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New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos

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Rene FolseNew Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on May 31, 2011 at 4:32:30 am

I am not much of an artist. My work is in professional continuing educational video production for doctors, lawyers and others.

I arrived by way of mastering online school software, setting up the server, administering, and then adding content. Content started with simple tools like Camtasia where I could sync a soundtrack up with PowerPoint slides, moved to actually shooting a talking head, then to use of a good green screen with proper lighting, good microphones, and a teleprompter where the "instructor" can see his slides while he lectures.

Camtasia migrated to CS 5.5 where I have essentially beginner level but improving skills by Creativecow standards. I can export PowerPoint to HD resolution slides, use these as though they were B roll footage. I can do basic title pages in AfterEffects. My products are informative, cutting edge topically, but boring as hell.

I want to kick it up a notch. I have watched many of the tutorials here, and elsewhere, and they are great if I wanted to blow stuff up, make flames come out of plastic pistols and other awesome stuff. I have not found any that specifically focus on how to make boring talking head educational videos more palatable. Most educational videos have a narrative.

When they are done live the PowerPoint is the visual supplement. Using the same PowerPoint in Premiere puts me to sleep. I do not have the skills to create a better approach. I am thinking that the visuals could still be words, but presented in a more exciting way. For example, have the instructor pull them down, or slide them in and gesture the correct size as in Minority Report, or CSI LA. Or have a huge sliding graphical wall of all the slides as in the CoolIris plug in for Firefox. Or even the RSAmimate videos are great.

What I am hoping is to find websites or forums or tutorials dedicated specifically to juicing up educational videos. Or, plugins or templates for this purpose. I think there is a good market for this in the online educator world. I am hoping there is a way to make a small niche here on Creativecow for those of us who are in a more boring world, but want to get better and want to quit boring our students to death. Guidance will be greatly appreciated.

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Noah KadnerRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on May 31, 2011 at 5:39:09 pm

Personally I find most powerpoint inclusions into training videos to be a total bore. Unless the graphics are just awesome and clever with sound effects to boot. But either you hire an expensive artist to get those or you use templates. Which can backfire when you use a template everyone knows too well.


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Mark SuszkoRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on May 31, 2011 at 7:27:19 pm


I don't believe you "juice it up" by making cooler motion graphics, though your video example is fabulous.

You Juice up the SCRIPT, i.e. the CONTENT, first.

SO much of what passes for "training videos" and "educational videos" today is a man or woman reading powerpoint slides to a camera, with cutaways of those slides as b-roll. While I do not hold any degrees in Instructional Design, I can tell you that this is probably the absolute worst way to go about using video for training purposes. And yet, it is often a default choice of approach, chosen by people who themselves do not understand how to use the medium, or the choice is made due to very tight time and budget constraints, and the folks making the decision don't know any better way to do the thing and get it done by deadline. A lot of these kinds of programs are actually made without regard for an audience, but rather, to fulfill a requirement, as a sort of proof that money was spent on certain things. Yet at least from where I can see, that horribly bad model is more than half of what all such training vids use. If you could hook a mind-reading machine to the audiences subjected to these videos, the transcript would go something like:

"Oh, God, not another one of these."

"Introductions of folks I don't care about..zzz..."

"Outline of the agenda for the video; well, I can see there's nothing I care about or need to worry about until chapter five, guess it's Angry Birds time until they get around to chapter five."

"OMG, he is just reading. Every. Line. Of. The. Slide. Without. Adding. Anything. More. I. May Start. Cutting. on. Myself."

"Sweet Georgia Brown, I could read these slides my own darned self at my desk, and have time left over to get real work done before lunch... I DID learn to read before they hired me."

"I know more about this subject than the guy talking; why am I wasting my time here?"

"I have no idea what this stuff is about, why is it set at a level that assumes knowledge I don't have? Why am I wasting my time here?"

"Oh look, a graphic of Microsoft word art and stock images, showing puzzle pieces coming together. Oh, I feel a shiver of motivation, don't you?"

"Wait, we're on chapter SIX already? Can we back up to chapter five for a minute? No? Okay, forget it, I'll just skim the attachments when the slides come out".

"Why does this guy speak in abbreviated bullets, instead of whole formed paragraphs and sentences?"

"I want to ask a question about this part, but there's no way to do it. There's an unusual case for me, where the rules don't apply the same way. I hope I can pin down the guy at the end as aks him. Oh, wait, I can't; it's on tape. Guess I'll have to find out some other way."

"This information would have been handy five weeks ago, when we needed this video. It's three weeks obsolete now."

Adding jazzier graphics can't do a lot to help content that is dirge-like. It only plays up the disconnect to the viewer. Most video-powerpoint lectures of this minimal sort can be done better as a hypertext document or even a simple PDF file. The low-expectations powerpoint lecture format does nothing to harness the considerable power of video and sound, combined creatively. The low-expectations model is structured on a "radio with pictures" design. You write down the lesson in a linear fashion, step 1,2,3,... then you slap text to match over that spoken word, and maybe some graphs and charts to bridge some sections and hit the "wizard" button and you are done.

But you're not. Not really.

But doing it RIGHT takes a lot more work and effort and time. Not every content expert is also an expert in conveying what they know. They may need help to translate their information into a message that is shorter, more focused. They need.... a writer. Much more, even, than they need a graphic artist. From the time we listened to shamen around a fire or under a tree, to today, the constant has been the well-told tale. You don't succeed in conveying knowledge or a message by working around that or abdicating the job to an automated wizard button. You have to take it on yourself. You have to put on the robes and the paint and sing the songs, act out the parts, do the dance. Speak the Legend. Thousands of years of audiences have come to expect it. Are built for it. To deny them is to insult them.

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Mark SuszkoRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on May 31, 2011 at 7:52:28 pm

A personal, editorial aside:

I was giving the RSA video my full attention, admiring the style and wondering how it was executed, when the speaker suddenly made some claims that show me he is uninformed about how ADHD medications work.

He describes them as sedatives and the artist depicts the students on such medication as drooling zombies on opiates. Most ADD and ADHD medications are actually stimulants, Schedule A controlled substance "uppers" akin to Benzedrine, but in the unique brain chemistry of true ADD/ADHD people, stimulants have a reverse effect than normal, and slow down an over-revving brain to near-normal speeds, allowing extended concentration and more impulse control. Giving the same medication to a normal kid would make them ping off the walls like a cartoon character. Our pediatrician compared using these meds to using anything like prescription eyeglasses to correct poor vision. There should be no stigma about taking meds to be better. That's like idiot gym coaches telling asthmatic students to "just walk it off" during an attack. I never had the benefits of such meds myself, and went undiagnosed all my young life into adulthood. I managed to develop coping mechanisms on my own, but I suffered a lot thru childhood and adolescence needlessly. Who knows what more I could have achieved in my life without this holding me back?

As far as the map correlation to diagnosis, it seemed like an abuse of a logical fallacy on correlation equaling causation, and was intellectually disingenuous at best. I couldn't focus on the RSA Animation pitch very well after that point, because he'd lost some of his credibility. Even though the style of the animation mimics some features of how an ADD person collects and interprets information flow. Sorry for the overly-personal editorial comment side trip, back to regularly scheduled programming.

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Rene FolseRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on Jun 1, 2011 at 4:24:40 am

This is all good feedback so far.

There really are no authoritative resources to use as an example of better ways to do educational video work. I have purchased every text near to the topic I can find. Many of them are theoretical with no definitive application guidance (See for example the Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning). The nearest professional body of literature I can find is based upon the documentary video model. Or I have taken training on broadcast journalism scripwriting, and the various visual models such as reader, reader with graphic shoulder, voice over, voice over with natural sound, and a complete field package. Bits and pieces of how they do documentaries and broadcast journalism can be deployed over to educational videos, but still the product is only slightly better, and not near to what I am shooting for. I am finding that a shorter presentation works better than a longer one if you can really get the point across effectively.

Several years ago I read an 80 plus page white paper that came out of MIT that described the skill set needed for the production of educational videos which included graphic artists, instructional designers, computer programers and so on. This also was a theoretical paper since I have yet to find anyone who really has a "demo reel" they can show me or really any institution that is state-of-the-art and can show me rather than tell me. Indeed I have been a student at one time or another in many institutions that have online offerings, and they are all worse than mine, and mine are not that good.

What I am trying to say is that there is a need here. I have a nice, small studio and have all the paid work I can handle. Those who visit think what I do is great, I just do not agree with them. I really want to go over the top, but do not know how, cannot find guidance in textbooks, or forums, or other tutorials that specifically apply.

I do not know why educators are so glued to PowerPoint. Indeed, those without PowerPoint presentations are deemed inferior to those who do. And those who do are not that good. Yet, the industry has been stuck at the level of PowerPoint for I think about 20 years or so. I few years back I came up with an interactive white board where I can manipulate images on a portable projection screen using infrared pens and WIIMOTE sensors. This allowed freedom from the linear one-at-a-time slide format. What happened was that the students were so engrossed with the "how did he do that" that it detracted from the content message. It was just too unique or too different. It had never been seen before.

I am getting some good points of view here, thank you.

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Mark SuszkoRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on Jun 1, 2011 at 9:27:50 am

If you have not read Ed Tufte yet, you should.

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Bill DavisRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on Jun 2, 2011 at 9:07:23 am

I'll second Mark's recommendation to read Tufte.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is about as core as you get when you're trying to get your brain around how to be informative AND honest in displaying information.

I'd also recommend you spend a quick and easy night with Carmine Gallo's Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.

But the bad news is that both of them have the same underlying message. There are and will never be any actual shortcuts to true quality work in presenting to any audience.

Tufte preaches that design and construction must NEVER take sway over the accuracy of the data being visualized. (He too LOATHES PowerPoint and actually argued later in his career at Stanford that it may have been a contributing factor in the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion!)

Gallo's book strips away the myth of Steve Job's style being "just go up and conversationally talk to the people in the audience" and reveals that his keynotes are actually the result of RELENTLESS preparation and the kind of superb editing where every-single-word, sentence and concept delivered to the audience is as carefully considered as what a good brain surgeon does in the operating room.

The truth about what you're doing is that building excellent training videosis EXACTLY the same as doing anything else in world class fashion.

It requires building skills over time. Relentless practice. Relentless refinement. Relentless striving. And knowledge that you might gain some initial insights about from reading, listening to or watching others - but in order to turn the theoretical knowledge into functional performance, you need a lot more than a Paradigm - you need real presentation experience.

The New York City cab driver in the famous joke got it right. When the guy walking by on the sidewalk carrying the violin case stops, leans in the cab window and asks him "How do I get to Carnagie Hall?" The cabbie simply responds, "Practice, practice, practice."

There is no "magic bullet.

Just effort over time combined with a taste for the external and internal feedback that's typically necessary to move away from personal performance dissatisfaction and toward satisfaction.

"Before speaking out ask yourself whether your words are true, whether they are respectful and whether they are needed in our civil discussions."-Justice O'Conner

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Walter SoykaRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on Jun 3, 2011 at 5:20:04 pm

The pain of PowerPoint is that its core feature set -- outlines and bullet points, I'm looking at you -- rarely facilitates communication. A lazy presenter thinks the way PowerPoint does, not the way the audience does, and that makes for terrible presentations.

I think that Mark made the key point in this conversation when he said that it starts with the content, and that you need a writer and a graphic designer (or a motion designer). Framing the material properly from the beginning is critical. Concepts in any form of multimedia must be presented both verbally and visually, and there must be some balance struck between the two. A good presentation designer will not actually get to PowerPoint until the middle of the process -- writing the script and developing a visual style that serves it must come first.

People are wired for stories -- we care about the characters, we get caught up in the plot. We don't literally need human characters, but thinking about objects or concepts in terms of a dramatic arc can make them more compelling. If you can make a story out of your educational piece, that's way more than half the battle.

You need to know your audience, and tweak the story to appeal to them. If your audience changes, so must your presentation.

There's a huge difference between live presentation and video. Different media have different strengths and weaknesses. Imagine how flat a movie would feel if it made by simply filming a live stage show; I think it's the same with educational video and live presentations. You need to know your medium, using its strengths to serve your story, and minimizing its weaknesses' effects. I design both presentations and "explainer" motion graphics pieces, and each calls for its own approach to the content.

Before you dive into any of the resources on presentation design, read Dan and Chip Heath's Made to Stick. This book analyzes the factors that made an idea memorable, or "sticky," and it's a great lens through which to evaluate your work. After that, read their second book, Switch -- a book about why it's hard for people to make lasting changes, and how to effectively promote change.

On the presentation design reading list, in addition to Tufte, I'd consider Nancy Duarte's slide:ology and Garr Reynolds's Presentation Zen required reading. Cliff Atkinson's Beyond Bullet Points is another good read. There's a decent amount of overlap in this material, but each of the authors bring a unique perspective to it.

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events

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Alan LloydRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on Jun 6, 2011 at 3:10:14 pm

Seth Godin also has some very good PPT-specific points.

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Scott CumboRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on Jun 1, 2011 at 3:16:47 pm

What your looking for is creativity... you'll never find it in a text book or tutorial. Just sit down and play with what you have. It you see a "cool" effect or GFX on TV or where evere, try and backwards enginer it. Figure out a way to do it with the tools you have.

Scott Cumbo
Broadway Video, NYC

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Noah KadnerRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on Jun 1, 2011 at 3:51:16 pm

Yup- the secret to making better videos is making more videos and learning. No amount of visual flair/noise is going to make up for earned know-how.


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Martin CurtisRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on Jun 2, 2011 at 10:42:02 am

[Mark Suszko] "You Juice up the SCRIPT, i.e. the CONTENT, first.

Content is king. Making a movie, or doing a presentation, the words matter.

One of my jobs is to record PPT presentations. I record audio and slides, compress to MP4 and put them on the intranet. I hate it because no-one watches this stuff because the material is dull. The only reason an audience sits through it is because they have to - it would be obvious if they left. Online ... people drift away.

If people take the time to ask me about using a recorded presentation as an educational tool, I say "don't". I say "write it specifically for an online audience, only make it as long as it has to be (too many presenters have a time slot to fill) and we'll do this in the studio". A little better, but so many do't have the time or patience to do it right.

My wife used to create online education packages. A rule of thumb is that only 25% of the material is didactic. Think about that. One-quarter. The rest is interactive: mini quizzes, online discussions, surveys etc. It's the only way to engage an audience and actually have people sit through education to the extent that they learn something and can pass an exam to prove it. The flipside of this is that it is horrendously expensive to produce material like this. Qualified educators, programmers, artists, hosting etc. Especially educators. Just because someone knows a subject doesn't mean they have a clue how to teach it. People who think putting a PPT online is high tech would never pay the kind of money that real online education costs to make.

I just read this back and it sounds like a downer. Start with "content is king" and work from there. Keep it short, sharp and to the point. Use movement to direct attention, and images to illustrate a point. Except for the Lord Privy Seal.

And hire an actor. They can look more like a professional that the professionals you're educating. Usually sound better too.

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Noah KadnerRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on Jun 2, 2011 at 2:20:57 pm

Problem with hiring an actor is they often sound like they don't actually know much about the subject they're reading a teleprompter about. If I wanted training from someone reading cue cards- I'd rather just read the cue cards as text myself and cut to the chase. Many subject matter experts (SMEs ha) are great at presenting material- that's what you want.


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Nick GriffinRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on Jun 5, 2011 at 3:21:23 pm

[Noah Kadner] "Problem with hiring an actor is they often sound like they don't actually know much about the subject they're reading a teleprompter about"

Not the good ones, especially the ones who specialize in presentations. Several years ago we had a highly competent and technically adept voiceover artist giving a stand-up presentation, alongside a live satellite feed, at a trade show. The best comment I heard from an audience member was, "Wow. I had no idea that (client company) had an engineer who is such a good public speaker."

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Nick GriffinRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on Jun 5, 2011 at 3:40:33 pm

This link has been posted on the COW before, but it's very pertinent to this current thread... AND it's a classic:

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Martin CurtisRe: New Paradigm for Talking Head Educational Videos
by on Jul 1, 2011 at 3:05:55 am

I have just finished recording an actor, who is playing a doctor, reading words to a camera. The doctor we had reading words to a camera was not very good. She was very obviously nervous, her pacing was bad and as time went on her neck developed red blotches. Our actor looks good and sounds good. The actor also took direction.

Two weeks ago I recorded a professional VO guy doing about 15 minutes of material. Last week I recorded to staff doing VO, one sentence at a time. The difference is chalk and cheese.

I love working with professionals because they're effective. If I make something that isn't effective, people look to me to 'fix it' rather than at their own willingness to spend a few bucks to get a professional to do the important bits.

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