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Four key elements to shooting better videos

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In the spring 2015 issue of VantagePoint, the magazine of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives, Mike Ruzicka laid a great foundation for why and how associations should make video part of their communications strategy.

Ruzicka stated that one can use a smartphone or a tablet to shoot the video. I see this statement a lot and it got me thinking, “Can one make a decent video with a smartphone or tablet, GoPro-type camera or camcorder?”


Current technology has made it easy for anyone to shoot and edit HD video. This is no slight to professional video companies. If you need to make a corporate/organization image video, spend the money — it’s worth it. However, you don't need to go to a studio every time you want to communicate with your audience.

What do you need to make a decent video? Note that I said “decent.” Professionalism is up to many variables like environment, lighting and ambient noise. Typically the problem isn’t the equipment you are using.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to make an engaging message for your organization. For a modest purchase of $30 and awareness of the following “Four Key Elements to Better Videos,” you will drastically improve the quality of your videos. I will also share some moderately priced investments that will improve them further.

1. Good audio makes for a good video
2. Environment and lighting
3. Equipment
4. Look at the lens

Good audio makes for a good video
Have you ever watched a video but could barely hear the person speak?
• The video was shot on a busy tradeshow floor or a noisy/windy spot outside
• The speaker was too far away from the camera
• The speaker sounds like he is speaking in an empty warehouse

“Wait, the most important thing for making a good video is ... audio?” Yes. Your audience might forgive dim, harsh or otherwise “bad” lighting, but they won't forgive bad audio. I’ll prove it: Many people multitask while “watching” TV or a webinar.

Avoid using the device’s built-in microphone. These microphones are made to pick up everything around you: wind, a nearby loud-cell-phone-talker; everything. If you must use the built-in microphone, get close to the microphone and camera.

Improve your audio by being aware of the environment in which you are recording. Try to use a small office with “stuff” in it. A furnished room with chairs, couches, paintings, etc. will help your video sound less “echo-y.” Avoid large and sparsely decorated conference rooms.

You don’t need expensive lighting to make a decent video. Use natural light when you can. You can even use desk lamps and reflect off of some foamcore or white tag board. Try to avoid harsh lighting and shadows on your face.

If budget allows, you can get a light kit for $150.00 and you look like you are in a studio!

Here’s a video with some great information about “making do” with what you have. The video was made a few years ago so it’s a bit dated on the equipment suggestions, but relevant on environment, lighting and sound. (Skip to 1:50)

If you are using a smartphone or tablet, you can buy a plug-in lapel/lavalier microphone for about $30. An external microphone will help overcome echo and environmental noise you can’t control.

If you have the budget, you can get an HD camera with a microphone jack. Here you can use a wireless or plug-in microphone. There are all kinds of YouTube videos and blog articles on what kind of microphone you should use depending on the application. For sit-down or “roving reporter”-style interviews, you could use a shotgun or lapel mike. A good set up for the camera and microphone will set you back $800-$1,000.

If you are on a shoestring budget, you can use your earbuds’ built-in microphone. Hint: run the cord under your shirt to your first or second button. Frame the shot of your head and shoulders. Note that you’ll be limited on how far you can be away from the camera.

Look at the camera
We’ve all seen it. The eyes dart down, or stare just below the camera. The notes of the speaker are taped to the tripod or perhaps on an iPad just below the camera. It doesn’t look professional to read your notes.

If you are well-practiced at extemporaneous speech, or use a teleprompter, looking into the camera will be much easier. Pick three big points to make instead of covering a lot of detail. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Anyone can build an inexpensive teleprompter. A teleprompter will allow you to read (as long as you don’t sound like you are reading) your notes and look directly into the lens.

I made one out of foamcore, free scrap wood from a big box hardware store, a shadow box frame, and some black felt, all for about $10! If budget allows, you can buy one for $100-$200 (and much more) online.

Control what you can and “make do” with what you have
Being aware of the elements of a good video will help you improve your messaging and communications, instead of introducing distractions from it. Using a few tips here will encourage your audience to watch…and listen to your entire video and come away with the message you are trying to impart.

Video is an important part of marketing and communication. I am a bit of a DIY pragmatist. Do a bit more research on YouTube and Google to improve your skills, and use what you have to “make do.” However even a small budget will allow you to actually have an inexpensive “studio” with the elements and components shared here for about $1,000-1,200.

More resources:
10 Tricks to Make Amateur Video Look Professional (Skip to 2:47)
How-to: $35 DIY Teleprompter for LCD or iPad
Microphones & Audio Syncing Tutorial (Skip to 1:47)
Improving Video for Web Presentations (Skip to 1:50)

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