Here’s how to make a non-boring video tour for a digital library with no budget, no equipment, and a little creativity.
By Suzanne Grubb
This “Six Steps” guide will be posted in two parts. Look for Part 2 in the October issue of Chapter eNotes.
As librarians, we’re always looking for new ways to tell people, “Hey! Look at all the cool stuff we have!” And, “Look how these cool tools can help you find and use our stuff!” Video can be a particularly engaging and effective way to do this, and a lot of us are starting to experiment with tours, tutorials, and interviews that showcase our services.
The good news is that the bar for entry is really low.
Easy-to-use tools to create and share videos are freely/cheaply available. (In fact, about a third of us have already created and posted a video online.) You probably have everything you need already installed on your computer.
The bad news is that the bar for entry is really low.
It can be hard to find examples of library videos in the sweet spot between “there’s no way I could do that” and “I want mine to be better than that.” A lot of DIY library videos you’ll see are 11-minute long monologues reciting lists of facts about how many books are available or the click-by-click-by-click-by-click steps to search the catalog. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Over the past month, I’ve had several folks ask me about a video tour I made to introduce my association’s new digital library. Specifically, they’ve wanted to know, “How did you do that?” and “How can I do that?”
I thought I’d share my answer here, in case other people find it helpful. I’m using my video as an example for this discussion – not because I think it’s particularly awesome (there are many flaws I’d fix up if I had more time) – but because it’s a good example of what’s possible in the DIY world without any fancy-shmancy skills or equipment.
Let’s be clear: If you want cinematographic brilliance and high-quality production, stop here. Go hire yourself a professional.
But for those of you who want to learn how to make an effective video that gets the job done – and that people will watch – read on for the Six Steps of Video Production for People Who Don’t Do Video
Step 1: Plan, Plan, Plan, and Plan
When you hear the words, “We need to make a video for this!” your first thought is probably something like this:
“Oh, no! How do you video? I don’t know how to use a camera/use editing software/animate/YouTube!?”
Don’t panic! Here is the most important tool you will use in the entire video production process:
That’s right. Your notebook.
Careful outlining and planning is the biggest difference between making a good video and making a boring, sloppy video. And every hour of advance planning will save you roughly three hours of time spent producing, editing, and crying bitter tears of frustration.
You may have noticed that there are four “Plans” in the title of this step. That’s because there are four dimensions of a video that have to be planned for.
It’s a lot to think about, and I’m going to be diving into a lot of detail – but don’t let that scare you off. If you’re flying solo (or with a partner) creating a short, simple video for a well-defined project, it’s very possible to come up with a solid plan in a couple hours. (As with many tasks, your planning time will increase exponentially with additional people and complexity.)
Dimension A: Message
That is, what exactly is this video supposed to accomplish? Just like creating an article, presentation, or other instructional resource, there will be certain points you want to make or knowledge you want to convey.
Let’s break this down into pieces:
Key Message: This is the “mission statement” for your video. What specifically do you want people to take away from watching the video?
This isn’t something that you will ever share with anyone else, so don’t worry about fancy wording. But you will use this to guide pretty much every single decision you make from this point on, so the more specific you can be, the easier time you will have.
Here’s how I refined the key message for my video:
Here’s a tour of the new digital library. (Too broad)
Look at the publications and features of our new digital library. (Better, but still too broad – What do I want people to know about these features?)
Our new digital library has a lot of cool new stuff – too much to cover in detail here, but you should get a general idea of what sorts of resources and tools are available. (Now we’re getting somewhere, but why do I want people to know this?)
Our new digital library has a lot of cool new stuff – too much to cover in detail here, but you should get a general idea of what sorts of resources and tools are available so you can dive in deeper and explore what’s interesting/useful for you personally. (Bingo.)
As you can see – there are several different directions I could have taken, starting from the “here’s a tour” concept. This would have been a very, very different video if I had refined down to, “Here is how to search for resources in the digital library,” or “Let me tell you why our new semantic engine is going to change everything,” or “Here is a history of why and how the library was created.”
Mood: How do you want people to feel about your library?
For example, we wanted to stay clear of the image of being a bunch of stodgy scholarly research journals, and project a sense of welcoming and fun for non-researchers. So I decided on a “light” and “playful” mood for my video. This helped guide the colors, music, pacing and other creative decisions I made.
If we had wanted to focus more on building credibility in the scientific community, for example, I might have chosen an “innovative” and “bold” mood instead.
Objectives: This is the meat of your content planning. What should people know/be aware of after watching the video. List out every single thing that you want to make sure gets included. Don’t worry about order or how you are going to show it this point – just get all your ideas down on paper.
For example, for my video, my list looked something like this:
Publications: show all 3 types (Journals, Perspectives, Magazine), show 25 total, show CEU opportunities, show different content types (articles, multimedia), continuous publishing model, 40 topics covered
Tools: email alerts (two ways to access), sharing toolbar, figures PPT creator, viewing tables and figures, search (author, semantic tagging)
Other: available on mobile, semantic related articles/topics, use your current log in, picture of the logo, website address
Call to Action: What next step do you want people to take after watching your video?
My call to action was “go to the website (and explore).” Other effective calls to action I’ve seen include, “Watch the next video to learn more about X?”, “Set up an appointment for a research consultation”, and “Try it yourself.”
Dimension B: Time
You’ll want to figure out how long your video should be pretty early in the process. You don’t need to lock yourself into “exactly 62 seconds” at this point, but you should have a very good idea of what range you’re aiming for – something like: “about a minute.”
How Long Do You Need?
Remember that the longer the video, the more likely it is that a viewer will not only “drop off”, but drop off quickly. Consider that 50% more people will watch to the end of a 1 minute video than a 2 minute video.
Of course, you will need to consider how much content you have to cover – for obvious reasons instructional/how-to oriented videos tend to be much longer than promotional videos. But as a general rule, shorter is better. For most situations, 120 seconds (two minutes) or less is more than enough time to do a virtual tour, and I’d strongly recommend aiming somewhere in the 30s to 90s range.
If you’re like me, you’re going to look at the list of objectives you created in the last exercise, and you’re going to say, “There’s no way I can fit all that into 90 seconds.” But the fact is – you probably can, and if you try, you’ll have a better video as a result.
Setting a challengingly short timeframe will force you to be very selective in the production process. You’ll have to obsessively eliminate anything that doesn’t strongly support your message in order to fit in all of your content. And you’ll end up with a video that is more interesting and engaging because it will “tight” and move quickly out of sheer necessity.
Dimension C: Audio
Audio quality matters a lot more than you think. Ironically, viewers are generally far more forgiving of poor visual quality than poor audio quality. It’s definitely okay to have audio that is forgettable – but inappropriate or poor quality audio can completely sink an otherwise well put together video.
Here are a few considerations in planning your audio strategy.
Voiceovers and Talking Heads: If you don’t do a lot of videos, you will be very tempted to just have a “talking head” video (i.e. a human talking to the camera telling you about the library) or a “voice over” video (i.e., a human describing the on-screen action).
While recording a voiceover/talking head (or deciding that you’re too shy to narrate and creating a computer-generated voiceover) is really simple to do – if you are an amateur who wants a professional quality video, you should be very, very careful here.
Voiceovers definitely have a place, especially if you want to convey a lot of educational or instructional information. But they can be time consuming and difficult to execute well. I could write an entire article just on the topic of recording good audio voiceovers – but for here, I’ll just leave the following tips:
Write a script.
Make sure your script uses natural-sounding, conversational language.
Use a good microphone to record (i.e., NOT the one that comes built into your computer or camera).
Do whatever you possibly can to eliminate background noise.
Have a person/stuffed animal/something you can look in the eye in the room while you record to sound more natural and less robotic.
Music: If you don’t have anyone talking in your video, you’ll definitely want to play music. There are a lot of good sources of free or inexpensive royalty-free stock music online. (I’m personally a fan of the YouTube Audio Library, Pond5, and iStockPhoto.)
You can search stock music libraries by duration, so you can pick a song that’s already the same length as you want your video to be. You can also search for key words that match your intended mood, like “futuristic”, “bright”, or “corporate.” (Pro Tip: A lot of stock music also has easy-to-hear edit points. If you want to cut a song short, or loop it to make it longer, this can be easily accomplished with a free audio editor like Audacity.)
When you find something you like, also consider how strong the “beat” is, and how easily you will be able to synchronize your visuals to the music. An easily identifiable beat can make a world of difference, and save you a lot of time in quickly and cleanly matching visual transitions to the music.
This is especially important for the less-musically inclined. If you can clap along with your favorite song, you’ll probably be fine matching things up in your video. If you have to carefully watch your neighbor at concerts so you can match your claps to their claps – make sure you choose a track where you can literally see the beat.
I took screenshots of two different music tracks in my video editor. In the second (easy) example (this is the song I actually used in my video tour) I could potentially match up visual events to the music without ever listening to the song once. I don’t have to know anything about rhythm to line up the start of a visual event with an obvious spike.
Hard to Synch to Audio
Easy to Synch to Audio
Dimension D: Visuals
Here’s where you can really let your creativity shine. How can you show off your library? Photographs? Concept art? Charts and graphs? Text? You will ultimately be the person creating or gathering all of these visuals, so above all, make sure that you play to your own personal strengths. A professional video shop thinks in terms of “Wouldn’t it be cool to do…?” But as a non-professional who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time on this, you need to think in terms of “How can I use what I already know to do cool things?”
List Your Resources
Think about the objectives you mapped out earlier for your video. Make a list of resources that you already have or can easily make or get that you want to use to convey each objective.
My list looked something like this:
[Publications: show all 3 types (Journals, Perspectives, Magazine).] — Possible visual: Scroll through all Cover images? Screen shots of pages?
[Show 25 total publications] – Possible visual: Text saying “25 Publications”
[Demonstrate Tools: email alerts (two ways to access), sharing toolbar, figures PPT creator, viewing tables and figures, search (author, semantic tagging)] – High-speed screencast highlighting a couple possibilities (etc.)
The amount of detail to include is up to you. Adding detail here will save you time later – but some people might have better luck saving the detail work once their creative juices are flowing a bit more freely later in the process.
A Note on Camerawork and Live Action Video
Modern technology has made it incredibly easy for anyone to use a smartphone to shoot HD video of people and places. You will be tempted to say, “I’ll just shoot a video of my building/my boss talking/people using my library.” But, as with voiceovers, it is incredibly difficult and time consuming to shoot (and especially to edit together) professional-looking live action video. If you do decide to go this route, the best advice I have is this:
- Use a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, buy a $10 gorillapod. If you aren’t willing to do that, prop up your camera on a beanbag, book, anything else rather than hold it yourself.
- Get more light – and pay attention to shadows. If you’re an amateur and you think you have enough light, you probably don’t – but make sure the light isn’t directly behind what you’re shooting (a person in front of a window can be particularly tricky).
- Learn how to whitebalance. Pretty much any camera (including your iPhone) has a way to adjust this.
- Avoid zooming/panning. This is very difficult to pull off well. If you need to get close/move to the left or right, stop the camera and start a new shot.
- If you are recording a person talking, use an external microphone.
- Check for eyesores with a critical eye. It’s easy to gloss over details in a familiar environment, but do your best to spot potentially embarrassing objects (e.g., remove alcohol, trash), personal appearances (e.g., remove name badges, check for hair sticking up or shirts coming untucked), and unfortunate alignment (e.g., lines in the background appearing to emerge from a person’s head like antennae).
Frameworks and Tropes
You want your video to have a consistent look, feel and flow to bring viewers smoothly from one piece to the next. So take a look at the list of potential visual resources you just created, and start to think about how they might fit together into a visual story. Consider the mood/objectives of your video, and especially consider your skills and the resources available to you.
If you already have a great concept for the video, fantastic! Run with it, and think about clever ways to deploy it and/or make it more interesting.
If you’re like most people, though, you’ll be panicking and desperately trying (and failing) to come up with some creative idea for bringing this all together. Fortunately for you, there’s an online idea bank chock full of clever video storytelling ideas. It’s called YouTube.
Watch a bunch of videos that in the same genre you’re aiming for. Like this Ted-Ed Website Tour or this Harper College Library Tour. You don’t want to plagiarize and steal content. But you can learn a lot by thinking through what you specifically like and don’t like about different videos:
What’s cool? For example the “website inside a computer monitor” trope in the Ted-Ed video was my inspiration for showing our mobile site in a smartphone and tablet in my tour video.
How long is each shot displayed on screen? Does it feel too long or too short to you? For the ones that feel too long, check how long they actually are, in seconds. For the ones that feel too short, check how long they actually are, in seconds.
How does it start? Does it jump right into the action? Is there a pause or delay? Do you like how the introduction looks and feels? If so, what elements can you use in your video introduction (e.g., show logo with slow zoom in, held for 3 seconds.)?
How does it end? Does the ending feel too abrupt? Are there elements you want to use in your video (e.g., logo + clickable annotation linking to website, held for 5 seconds)?
How does it move from one visual to the next, while keeping a sense of unity? Are there elements you can use in your video (e.g., flipping through several different photos, but keeping them visually linked by displaying inside a frame)?
As you watch videos, write down a list of basic visual tropes, motifs, or patterns (like lining ‘em up, in threes, this or that, snapshots … anything) that you see that you might deploy throughout the video to hold together and move between not-obviously related content and ideas.
When you’re ready, narrow down and select a few ideas that you think will work the best in your video. For example: In my video tour, I wanted to convey a sense of “lots” across several categories (with the particular items themselves being unimportant). I saw a video that did the “scroll quickly through a bunch of different endings to a sentence” trope, and thought “Hey, I should use that.” A couple words of caution, though:
Be judicious in your use of repeating tropes. For example, if I had used the “change up the end of the sentence” idea for every single concept in my video, it would have gotten really tiresome, really quickly. But using it a couple times, at the beginning and end, helped to create a sense of unity and closure.
Avoid mixing genres. Unless you know what you are doing, avoid bouncing between, say, photographs and concept art.
Graphic Design 101
Choose the most important style elements that you will use in your video, including colors, fonts, and image formatting rules (e.g., borders, rounded vs. square corners, shadows, etc.). If you have a branding/style guide for your organization – use it. Otherwise, make choices that will support your mood/message.
No graphic design skills? No problem! Just plan to keep your video stylistically simple. Very simple. When you break it down, my video tour is just text and screenshots/screencasts of the library website. I specifically planned it that way because I am terrible at visual design, and knew I’d spend hours upon useless hours trying to make it look clean and professional if I did anything more complicated than that.
There is a lot that could be said, and a lot of material written by people a lot smarter than I am about basic design principles, but the most important advice I have for my fellow hopelessly-non-graphic designers is this:
- If you have text, choose exactly one font in two sizes. Do not deviate from this. (Bonus points for choosing the font that matches your library’s branding.)
- Choose a maximum of two colors to use for any text or accents. (Bonus points for choosing colors that match your library’s branding, or if you ask a designer to pick them for you.)
- Use a grid to keep visual elements aligned. (If your software has a grid function, turn it on. If it doesn’t, try grid software or even a grid paper image as a temporary background.)
If the idea of picking style elements scares you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using Microsoft Office (or other software) style defaults, as long as you are consistent.
Once you’ve thought through all of your ideas for the message, timing, audio, and visual framework of the video, it’s time to start building out your timeline.
Step 2: Edit Mercilessly – Drafting a Timeline
This is the step where you take all of your planning notes, and turn them into an ordered list of what happens in the video, when. I like to do this step on a whiteboard because I constantly change my mind and move things around as I go. The quickest way structure your thoughts, is to build an outline.
Start with a barebones timeline. Take a look at your list of objectives, and group them into 3-4 main categories or “segments”. Think about how much time you’ll want to spend on each of these main segments. This is just a starting point, so don’t put much thought into it yet. Just go with your gut: if it’s really important and there’s a lot to cover, it gets a lot of time; if it’s just one little thing, it gets a couple seconds.
Make a simple timeline of these categories, and add an Introduction at the beginning and Conclusion at the end. Remember that if you’re making a 90 second video, the time spent in each category has to add up to 90 seconds.
Here’s my first timeline
And then start filling in the details. Start filling in the details of what objectives you’re going to present, in what order. Once you have some items filled in, start talking through the order, to see if it makes logical sense. If not, play around and try out a couple different orderings. And keep filling in more details. Once you’ve got your content or narrative structure more or less pinned down, start filling in the details of the specific visual resources you listed out in the planning phase.
Again, you’ll want to talk through the start-to-finish order of these, as well, and move things around as needed. Edit down mercilessly. Once you have your outline filled in, with a timeline of all the cool visuals you want to include, think about how long it will actually take to show each visual.
There certainly isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but if you want a general idea of how long things take in a video, I’ve found that you can expect:
- Simple text (a couple words) needs 1 second minimum.
- Simple text plus a simple image needs longer – about 3 or 4 seconds minimum.
- A short sentence needs at least 3 or 4 seconds – or longer if it is very important. (Avoid long sentences altogether.)
- A simple image needs 1-2 seconds minimum, but the more complex it is (or the more images put together in a single shot) the longer you will need.
- A screencast needs at least 5 seconds to avoid feeling rushed.
- A shot that lasts longer than 6-8 seconds without significant action or motion starts to get boring.
Will everything you have planned actually fit into the allotted time? Probably not: Try to get a sense of how much time you will need to cut out – 5 seconds? 30 seconds?
Look at the key message you drafted back at the beginning of your planning. Ruthlessly eliminate anything that does not directly and strongly support this message. If you are thinking, “I can’t eliminate My Pet Idea. It doesn’t fit with the message, but it will look awesome” – you are wrong. Cut it (and save it in your idea bank for your next video).
Look for overlap. Do you have elements listed that are redundant? Or that can be combined?
Look for long elements that can be turned into shorter elements. Does your timeline include three 6 to 10 second screencasts? Can you turn one of these into a 3-second screenshot.
If you can create a detailed timeline that (1) has a logical flow of events, (2) is the right duration, and (3) you can get or create all of the necessary pieces to implement – you are well on your way to creating a solid video. Once you’re satisfied that you’ve accomplished this, it will be time to pull together the files and media you need to actually produce the video.
In Part 2 of this post, I’ll give some additional thoughts and advice on different ways you can use the tools and software you already have to get text and images video-ready, and I’ll go over the process of pulling your audio and visuals together into an actual video.
Meanwhile, if you have additional advice or suggestions for would-be video producers (or a video tour of your own that you’d like to show off), please share in the comments!
Suzanne Grubb is a digital librarian/instructional designer and all-purpose info-geek, currently building a Clinical Research Education Library for a DC-based association.