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FOCUS

Video Techniques for Effective Science Communication

This is the second part of a short guide for researchers on simple and effective techniques for making compelling science communication videos. It’s based on a two and a half day workshop organized through the ASU Risk Innovation Lab, and is provided under a CC-BY-NC Creative Commons License. Written and produced by Andrew Maynard

The guide provides step-by-step instructions for producing sketch-style (whiteboard) videos, using a smartphone and basic editing software. It’s broken down into 8 sections:

  1. INTRODUCTION & OVERVIEW
  2. FOCUS
  3. SCRIPT
  4. STORYBOARDING
  5. VOICEOVER
  6. FILMING
  7. EDITING
  8. FINISHING TOUCHES

INTRODUCTION

One of the most important aspects of a short, engaging science video is having a crystal clear focus to the video. This means identifying some specific aspect of science (or engineering, technology etc.) that can be clearly and effectively conveyed to a non-expert audience in just 2-3 minutes.

This takes tremendous discipline, because it means picking one minutely small piece of knowledge or understanding our of everything you know (and no doubt think is cool and exciting), and just focusing on this.

This is hard, but there are some techniques that can help, including:

  • Think about what viewers will be interested in, not what you what to teach them. Viewer-oriented videos are far and away the most effective ones at engaging people and conveying useful information.
  • Pick a very specific topic that may seem simple, and even boring, to you; but will be fascinating to others. And if necessary narrow this down even further. For instance, “General principles of stimulated light emission and amplification” is not a good topic for a short video. “How lasers work” gets closer, but this is probably still too broad for a 2-3 minute video for non-experts. But “What’s inside a laser pointer” or “How do gas lasers work” begins to be manageable — albeit at a very simple level.
  • Make sure the topic and the vide title will appeal to viewers’ curiosity, and tell them what to expect from the video itself. Clever titles (like “Getting coherent with light” or “A light saber in your pocket”) rarely work. Instead, make it clear to potential viewers what to expect — and keep it short (just 4-7 words ideally).
  • Do not use jargon! Keep the language of the focus and the title as clear and as simple as possible. This should be understandable and of interest to a middle schooler who’s curious about science, but doesn’t know much. At the same time, don’t be patronizing. For instance “How to magically make light beams for people who aren’t very smart” would be a really bad title!
  • Kill your darlings! This is an old editor’s adage, and will be repeated time and time again through the workshop. When you’re thinking about what you will want to make a video on, there’ll be stuff that you are desperate to cover that just doesn’t make a for good video from the viewer’s perspective. These are your “darlings”, and you need to be prepared to ditch them!

Next up: Script …