December 3, 2017

A practical guide to making effective video blogs about your research

In recent years, video blogs, or ‘vlogs’, have become a popular method for communicating just about everything. In fact, video as a communication tool has become increasingly popular in almost every industry and sector, including the agri-food sectors. The purpose of this document is to present researchers with a basic overview of the value of ‘vlogging’ and some tips, tricks and suggestions for making effective videos to mobilize the results of their research.

What is ‘vlogging’

Vlogging refers to short, video-recorded logs, which typically focus on an individual speaking about a given topic into the camera. Vlogs (video logs) have evolved naturally from ‘blogs’, where an individual or group authors a text-based summary of their personal or professional thoughts and ideas. Vlogs are the filmed version of blogs, and have become increasingly mainstream in popular culture and modern business. Perhaps the most important element of vlogs is their flexibility. Just about anyone can vlog; they can be as formal or informal as one would like, and can be carefully produced and edited, or can be raw and less polished.

Benefits of vlogging

Simply put, videos have the potential to be more engaging and impactful than other passive/static forms of communication, like fact sheets or primary publications. Of course, multiple methods are always critical when it comes to effective communication to the masses, but video enables researchers to realize several unique benefits, including:

  • Improved reach/sharing potential
  • Low production costs
  • Higher viewer engagement
  • Employs verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Long-term return

By nature of their design, videos are powerful communication tools that are easily shared and stored online, improving our ability to reach our end-users and realize long-term return/value. In an increasingly technological world, videos have become the norm and can be easily produced and developed using a myriad of free and/or low-cost applications/software. Importantly, ‘millenials’ are the next generation, and have grown up sending and receiving information, often using online tools, in ready-made, bite-sized chunks; we live in the world of 140 characters! And it’s not just about the amount of information; video allows us to tap into visual, aural, reading/writing and kinaesthetic learning styles, and can more easily relay, and influence, emotions. Done right, videos provide researchers with an effective means to relay the key messages of their work to their end-users.

Examples

Vlogging has begun to pick up steam in the academic world. Here are a few examples of vlogs I’ve created related to the dissemination of academic experiences, research results, and a useful ‘how to’ video by Dr. Emma Cole:

Keys to Creating Your Own Vlog

Planning

Engaging videos take time and planning. First, what are you trying to achieve with this blog? What is the purpose for developing and using this medium? What is your communication plan/strategy? How will your audience find your video? What will they do with it?

Content

When it comes to messaging, plain language is always the key. Try to get your key messages across as concisely as possible, and be considerate of language; there’s no room for jargon here! Generally, your vlog should give the viewer a feel for who you are, what you do, and why they should care. ‘They’ being your key end-user/stakeholder (e.g. producers veterinarians, other researchers, industry, etc.).

Try writing out a basic list of points/key messages. Then flesh this out into more of a script you can lean on. Note: This will be important if/when you want to translate or transcribe the video!

Try answering the following questions:

  • Who are you (name, degrees held, where are you now and what are you pursuing)
  • What is your research about at a high level (what’s the one sentence takeaway for what you’re interested in and what specific questions do you have?)
  • What are the unique and important findings of your work (don’t do too much on methods, get right into what sort of impact your work has)
  • What does this mean for farmers? What should they do differently?
  • What’s next? Where are you going from here?
  • 30 second takeaway. Do a 30 second wrap up of the video/your main findings (we can make a separate 30 second video just showcasing this piece)

Delivery Matters!

Okay, content is always going to be important. Of course you need to make sure the information you are sharing is accurate, factual and evidence-based. BUT… with video, it’s not just about the message; it’s also about the messenger. You need your viewer to engage with you. Your facial expressions, hand gestures, clothing, and background matter. The tone and cadence of your voice matters. Take this chance to let your personality come through; this is your chance to convey your passion and enthusiasm about your work to those who might benefit from it. Try practicing in front of a mirror, or with a friend!

Technical Details

Recording devices

You can record a vlog on just about anything these days. Handheld devices like smart phones and tablets often take good quality footage these days. Built-in cameras on laptop and desktop computers are also quite good. More advanced options might include an actual digital video recorder or camera. While these will provide the best overall quality, don’t feel the need to invest lots of money right away; play around with your phone or computer and see what you do!

Sound

Apart from image quality, the biggest difference between recording with phones/computers and recording with proper cameras is the sound. External microphones can be very useful to improve sound quality, but they can also be costly. Be sure to test out your sound before shooting your whole video (even record a few test samples and listen back to them). Make sure to reduce background noise (hums from large appliances or air conditioners, roomates, pets and cars/street noise). Position yourself far enough away from the mic to not cause major spikes in volume, but close enough so that your speech is clear. Nearly all editing software will allow you to correct levels after the fact, but these are good rules of thumb. A light, royalty free backing track can also be easily inserted to mask background noise (and add a bit of fun, and professional quality to the video).

Lighting

Lighting is perhaps one of the most important differences between a high and low quality video (regardless of recording device). It will help reduce that grainy look you get with lower quality footage and will provide a clean, consistent and professional look. There’s a reason most studios have lighting rigs set up. The image here shows lights positioned to illuminate the face and neck, and reduce unwanted shadows and glare.

With vlogs, we want to position a bright light directly behind the camera. This ensures your face and parts of the background are well lit. Desk lamps work particularly well for this! Be considerate of where natural light is coming from and how this affects shadows on the camera; minimizing the light coming from different directions is the easiest way to produce a clean image. Your goal should be to highlight your body, and minimize uneven or obtrusive shadows.

Editing

Today, there are a plethora of technologies at our fingertips that we can utilize for developing quality videos (iMovie, Windows Movie Maker). In fact, if you use a PC or Mac, you’ll likely have native software already built in to your computer. Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of editing options, keep things simple. There are thousands of start up tutorials and step-by-step guides for editing for the first time on YouTube.

Of course, there a number of other options, and most basic versions of these software packages will suffice, and are often free, or very low cost. Here is a useful blog on other video editing options. Consider have a title and end screen, along with basic transitions (fade in and out) and cutaways (connecting to disconnected bits of video) to help stitch things together. Again, check YouTube for basic tutorials on video editing; you’ll be a pro in no time!

Sharing

Okay, you’ve got your finished product, now how will you get it out there? The most common video hosting options include YouTube and Vimeo, although others exist. Social media will be your best friend when it comes to getting the link out. Try using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get your video, and other relevant bits of information out to your audiences. Email and live play at conferences and events are also useful approaches to get your message out there. Remember, don’t assume that because you’ve built an effective video that people will automatically flock to it. You need to work to develop AND spread the content. Work with your stakeholders, like the Dairy Farmers of Canada, to help get your tool(s) out and into the hands of those that can use them!

Contact

For further information, or assistance in the development of your video tools, feel free to contact me at sroche@acerconsult.ca. Happy vlogging!

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