In today's environment, we're all communicating more on video. Here at the Storytelling Institute of South Mountain Community College, we've been researching and experimenting, and here are 11 tips and best practices we've learned to perfect the practice of recording your stories!
Try to use natural light that illuminates your face fully, but doesn't wash you out or leave you overexposed. If you are using artificial light, make sure it is in front of you, not behind you. And as with natural light, make sure your face is bright but not overexposed and that it doesn't leave one side of your face with a shadow. This is accomplished by placing the light at the correct distance and angle. Many people recommend using a ring light, and there are lots of these available at a wide range of prices. Check out Angie's video on how to master your lighting on Zoom calls. Her advice applies to recording, too!
Get the camera at your eye level or slightly above by adjusting your chair or raising or lowering your computer (tripod, stack of books, etc.). It's not enough to just angle the camera.You want it pointing directly at your eyes on a horizontal axis. Looking directly at the camera makes it seem like you are looking at the listener. This gets easier with just a little bit of practice!
You'll want to mostly fill the frame with your shoulders and head, with the top of your head just below the top of the frame. Record yourself and watch how your gestures are working within the framing you've chosen. You may need to show more of your body so the gestures are consistently in the frame, or you may choose to practice your gestures so they are effective at a closer angle. Look how brilliantly Bill Irwin does this, as well as how he uses his face and timing, in this video.
Record with the best quality that you have at your disposal. For example, the webcam on our desktop is sufficient for Zoom meetings, but the camera included on an iPad is much better for recording. Play around with your devices to find which one is best.
Go for simple or something intentional/artistic and not too busy. Try not to have your bed or your kitchen, doors, or windows behind you. Avoid glass in frames that will reflect the light back at the camera. Some of us may have more flexibility with what we have behind us, but some of us may have to get creative. Bottom line: think about what best serves your listeners' ability to focus on the story you are telling.
Go for solid colors that complement you. Some sites say to avoid white, but it depends on your skin tone, the lighting, and the background. So choose a color that works best for you!
There are hundreds of makeup tutorials online about how to look good on video for both men and women. It's a deep and potentially expensive rabbit hole, but we've found some simple tweaks to a makeup routine that can make a noticeable difference in how a video turns out. Even if you don't regularly wear makeup, analyze how you look on video and decide if you want or need to use some. This is especially important if you are creating a product for a professional application.
Be completely confident in your story so you can relax in front of the camera. There are many other things to manage during the recording itself, so make sure you have the story ready to go! Video done this way with the emphasis on the face is very intimate, like telling a story to a friend over a cup of coffee. Bring all your storytelling gifts and skills to bear, while also shooting for a relaxed and conversational vibe. Even if your story focuses on how your team helped a customer or provided a new service to your client base, identify the details that matter most and tailor the story to your audience.
Play with what works best for you, your style, and your repertoire. Experimenting helps you get more comfortable using the camera and will result in a quality product that is engaging for listeners and accurately represents you as a storyteller. As with most things we want to get good at, it just takes time. Check out the Heard Museum's Stories for Dia del Nino, which came together beautifully after plenty of practice from each storyteller.
Ask your friends and trusted allies for feedback! This is particularly important for anyone prepping for a news segment or major call with a client. Record something and share it with those who will be honest with you. Ask specifically for what you want to know about, or for anything they particularly liked, or if something pulled them out of the story or distracted them.
As with in-person storytelling, effective engagement is the goal - not perfection. Record your story and watch it. If you can enjoy it yourself and take some joy in it, go ahead and use it. For example, our Faculty Director, Liz Warren, recorded this story for Doug Bland's Earth Day project. Though she claims she shouldn't have worn a patterned shirt, felt too close to the camera, and had too busy of a background background, she ultimately chose to share this video, as it made her laugh when she watched and reviewed it. Although she may not feel her video was perfect, it certainly met the goal of encouraging effective engagement.
So, go forth and make content! This is the time for all of us to enhance our skills and become more proficient at telling stories this way.
Want to learn more about the art of storytelling? Check out our article, Three Things You Need to Know about Storytelling!