Eric Crowley, Video and Digital Production Director, Rooster Strategic Services

Everybody knows the pandemic was great for Zoom, but have you seen what it’s done for YouTube? According to Pew Research, the Google-owned video service’s usage grew from 73% of the U.S. in 2019 to 81% in 2021. Video is clearly the preferred mode of connecting businesses with customers. Nearly 90 percent of American businesses plan to increase video content next year, and around 84% admitted they’d create even more if technology made it possible to create videos without hiring professional expertise.

And that’s the rub. Making an engaging video isn’t always easy – or cheap. But with a few simple fixes, you can increase the quality and effectiveness of your in-house video projects without breaking the bank.

Before you pick up a camera: Make a plan before you make the video. In fact, make two plans: One, for how you’re going to promote the video and who’s going to view it, and another for how you’re going to create it. Both plans are critical. In my experience, many companies spend much of their time developing their videos rather than promoting them, churning out high-quality video segments that – unfortunately – only a handful of their customers will ever see. They’d frankly benefit from doing fewer videos and focusing more on customer engagement.

Once you have a promotional strategy ready, make sure everybody involved knows what the video should say. You likely don’t need a formal script. This isn’t a Martin Scorsese film; an outline or storyboard with the key messages should be sufficient. Try to keep the videos short, no more than 1 or 2 minutes in most cases, limiting any dialogue to 100 or 150 words. The shorter the video, the easier it is to produce and more likely it will hold your audience’s attention. One of my clients gathered questions and comments from their social media channels and created a video series with a product expert addressing real customer issues, with the customers’ names included. It was gritty, authentic, and well received – and they shot it all in a day.

About that camera. I remember when I started out as a video producer and picked up my first professional BetaCam – it cost more than $60,000 and shot on tapes. Today, the iPhone in your pocket is 100 times better than that old BetaCam. This concerns me as a professional … but the simple truth is that you can capture most of your company’s video needs on your phone with reasonable success.

Look before you shoot. Literally. Stare through the viewer frame and carefully examine what’s in your shot. Are there any company logos that need to be removed? Is there clutter in the foreground or background? A viewer’s eyes will naturally gravitate to what’s brightest and what’s moving. Watch for anything that detracts from your main message.

Audio: Can you hear me now? If you’re shooting indoors, there are several ways to ensure you’re getting good sound. You want the microphone to be within a foot of the speaker’s mouth. A cheap shotgun microphone on a camera will work if you’re shooting close, but if the camera is more than a couple feet from the speaker, you’ll need a lavalier microphone that you can pin on their clothes. Shooting outdoors is tougher because of wind and ambient noise, but the rules are the same – you’ll likely need a lavalier microphone, as close to the person’s mouth as possible, and make sure to do several sound tests in various locations to get the best audio possible. Headphones, even your phone’s earbuds, are great to have with you. If you can use them to listen in during the interview, all the better!

Lighting: Seeing is believing. As a professional, I have an arsenal of expensive lights, gels, and filters – but I’ve also successfully used sunlight through a window, standard fluorescent office lights, and an old desk lamp to shed light on subjects. Really, any light source can work if you know how to use it! The key is focusing on the output, as opposed to what you’re seeing in person. Set your spokesperson in the best light you can find, then shoot test segments, altering the lighting until you get the best video you can. Move lights around in the room or bring in an office lamp and place it next to them or in the background. It might look strange on the set – but that doesn’t matter. What’s important is what the camera captures.

For shooting outdoors, today’s cameras do an excellent job. If your test segments seem a little dark, you can mount a USB-charged light to your phone to supplement the light or drag that desk lamp outside with an extension cord. Again, it doesn’t have to be fancy, it just needs to light your subject appropriately.

Tripod: The best $20 you’ll ever spend. The more you try to hold your camera yourself, the worse your video will be. That’s just a fact. This isn’t Citizen Kane, but it shouldn’t resemble The Blair Witch Project, either! Try to keep motion to a minimum. Use cuts if you absolutely must move – for example, if your expert is doing a product walkaround, have them focus on one piece of the product, stop the recording, move to the next section, and turn it back on as opposed to following the person moving to the next location.

If it lasts more than two minutes, seek professional help. Frankly speaking, most promotional videos shouldn’t last more than a minute. That’s more than most viewers are likely to watch. But there are cases when a longer video may be necessary, and for these jobs, you’re likely going to need a professional director and crew to shoot, edit, and post your video.

Longer videos may also require you to hire professional actors, but whenever possible, I advise companies to use their own people. This typically results in a more authentic video that’s more in line with your company’s values and message. Use company experts to talk about what they know best by bringing their personalities out during the shoot. Take it slow at first and allow that personality to come out naturally. Give the expert space to be themselves by asking them how they describe the topic to a close friend or co-worker. It can even be to you or someone else in the room.

These are just a few tips that can help you make your videos work harder for you. If you have any questions or want to explore some ways to get more from your video production investment, I’d love to have a conversation.