February 27, 2014
The CEO wiped away his tears, pulled out his tattered personal checkbook from his desk drawer, and asked, “How much would you like?”
The director of the charity had come prepared to ask for a $10,000 donation. Seeing the tears as the video concluded, he knew that a door had just been opened really wide. “We’re looking for a lead donor at $100,000,” he responded.
Minutes later a personal check for $100,000 was in his hands.
When it comes to creating PR videos for your company or nonprofit, I invite you to adopt the video mantra I’ve used for two decades: Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em write a check. That $100,000 check after viewing a $12,000 video was the result of pure emotion.
As you plan your video, your goal should be to take the audience on an emotional roller coaster. Emotions, not facts, move a viewer to take the actions you want, whether it is to support your cause, buy your product or even abandon their prior beliefs based on what you’ve conveyed to them.
The two best emotions are tears and laughter. Unfortunately, in a hypersensitive corporate world, people are afraid that humor will offend. This requires you to look for satire and parody, or the occasional silliness. Find humor in situations and irony, rather than in individuals or their cultures. A grin from a viewer is as good as a laugh — they both create that all-important endorphin release.
One retail corporation I know invented a silly superhero in a silly costume to appear in their videos in order to change corporate behavior among their young employers. This approach was effective with their audience.
The biggest mistake found in most videos is that they are loaded with facts. Truth be told, the higher the emotions are and the fewer facts there are, the stronger the outcome is.
Think of your video as an icebreaker that is designed to make the viewer ask follow-up questions. During the follow-up questions, you will learn what they want to know more about, creating an opportunity for a true dialogue.
A committee never writes the perfect script. The more hands that touch the script, the worse it will be.
The scriptwriter must meet with important stakeholders to gather facts. But the magic sauce is when the scriptwriter can tap into the emotion of why the stakeholders are passionate about their cause.
Conveying the passion — built around only the most important facts — is your goal.
The script also improves when you convey the benefits that you will deliver to society, rather than how you deliver them. This approach helps you focus on the external audience, rather than on the internal audience.
Being too close to the subject can also hamper a script. The closer the scriptwriter is, the more you get sucked into the vortex of internal details.
Your goal should be to make people in your audience nod their head in agreement throughout your video. To achieve this, you must always run the script through the cynic filter. Gather the biggest cynics available and let them take shots at your script. Often lines that are intended to be clever or creative will draw the most attention.
For example, as I view BP’s current television ad campaign and hear the words, “Our commitment to safety has never been stronger,” the cynic in me says, “Yeah, I know. If you had been committed to safety a few years ago, then you wouldn’t have polluted the entire Gulf Coast with oil.”
A better phrase for that line would be: “We have an obligation to work every day in a way that is safe for our people and our planet.” This rephrased line causes me to nod my head in agreement.
Before you release the final video, show it to an informal audience to get their feedback. As you show the video, don’t watch it. Position yourself where you can read the expressions on the audience’s faces instead. Do they laugh, sigh or cry exactly when you want them to?
Ask the audience: “Did anything in the video make you uncomfortable? Was anything factually incorrect? Did anything offend you?” Never ask: “Did you like it? Is there anything else you’d like to add?”
Visually, you need to punch the audience right between the eyes with the opening scene. You want to hear an audible, “Wow!” or at least an expression indicating a “wow” response.
Spending too much time on corporate logos is a big waste of time.
As the video continues, you must build visual hooks that make the audience want to invest more of their valuable time.
Because the medium is visual, the images that the videographer collected and the editor assembled should also convey emotions and, in many cases, those images can replace facts written into the script.
Remember, in the corporate world, video of a piece of equipment is only a piece of equipment. But if you incorporate a person into that scene, then you are now incorporating dedication, devotion, hard work, productivity and a host of other emotions that only a human can add to your scene and your video.
In a YouTube-driven world of short attention spans, you are under pressure to keep your videos short. This requires you to slash the script ruthlessly with a red pen.
Trying to please too many people, writing by committee, and being pressured to add excessive facts by people close to the topic make the initial script too long and more difficult to cut. Also, in a corporate environment driven by analytical engineers and accountants, you will face excessive pressure to focus on facts, figures and machines.
Your job is to push back and stand your ground. Remember, you are the professional communicator trained in the best ways to communicate. Be an expert in your field.
One secret to maintaining someone’s attention span is pacing, with the right mix of visuals, natural sound audio and interviews.
When it comes to interviews, be very selective. Real people make for real interviews. Obligatory interviews with every high-ranking executive are lethal. They will crowd your video with corporate jargon, acronyms and facts.
Real people also speak from the heart; they don’t read from a teleprompter or cue cards, or recite memorized lines. Nothing turns off an audience faster than the delivery of a spokesperson.
Spend more time writing profound questions that evoke great emotional answers, rather than writing clichéd sound bites.
It is costly in time and money to keep updating a video. At the risk of being repetitive, facts change but emotions stay the same. The more facts you have in your video, the faster it becomes outdated.
The owner of a private school told me recently that a video I produced for them 13 years ago still makes audiences laugh and cry at just the right moments. The video serves as the perfect icebreaker that allows her to answer questions.
The only thing we’ve ever changed are scenes from the computer lab — replacing those old clunky monitors with sleek flat screens.
The principle of starting with the end in mind is always important in a video. At the outset, you must know what your call to action is for the audience.
Do you want them to buy something? Do you want support or a donation of time, talent or treasure? Do you want them to believe as you do and abandon a previous belief that they may have had?
Don’t crowd the video with too many calls to action. A confused audience doesn’t make a decision and a confused buyer doesn’t buy.