9 March 2011

Using video in a presentation: 7 steps to success

Over the last few days, I came across a couple of things that have prompted this post. The first was that I found myself giving a few tips to a Twitter follower on how to use video in a presentation.

The second was reading an interesting post by Lily Latridis on the Fearless Delivery blog , entitled Video in a Presentation can be a Big Mistake. At first sight, the title got me worried - as I hardly ever give a talk without using video clips to illustrate key points about public speaking and presentation.

It also reminded me that, when I first started using videos, we were still using Betamax rather than VHS - since when I've used them in hundreds, if not thousands, of presentations. What's more, I'm fairly sure that it hasn't been 'a Big Mistake' - unless feedback, course evaluations and repeat bookings are a completely misleading guide to audience reactions.

Fortunately, my initial sense of dread on seeing the title disappeared as soon as I'd read the post (HERE), as it turned out that the types of video Lily Latridis was warning against and the purpose for which they were being used were both very different from the the short clips used my own presentations (which mainly consist of 10 second excerpts from speeches illustrating different rhetorical techniques).

In fact, I found myself agreeing with pretty much everything Lily Latridis had to say about the types of videos she was talking about - and suspect that she might well agree with something I wrote about the use of videos in the section on different types of visual aids in my book Lend Me Your Ears (pp. 117-174):

'When using video, it's usually best to keep the clips short and the 30 second television commercial is a useful guide to optimal length. If you play longer clips, the danger is that the audience will start to feel that they're at a film show rather than a presentation. Once that happens, you may well find yourself losing the impetus, and have problems getting them back into the mood for listening to a talk. And, if it was a lively well-produced piece of video, there's the added risk of coming across as dull and amateurish compared with what they've just been watching' (LMYE, p. 152).

In retrospect, I realise that I could (and probably should) have included more practical advice on how to use video in presentations. So here, with thanks to Lily Latridis and my other Twitter contact for inspiring this postscript, are some tips from my own experience of discovering that video doesn't always have to be a big mistake.


1. Select clear examples
Many of the illustrations in scientific and medical text books are selected from hundreds of pictures in order to give the clearest possible example of whatever it is that's being described. The same principle should also be used in selecting video clips, as your audience has to be able to see/hear what you've told them to look out for instantly and at a glance (and without prompting doubt or irrelevant questions).

2. Use more than one clip to illustrate the same point
If you're making a point about the regularity with which speakers use a particular technique, you need to show more than one example of the same thing in action. By the time they've seen a third one, they'll have got the point, and you don't need four, five or six to convince them.

3. Think twice about who and what to include
When I first started teaching how to use rhetoric, I quickly discovered that, however effective an orator may have been, there were certain politicians and public figures who aroused such strong political reactions (e.g. Hitler, Ian Paisley, Arthur Scargill, Tony Benn, etc.) that their inclusion distracted audiences away from whatever technical point I was making.

So, whilst I still think it's important to show that the same techniques work in the same way irrespective of the party represented by a speaker, I've found it necessary to exclude certain speakers from my demo tapes over the years.

A related lesson I learnt very early on was to concentrate on showing clips by effective speakers and to make minimal use of ineffective ones. Hopeless speakers may demonstrate how not to do it, but the trouble is that what was boring in the first place is no less boring for the audience you're inflicting it on in the second place via a video.

4. Blank the screen out between each video clip
One of the (many) advantages that Betamax had over VHS was that, when you pressed the 'Stop' button, it stopped exactly where you stopped it and the screen blanked out until you pressed 'Start', when it carried on with the next clip you wanted to play. But do that with a VHS machine, and the tape would back up and, on pressing 'Play', you'd get a replay of part of the previous clip - which was, to say the least, extremely annoying and distracting (both to me and my audiences).

As the market forced us to use VHS, my initial solution was to press the 'Pause' button and then release it when I was ready to play the next example. The trouble was that having a still picture up on the screen while introducing the next one was a needless distraction for the audience. So I started to insert a few seconds of darkness on each demo-tape to encourage the audience's attention away from the screen and back to me until I was ready to 'un-pause' it and show the next exhibit.

Now that we have to use DVD players or laptops, I still make sure that the screen goes blank between each clip, as is illustrated in the following video from last year's UK Speechwriters' Guild Annual Conference (you can also see the notes of what I said each time the screen went blank HERE):


5. To embed or to edit?
As regular readers of this blog will know, I often include video clips to illustrate points being made in a particular post. The easiest way to do this is to 'embed' videos from YouTube or some other website. But the trouble with this is that the originals are often far too long and/or there's only a short excerpt from it that I want to comment on.

So you either have to tell readers how far to scroll in to see the point of interest (which I find quite annoying when looking at other blogs) or you can edit out everything else and produce a shorter clip of the relevant sequence.

The tips I found myself giving via Twitter the other day started by responding to someone who wanted to use video in a presentation and had tweeted a question asking if you can extract video from a DVD on to a Mac, to which I replied "Yes, I do it all the time but can't explain how in 140 characters."

As others have also asked me where I get clips from and how I edit them, it might be useful to outline how to go about it.

6. Where do you get videos from?
Thirty years ago, we had to record from live television - which produced very long video tapes and extremely time-consuming editing of short clips on to a demo-tape (using two VCRs). Today, we can either do the same by recording directly on to DVDs or select from the thousands of videos on the internet.

If you have a Mac, you'll be equipped with iMovie which, compared with Windows video-editing programs like Pinnacle, is far more reliable and much easier to use. Once you've edited a video, you can instantly convert it into whatever format you need (e.g. high quality DVD or lower quality for the web or email).

7. Useful software
If you want to copy movies from a DVD to your computer, you'll need a program like HandBrake that enables you to rip a DVD into QuickTime or other format that can be handled by iMovie.

If you've downloaded an FLV movie (e.g. from YouTube), Emicsoft FLV converter will convert it into an MP3 or other format that you can import into iMovie.

And anyone who thinks that this sounds like rather a long-winded process should remember that in the pre-digital age it could take anything up to two whole weeks to produce a half-decent demonstration tape.

Today I can create a new one from scratch in an hour or less - unless, of course, I need to fast-wind my way through hundreds of hours of videotapes before converting a long-lost clip to DVD before even being able to begin on the steps outlined above.


Jakob said...

Just wanted to chime in and tell you there is a way to edit the embed URL in a way that starts the Youtube video at the specified time.


With the start parameter you tell the player to skip a certain amount of seconds. Voila, no manual skipping necessary.

Regarding embedding of video in presentations editing gives you the best control, so go ahead and shine up your presentation by all means. If you are not touching the quality/size/sound/whatever of the source material and only want to decide the start/end points, you can do that easily within Keynote for example, by selecting a starting and ending frame. No editing software necessary.

best wishes,

Max Atkinson said...

Thanks very much for this, Jakob. So helpful that I'll be trying it out on a blog post in due course - sounds like a great time-saver.

John Zimmer said...

Nice post Max. Two thoughts for you and your readers:

1. Since switching to Mac, I have found the embedding videos is a breeze with Keynote. Drag and drop. And, as you have noted, you can set the video to start and stop wherever you like. Plus, you can select any frame in the video as a still image to lead into the video (if you want one).

2. While I agree in principle with your suggestion to keep clips short, there are (as always) exceptions. In one of the courses I teach on public speaking and presentation skills I am required to teach for an entire day. (Imagine that, 8 full hours of me - ugh!) Anyway, in such cases, a lengthier video (say, 5 minutes maximum) is fine in my view as it gives the audience a break from me and me a break from talking. Also, I use the videos of other speeches to demonstrate certain aspects of public speaking and thus, letting the audience see a bit more of the speaker is useful in my view.



finiteattentionspan said...

Hi Max

Thought-provoking post, thanks.

One thing that I'm chewing on, here: I agree with you that advert-length is good, so the audience doesn't get too comfortably passive. However, in my teaching (admittedly this is sometimes quite technical stuff), often the thing you want to illustrate with the video takes a bit longer — it's complex, but still worth sharing. Also, I feel that sometimes, it can take the audience several seconds to settle down into really watching/listening, and information at the very start of the video can get a bit lost in that settling-down-ness, because several seconds is a big chunk of 30 seconds. So all this pushes me towards the feeling that if you do really play a short, advert-length clip, it must be something very simple. Any thoughts on this?



Max Andersson said...

Longer videos are not all that bad. I still remember things I learned back in 1992 during a presentation that was basically built around the lecturer showing a certain video called Claptrap.

It was a very good presentation. :-)