don’t Fall Victim to “Amateur” Editing Techniques
- Gurus Promise Salvation
What is Editing/Cutting?
- Why Cuts are crucial to your persuasive Success
- Know your Moment Markers and when to cut
Pitfalls of Poor Editing Choices:
- Its ALL About what’s Best for your Viewer
- Visually Sculpt Information so that it’s easily understood
- Transition use for a compelling, authoritative message – what to avoid
- Avoid imitating editing techniques that don’t visually appeal
- How some editing styles can impede the viewer comprehension of the message, increase frustration, annoyance, and confusion
- Visual cuts that do not make sense or violate the human representational system
- Visual jarring that makes the brain stop and say, “Wait, what was that?” For the wrong reasons.
- Video is NOT a Slideshow
- Text-Heavy? Think again
Until then keep creating and having fun with your video creations. Remember, you can always book a time with me to troubleshoot your video creation or a production challenge. See below for details or learn more about my services here.
P.s Jump on my “Early Notify” Booklist. Packed with insider tips and techniques to help you deliver compelling, masterful videos for your business or personal brand.
Founder of STEBIAN.com ★ Video Presentation Coaching and Production★ Established in 2006 Bianca has provided an exclusive, personalized consulting service for business owners, start-up entrepreneurs, thought leaders, speakers, best-selling authors, and VIPs to help them present themselves, their products, services, or brand message to their target audience in the most effective way possible on video. Her clients want to master the screen and command the lens, in a compelling way and in any filming situation. With Bianca, you’ll get the tailored expertise from a real-world operator with over 20 years of TV/Film industry experience working in front of and behind the camera. Enhance your on-camera presence, influence, and screen confidence with compelling video presentations. Find out more today.
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