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What are the essential elements of a video story, and how can you ensure your process captures everything you need?
Creating video content is unlike almost any other process, a mixture of intensive planning and the ability to be flexible and go where the moment takes you. It requires a storyteller’s eye and instincts and hours of hard work to create short snippets.
It’s an investment.
YouTube veteran and current Googler Zynara Ng shares tips on how to tell a compelling video story as part of her presentation “Communicating purpose through corporate video.” The session recording is part of the Ragan Training library for communicators.
Discussing the video she created for YouTube’s Creator Academy, Ng says the shooting itself might have taken eight days, but the extensive planning and post-production drew the process out to eight months.
Here’s how she breaks down the video-making process:
It’s crucial to start with a comprehensive plan, including a shot list and shooting schedule. But what if you need to walk it even further back and figure out where you’re going to find the story for your video?
Ng says that it’s important to start every project by identifying your objectives and intentions. “The more specific that you can be about your goals, the more successful you will be with your project,” she says.
She recommends asking key questions:
- Who is your audience? “Make the content really specific, so it resonates with them,” Ng says.
- What do you want your audience to walk away with? This goes beyond the immediate business goal of your video. How do you want your audience to feel?
- Is there a call to action? This is crucial: What do you want your audience to do?
Once you have established a goal for your video, you can start mining stories. For finding the right person or getting an outline of the story you want to tell, Ng recommends conducting pre-interviews.
“Pre-interviews are a great way to start a conversation with individuals to find out who they are,” she says.
If you aren’t sure where to find your interview subjects, think about who your connectors might be. Then, start asking questions to find out whether your subject has a good story to tell.
“Find out what makes them unique,” says Ng. “Often what is tied into that is the ‘turning point.’”
She adds: “Challenges are such a key way to find out, how did they pivot? That’s where the gold is.” It’s important to also gauge how willing your subject is to tell the story in a compelling way. “See if they are willing to go there,” says Ng. If getting to the key takeaways you want to share is like drawing blood from a stone, your subject might not be a great fit for your interview.
Once you have conducted your pre-interview, created your shot list and assembled your team, you are ready to start shooting. Ng says this is the time to put on your director’s hat.
If the interview isn’t producing the goods, it’s your job to get your subject back on track. Ng gives this example:
“You had this great pre-interview. All of sudden, your talent freezes up and they forget what they were going to say. If you are the one directing, make sure you are actually guiding the conversation. “Do you remember from our chat earlier, do remember when you mentioned this? Can you tell me more about that?’”
Subjects often go astray one of two ways: either clamming up, or rambling on without offering the sound bite you need. “It’s your job to get in there and interrupt,” says Ng. “Ask them to repeat something in a clear and concise manner.”
She also suggests you refrain from over-prepping your interview. On the question of providing the questions before the interview she says: “Avoid doing it all costs. You lose the authenticity. … You can give them guiding posts, but let them show up.”
The questions you ask should also be carefully chosen to draw out the answers you need for a compelling video. “The more specific you can be, the more interesting your story will be,” Ng says. “Ask open-ended questions.”
Some of the sample prompts and questions she offers:
- “Tell me about the time when…”
- “What was the turning point?”
- “What advice would you give your younger self?”
“As much as you planned in pre-production, post-production is where you actually start to build,” says Ng.
This is where you start to assemble your video and pare down the hours of digital footage you captured into your final product. “The first 15 to 30 seconds are the most crucial.” Says Ng. “What is that first 30-second hook that’s going to really resonate with your audience?”
When thinking about narrative structure, think about how you can find turning points or “beats” to build an emotional journey. “If you think about a story, it ebbs and flows. Never all one high note, or one low note,” says Ng.
Here’s her rough model for a video narrative:
She also recommends checking to make sure your final narrative aligns with your original goals for the production. She says that when you are in post-production you can sometimes get so wrapped up in a shot or moment that you forget to prioritize your business objectives.
She recommends asking: “Does this align back to your original goals for the project?”
She also says it’s important not to lose sight of what made your subject unique. Remember that there’s a lot of video content out there, and if you don’t have something new to offer, you won’t get the return on investment your team needs.
To learn more from Zynara Ng and other video experts, check out our Ragan Training video portal with access to hundreds of hours of video on the latest in communications and PR.