Weak Videos vs. Strong Videos

Today, video is by far the most sought-after way to communicate online. It makes up 70–80 percent of all consumer traffic. And while there is a lot of emphasis on the importance of organizations having videos to share work that’s being done, there’s not as much emphasis on the quality of videos being produced - videos that don’t just talk about an issue or an organization, but show the importance of the work and how it impacts people’s lives.

We believe to our core that there are several key approaches that make a strong video and several pitfalls that make a weak video. And these pitfalls are sneaky. They can easily work their way into a video if you’re not vigilant, especially if you’re working with an organization or a group of people with different ideas. Here’s what often happens:

1. Weak videos…try to squeeze everything into one video
We see this all the time - your organization does so many things or the issue has so many dimensions. Why not share all this interesting stuff? But therein lies the problem - when you share too much, it dilutes your message and your audience gets lost. There’s nothing for them to attach to, therefore it washes over their heads

2. Weak videos…are vague and generic
When your video is filled with jargon words (e.g. innovation, silo, at-risk, underserved) it doesn’t tell us anything unique about you. You could replace your organization’s name with any other organization and the video would still work (which means it doesn’t work).

3. Weak videos…include too many voices
Every time you introduce someone new to a video you’re asking your audience to get to know a new character and remember them when they show up again. This process takes them out of the story. And when there are too many voices there isn’t a personal connection with anyone. They end up being faces on a screen and not individual people that the audience cares about.

4. Weak videos…focus on talking points
Your audience is smart. They can tell the difference between someone who is using their own voice and someone who is reading from a script or regurgitating talking points. There’s a feeling we all get when we realize we’re being fed a line - we start to tune it out and we lose interest.

5. Weak videos…use a bullhorn approach
You don’t want your video to feel like a used car commercial, where a guy in a suit is beating you over the head with reasons why you should buy his cars. Viewers are much more likely to be moved and intrigued by a more nuanced approach.

6. Weak videos…tell, don’t show
We see this all the time. The executive director of the organization is a very skilled speaker and their job is to go around talking about how great their organization is. So naturally, they seem like the obvious choice to be the face of your video. But does someone in a suit sitting in front of a bookshelf really help you feel the weight of the issue they’re addressing or understand what it’s like for the people most impacted by the work? That can only come from the personal stories of those most closely connected to the work done on the ground.

1. Strong videos…let the character’s story communicate the impact and message
If you’ve decided on producing a character-driven story, and you’ve managed to narrow down your story to just one (or two) voices…that’s awesome. The key to making this approach successful is to allow the character to guide you through their experience. There’s a tendency for people to want to feed lines to this person and put them in the role of talking head, but this misses the point. Their story needs to be the focus of the video, and the issue/organization should be woven throughout in a natural way.

2. Strong videos…have a purposeful, focused message
It’s so important to have a clear idea of what your message is before you start your video. If you’re lucky, you’re going to have your audience’s attention for a few minutes, and that is your chance to communicate your most important point. If they walk away with a muddle of information that they can’t make sense of, you’ve wasted their time and yours.

3. Strong videos…share specific moments
How do we get from generic and vague, to real, human, and tangible? Moments. When someone describes an experience in a broad way, we can maybe get a surface-level understanding of it, but we can’t connect with it. For example, if someone says, “The first orchestra concert I ever went to was great.” Ok, we understand that it was a good experience. But if they say, “The moment I stepped into the auditorium I got goosebumps. The energy in the room was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. When the music started to play, that’s when I realized that I wanted to be a musician.” When someone describes a real moment, we can put ourselves in their shoes and connect to them on a different level.

4. Strong videos…elicit emotion and connection
One of the great strengths of video is that it can capture emotion in a visceral way. And there’s no better way to get someone engaged than reaching them on an emotional level. This doesn’t always have to be sad - this can also be fun, happy, and silly too. Videos that let our intellectual guard down and remind us what it means to be human are the ones that people connect with and remember.

5. Strong videos…engage the audience (2+2=4)
In one of our favorite TED Talks, Andrew Stanton  –  the amazing Pixar director and producer  -  talks about the “Unifying Theory of Two Plus Two.” What this theory means is that it’s our human nature to be problem-solvers and we find satisfaction in working to figure things out. So in storytelling, your audience will be much more engaged and enjoy the story more, if you don’t give them all the answers. Instead you give them the elements they need to come up with the answer on their own. Don’t just give them four, give them two plus two and allow them to come up with four on their own.

6. Strong videos…show human impact, don’t just tell us about it
Listening to someone recount events or give general examples of something does not show real impact. The easiest and most obvious way to show impact is to be there for the action, to capture real events as they unfold. But this is not always possible. However, there are some key strategies than can still create that feeling of being there. By asking your subject to tell specific moments or anecdotes about an event, the audience can have the feeling of being there with them.

7. Strong videos…are authentic
Most people have a pretty keen authenticity radar. They can distinguish between someone who is speaking about a real experience and someone who is trying to perform for the camera. It’s the filmmaker’s job to make people feel comfortable sharing themselves and their story.