A Live Event is a Story

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The Republican Convention has been getting flack for a rough start. As someone who helps produce live events, I feel their pain and know the challenges involved. Because while participants might feel the event is just a series of speakers, if produced correctly, the experience can actually be a cohesive narrative.  Attendees should come away with a positive feeling, some new information and a commitment to action, never knowing all the logistics, security sweeps, food deliveries, changing of speakers, and other details that are happening under the surface.

How is a live event a story?

A live event is a story with a main character which in most cases is not a single person but rather a company or cause. There are supporting characters, too—usually people who can help shed light on a particular aspect of the company or a particular example of the cause in action. And these characters all fit into a story arc with an introduction, a crescendo (for each plenary if there are multiple ones) and a finale. There might be break-out sessions, receptions and mixers where participants get to learn more and meet one another.  And there should also be videos and multi-media elements that help elucidate key themes help the audience get to know the main characters. But at the end of the day, it’s still a story.

What are the key elements for a good live event?

Entertainment. Talking heads never win the day. You need to build in some excitement and fun. This means more than just simply bringing out a musician on stage here or there. Because even a performance must connect to the main story thread.  So if your event is telling the story of homelessness in America, then the musician might be an artist who was formerly homeless. If your event is about women’s empowerment, you might create a live-on-stage showcase with cutting-edge products created by women-owned businesses.  Whatever can transform the experience of the person in the room and entertain them, while also helping to make an emotional connection to your theme.

Drama. This often relates to having a big-name speaker. But it can also mean keeping your timing tight so that speakers, videos and other elements move towards a crescendo to your climactic speaker of the session. This means vetting speeches—always challenging with VIPs—and being sure they don’t overlap in content, and are as short and thematically interconnected as they can reasonably be. The last thing you want is a tired audience (or one that gets up and leaves), which is exactly what happened to Iowa Senator Joni Ernst when her speech got pushed well past prime-time and almost at midnight during the Republican Convention.

Stories. Stories are most often anecdotes from speakers that elucidate the purpose or theme of the event.  As speechwriters, our first job is to interview speakers to be sure we understand their stories, which ones fit into the narrative arc of the event, and how best to write in the person’s natural voice. This is why Melania Trump was so ill-served by whomever wrote her partly plagiarized speech–Googling “first lady speeches” is never a great way to begin the writing process. It must always begin with the individual and their own story.

Video. Video is a way to tell compelling stories weaving together archival video clips, photos, interviews, music. Video can move an audience to tears, or make them rise to their feet in applause. It can tell a more textured story that a speaker can do about a cause or a person. Since I started this post talking about the Republican Convention, I should mention one of my first projects was researching a few of the archival images for the famous A Man From Hope video produced by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason that introduced Bill Clinton to the Democratic Convention in 1992 (minus the 3-min introduction now on YouTube that was not part of the original piece).

Audiences today wouldn’t be able to sit still for a 15-minute video at an event today, but this film is still a stand-out for its ability to introduce all the main characters in this family story. It helped audience members see Clinton’s vision and values within a historical context, such as his growing up in the poor south during the civil rights era and the impact of the Kennedy assassination on his vision for the future.  When we produce videos for today’s events, we try to keep them to under 3 minutes, which means we don’t get to develop the texture and depth of those older interview-driven pieces. But the goal is the same: let the audience see a more intimate side of an individual or a cause, and evoke an emotional connection in the room.

Producing live events is always a challenge. And national conventions are some of  the most daunting. At the end of the day, the best story will win.

Amy DeLouise is a writer-director-producer who creates content for live events. Her new book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Focal/Routledge) is available on Amazon.com and the Routledge website.

 

Photos: Five Tricks for Keeping Track

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labyrinth copyright B.DeLouiseThanks to digital photography, organizations now have millions of photos to use in their promotions, websites and videos. But a photo is only useful if you can find it! As a video producer, I’m often fishing through massive files of photos labeled IMG1024 etc., trying to find just the right shot. Here’s a way to avoid that hassle and expense:

  1. Assign a Photo Guru. Even if multiple departments use and shoot photos, make one person responsible for your photo management system, and your tagging process. This person should create a cheat sheet for item 3 below.
  2. What Gets Measured Gets Done. Set a target for each quarter tied to institutional goals. Metrics might include not simply the number of photos to labeled and archived but how you are making them accessible to multiple departments/users/members/donors and how often they are getting reposted and linked back to primary content.
  3. Use Metatags. When an event is over, ingest all media cards and batch rename the files (while checking the box for retaining old metatag info) with the name and date of your event. If you hire professional photographers, give them the names you want to assign to each event or each day of a multi-day event. Your tagging work is not complete, but at least you have a good start. Most photo archiving systems will allow you to add other information such as who is featured in the photo and other keywords.
  4. Be Clear and Consistent. Don’t label your Los Angeles Gala photos “LAG” one year and “LA Gala” the next. In five years, no one will be able to find the LAG photos.
  5. What’s Old is New Again. From #TBT posts on social media to anniversary videos to website timelines, old photos get new life. Organizations that have been around since before digital will need to scan (at 200dpi minimum) old photos so that they can be re-purposed for web, social media, video, print and live event uses. This is a great job for a summer intern! But the intern will need to speak with the Photo Guru, above, so s/he understand key categories, institutional themes. Provide a handy photo “crib sheet” of important people for reference.

 

Amy DeLouise is a video producer/director who often finds herself slogging through unlabeled photo archives in search of the perfect shot!

Tips for Branded #Storytelling with #Video

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Storytelling through video can help you advocate for a cause, raise awareness and money, train, and motivate.  And with video engagement levels and distribution platform options at an all-time high, charities, associations, government agencies and corporations are producing more reality-based short video content than ever before. But many communications teams launch into producing videos without a solid script. That can throw up unnecessary roadblocks to success. With a plan for your  nonfiction story arc and a script-to-screen process, producers can lower their overhead costs and improve storytelling impact and audience engagement.

Identify Characters: Be sure you’ve identified a main character (protagonist), which might even be your organization. Are there supporting characters? Those might be other people who can speak about this person or product or initiative.  Don’t use more than 3 or 4 characters in a less than 5-minute video, or you’ll overwhelm viewers and confuse your narrative.

Write a Script: You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint. Don’t shoot a video without a script. Even if your video is largely based on real people interviews, you want to have some kind of game-plan going into those interviews so you can craft a compelling story. Your script can include bullet points for the topics of potential “soundbites”–something that helps you create your interview questions and craft the story line on paper before you start spending money in the field or studio.

Create Storyboards: Particularly if you’re producing a graphically-driven piece, you will need storyboards to help guide the way before you invest in animation.  For other types of videos, your storyboards can be as simple as stock images in a Powerpoint with a few descriptions beneath each one. These visuals can really help you when you’re faced with choices of how to light, shoot and edit your production.

Get Interview Transcripts: If you are interviewing people for your show, get transcripts made–a very small investment of a few dollars per minute–so you can select your soundbites on paper before spending time and money editing clips together.

Build an Editing Script: Once you’ve inserted your favorite soundbites or options into your initial script, you’ve created an editing script. Add in your selections or options for stock music and other visuals, such as stock or archival photos, videos and graphics, and you’ve got your guide-posts for a streamlined post-production process.

For more detailed tips about how to create an effective short-form branded stories on video, try my new Lynda.com course in nonfiction Scriptwriting.

Amy DeLouise is a director/producer, speaker and author who makes branded short-form videos for impact.

Top Writing Challenges for Short Nonfiction Video

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“Helping people understand what can and can’t be communicated through video” and “Keeping viewers engaged” are two top sticking points for the video writers who attended my workshop during GV Expo this morning. We covered strategies and tools for writers to get better results with video. Top tips include:

  1. Define the goals for your video. Use a Creative brief to outline these goals, along with your story approach, point of view, creative look, and any budgetary or scheduling requirements.  Include a few success measures–“if this video is successful, what does that look like?” This might mean a lot more than number of views. It might mean the number of minutes reduced in customer service calls, or the number of registrations for next year’s event. Think measurable goals!
  2. Define your characters. A 1-2 minute video doesn’t need more than one main character.  Supplemental characters include setting and music, which play an important role in how the audience views your subject.
  3. Define your story arc. Everyone thinks about narrative arc with fiction, but engaging nonfiction stories have them, too.  What’s your hook? It needs to grab your audience in the first 15-30 seconds, before the dreaded initial drop-off in viewing happens. What’s after your hook—how do you give the back story quickly and efficiently? What’s the central challenge of the character and how do they overcome it (the climax)? And as your story winds down, do you include a call to action?
  4. Use tools and workflow. Get transcriptions done if you are creating an interview-based story. The roughly $25 per person will be worth it! Then you can focus on finding those elements that move your story forward. Plan a writing workflow that gives you the flexibility to find the hidden stories, but develop creative that meets your goals. Especially if you are writing for animation, you will have to be very detailed in your approach to story so that you allow time for storyboarding, keyframes and animation tests.

Amy DeLouise is a scriptwriter and video director working in short form nonfiction. A slide deck from her writing workshop at GVExpo is on the Speaker tab of this website. Don’t forget it’s #GivingTuesday. Join me in buying a gift for a child in need through Central Union Mission Operation Christmas Miracle.

Brain Chemical Connects Us to Human Stories

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When we watch cSigning a Checkharacters on the screen, why do they make us laugh or cry? And why does one story make us want to support a charity or social cause? It turns out compelling human stories trigger a chemical response in our brains. Neuroscientist Dr. Paul Zak has been studying the neurochemical oxytocin for years, and learned that humans have a chemical response similar to animals when we find another human trust-worthy: a spike in our oxytocin makes us feel connected to another human being. Even when watching the human on a screen, this response is triggered—what Dr. Zak calls the golden rule response: “if you treat me well, in most cases my brain will synthesize oxytocin and this will motivate me to treat you well in return.”

Most recently, Dr. Zak conducted a study with several short films from St. Jude’s Hospital. When viewers connected with the characters in a short film about a father whose young son is dying of cancer, they had an increase in cortisol and oxytocin. That chemical boost ran parallel to feelings of empathy with the characters, which was increased when there was a strong “narrative arc”—a powerful dramatic rise and climax to the real people story line.

This doesn’t come as a big surprise to those of us working in nonprofit direct response and impact story-telling. We know that to get donors to give and communities to care, we have to tell powerful stories. We know that viewers must connect emotionally with our characters, just as they would with characters in a fiction film. We do this through not just their words and images, but through lighting techniques, music scoring and the pacing of our edits. But building empathy isn’t enough. We have to create a dramatic arc that builds to a climax. We have to create suspense around some kind of obstacle that the characters must overcome, whether it is in their past or present. And our viewers have to relate to that obstacle, even if it is not precisely the same for them.

This is why pre-interviewing potential characters is so essential for documentary-style stories based on real people. Before they go on camera, we need to understand what will be compelling, what will not be relatable, and what will build suspense for our viewers.  And now it turns out that what we’re also doing is triggering those chemical responses in the brain that will make our subjects and their story connect to the brains of our viewers.  In the case of nonprofit storytelling, we need those chemical responses to be strong, because we are usually looking for a response that extends to well after the video ends: we want a viewer to get involved in a cause, donate money, write to their elected officials, or change some previous behavior (stop smoking, lose weight, etc). So it turns out that all these years I thought I was an English major-turned-filmmaker, it turns out that I’m in the neuroscience business: triggering a brain response that helps people act on the golden rule, and do great things for others and the world.

Amy DeLouise is a director and producer who tells real people stories to help viewers connect with causes and take action.

Sure Way to Increase Donors and Activists: Tell Stories

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Sky at Sunset In philanthropy, the saying is that people give to people, not causes. Connecting at the level of hearts and minds has always been critical to building long-term relationships with donors, and also with grassroots supporters. And the best way to do that is through storytelling.  Now that YouTube, Vimeo, and other Web 2.0 tools are giving so many nonprofits a “channel” for their stories, personal narrative is being rediscovered.  But to tell a compelling story requires critical elements.

What makes a compelling story about mission?

1.       Focus on outcomes. Everyone loves a success story. Reality TV is filled with them: obese person becomes thinner, aspiring chef wins the prize, talented singer gets a record deal.  Think of the success stories in your organization, but instead of listing them as bullet-points, express them through anecdotal stories.

2.       Focus on people. The people who make it happen and the people whose lives are changed. Who are the people who made a difference in students lives? What are those students doing today? Who is the volunteer who went into a community and changed it for the better? What is happening in that neighborhood now? What would have happened to that child without a medical intervention paid for by others? What kind of life does this child have today?  Interview-driven narratives are highly successful at building the case for donors and volunteers.

3.       Show why your organization matters. Somewhere in the narrative, you need to show viewers why your organization made a tangible difference in the outcome.  It wasn’t just random acts of kindness that led to this success. It was your people, your dedication, your/their dollars at work.

4.       Engage viewers in their own narrative. Make sure there is a call to action somewhere in your story, usually at the very end. “How can you make a difference just like Alice did?”  “With just 20 cents per day, you can change the life of a child like Shawn.” “Join us at our XYZ event to make your voice heard.”  Think about what story viewers want to create for themselves after watching yours.

5.       Provide follow-up options. If a viewer is moved by your narrative, they should easily be able to click somewhere next to the video or case study to do something–sign up for the conference, make a donation, become a member.  Despite the tendency to want sheer numbers—hey, our video got 20,000 views!—you really want qualified viewers. And viewers who will ACT once they’ve heard your story. So be sure you provide a way they can engage other than passive viewing. The framework around the video should have clickable links. And if you are participating in Youtube’s nonprofit program, you can embed links to your nonprofit site directly in your video content.

Telling and hearing stories is our oldest human instinct. Web 2.0 just makes it easier to share.

Amy DeLouise helps nonprofits tell their stories, strategize about their futures, and influence the world around them.

Five New Year’s Resolutions for Promoting Your Brand

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Yellow Hibiscus, Red Center 7_IGP0786 s.c Is updating your brand part of your 2014 New Year’s resolutions? Here are five ways to boost your brand recognition this year.

 1. Improve Social Media Engagement.  Google’s new algorithm not surprisingly puts the focus on Google +1’s. AccordingWishpond’s James Scherer (@JDScherer) writing for SmartBrief’s social media blog “While links are still incredibly important, equally important (and in the +1’s case, more important) are social endorsements such as Facebook likes and shares, LinkedIn shares, tweets and Pinterest pins.”   Building in ways for your donors, your followers, or your customers to engage with you and create those ever important endorsements is essential. Consider special discounts for conferences and events, or unique content for Twitter or Facebook followers to make the new SMO work for your brand.

2. Bring Your Executive Team on Board in Social Media. Gone are the days when your intern writes your blogs and Facebook posts. Customers and donors expect to follow the CEO’s twitter feed and get an insider perspective. Let the Thought Leaders in your institution–your C-Suite team and your Board leaders–build your brand by engaging in social channels. Sure, you can help them out with suggested themes, samples , and optimal timing around key events and product roll-outs. But their insider perspective and authentic voice is essential. A polished, corporate example is Bill Marriott’s On the Move blog. A slightly more irreverant blog is DuetsBlog, which belongs to a law firm. Ford’s chief digital communicator, Scott Monty, has a twitter feed worth emulating (@ScottMonty). But the examples you can offer are as endless as the kinds of personalities in your leadership circle.

3. Ask Movers and Shakers to Tweet About You. The tweet is the modern equivalent of getting an autograph, but more useful for your brand. When one of my nonprofit clients gave a facility tour to Justin Bieber (and encouraged him to tweet about it, which he did), they got 10,000 new followers in a matter of hours. Find out if any key personalities(or well-connected board members) are already known to your institution and encourage that they will Tweet, post on Facebook or blog about you.  And yes, specifically ask them to do it!

4. Make Your Video Content Multi-Platform Friendly. Right now, H.264 is still the go-to codec, but H.265 is on the way. And yet many organizations are still shooting standard def or stuck in the land of Flash.  If you want your content to be mobile- and web-friendly, make it a priority to upgrade your acquisition and output specs. For new content, shoot in High Def, at 1080p (29.97 frame rate, or 24fps which looks nicer in many cases and saves you some file space) for maximum flexibility and image quality. This larger acquisition size takes up more space, but storage is cheap. Whereas having your fabulous web fundraising video look horrible and pixelated at your annual conference could be an expensive mistake.

5. Multi-cast Your Content. Now it’s easy to share branded videos not just through Facebook, iTunes and YouTube, but also through Podcast Alley, MeFeedia, and more.  You can even reach the television-viewing audience by doing a direct-to-TiVO distribution. This allows you to bring more eyeballs to your content, and syndicate your branded content across multiple delivery platforms.

Merry Branding and a Happy New Year!

Amy is a frequent speaker, workshop leader, and an author on Lynda.com .

Social Web Advocacy: Do’s and Don’ts

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A canvasser knocked on my door last night to sign us up for a petition in a community clean water campaign.  On the same day, I got an email link to a new candidate’s YouTube Senate campaign video. Both campaigns offer case studies for things to do and those to avoid in issue advocacy.

An engaging, passionate, and very cold (it was below freezing outside) canvasser made a great case for lobbying our county council against development along Ten Mile Creek, which eventually makes its way into the Potomac. We asked for more information and he left us with a printed fact sheet. I wanted more information so I emailed a friend who works at an environmental organization and he asked me for the sheet. That’s when the problems began. I couldn’t find the talking points anywhere online–not on the organization’s web link provided, not anywhere on its website, not by Googling it.  Having a physical person come to my door to sign me up for the petition was great. No one loves those telemarketer phone calls–even for a good cause. And he was able to engage in more in-depth conversation about the issue. But the handout was too long (front and back of a page!) for today’s short attention spans and there was no way to share it other than scanning it. The website doesn’t feature any way to Tweet, promote on Facebook, or otherwise connect socially to this campaign–boo hoo.

Takeaways: Handouts are great. Emails are even better, with web and social links. But all physical page handouts should include easy ways to share the content in social forums.

The next campaign came via email. Shenna Bellows is running for Senate in Maine and looks like a great candidate from her YouTube campaign video. I love the personal interviews and the way they cut together people looking straight to camera to convey the variety of her prospective constituents. What I HATE HATE HATE (can you tell I hate it?!) is how she is reading “off-axis” from a teleprompter. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had to do this reading from prompter thing. But the axis is entirely too severe to be believable as an interview setup. [Insert shameless self-promotion here:  See my Lynda.com Art of the Interview class for more on best interview setups.]  It would have been better to cull these points during a real interview. Or to just do the prompter-over-the-camera and have her deliver straight to the audience. Either way, the great techniques of the rest of the spot are undermined by this rookie mistake.

Takeaways: Real people, real interviews are key to believability in social web.

Art of the Interview: Making Personal Stories Work

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For mission-driven nonprofits, telling stories–obstacles to overcome, successes won–can be one of the best ways to show people you are delivering on the mission.  Human stories compels viewers and listeners in a way that other communications just don’t.   But if you’ve ever had to interview someone–whether for a podcast, video or audio program–you know that drawing out the best story can be difficult.

So I’m pleased to announce my new course on Lynda.com–taught with my good friend and colleague Rich Harrington– called the Art of the Video Interview (we also cover audio-only interviews).   We’ve put our years of experience into this practical course, and cover everything from location scouting and interview preparation, to how to build rapport with interviewees, what equipment to use for audio-only interviews, getting the best interview out of difficult subjects–people who are subject matter experts, young children, couples. And finally, we address all the things that will help you prepare for a better edit–including how to minimize narration and using transcripts effectively for workflow.  We had a lot of fun putting together this course, so I hope you enjoy it!

 

Budget Branding

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Nautilus-1 To quote @ScottMonty Global Head of Social Media at Ford Motor Company, “What’s the ROI of not putting your pants on in the morning?” He’s talking about social media marketing. But the same applies to branding. In other words, you can’t afford not to brand.

So if the ROI of good branding is huge, how do you minimize the costs?  Here are three cost-effective tools you can start using right away.

1. Email is Free Ad Space!

I often receive emails without any “signature” –what a lost opportunity! A signature line doesn’t just give you a chance to tell your name and title, it gives you space for a blog link, twitter hashtag for an upcoming event, or YouTube link to your latest video.  This simple free advertising can be employed unilaterally—and uniformly–across your organization. (Send a “signature of the week” email to everyone with easily copied info.)

2. Mine Your Own Content!

A tool everyone has, but rarely maximizes—is your own media library. Maybe because it’s not so much a library as a pile, a box, a series of files that no one can find.  Graphics, photographs, audio interviews or videotape footage–these all have sunk costs, and can be re-purposed for much less than the initial investment. The key is to use metatags and an archiving and workflow system that makes sense to everyone in your organization. Avoid those awful automatic names (IMG_001) by batch renaming–but always maintain the original name in the data. (Adobe Bridge is a handy tool for this, though there are many others. Here’s a “how to” video by my friend @richardharrington on how to do this.) But whether you use a sophisticated archiving system or a spreadsheet,   the ultimate cost savings to promote your brand is large, since you will avoid re-shooting or re-acquiring images or footage where something from your own “stock” library would work to tell the story.

3. Video Sells!

According to IndieGogo, “Crowdfunding pitches with video content raise 112% more than those without.” Video certainly is one of the top-most searched items on the web. But producing a branding video in-house can be daunting, and commissioning one to be made can be costly. So consider starting small, with a podcast. With just the investment in a digital audio recorder or a small digital camera, and some basic audio recording/mixing software (here),  you can give out some useful information, and cross-promote your organization’s other content–books, websites, conferences, upcoming events.

Just using these three low-cost or free tools can help you gain ground with your brand, which in turn can help you increase fundraising, sales, visibility, memberships or issue awareness.