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  • Lizzie Costello

3 Presentation Problems Video Can Solve

Video ideas gleaned from the 2020 DNC



Watching the 2020 Democratic National Convention had me remembering my past life in internal communications. One of my jobs was to produce large, internal presentations, including the annual meeting. Every year, my co-workers and I faced the same challenge: How can we create a lineup of speeches that engage our audience whose attention we already struggled to retain?

When the Democrats announced that their 2020 convention would be virtual — essentially, everything would be a video, live or recorded — the task of presenting compelling content seemed too big to overcome. Early skeptics of the convention worried that without a cheering crowd to energize a stiff speaker and offer amusing cutaways from the podium, TV audiences wouldn’t engage with the inherently dry content.

Though the virtual format had its high and lows, I found myself engaged and inspired in a way I didn’t expect. One reason for that is the videos solved some of the biggest problems that plague live events. Below, I highlight three of these problems, how video solved them, and how your organization can follow suit to better engage your audiences.

Problem 1: A nervous presenter

I once sat through an annual meeting where a keynote speaker got so nervous that he abandoned his entire speech. In the audience, we held our collective breath as he improvised incoherently. He was a nice guy with a big heart, but no one picked up on that because we just wanted the awkwardness to end as soon as possible.

We were an audience of just 200 people. Imagine speaking in front of an arena of 10,000, plus a broadcast audience of several million. Though I’ve never seen someone botch a speech at a political convention from nerves, chances are the organizers don’t invite people who are at risk of doing so. That means we generally see the same type of experienced politician or celebrity on the podium.

That also means we miss hearing from people who may have something important to say but struggle to say it on in a live format. Non-live video is the perfect communications solution to this problem. For example, there was a video segment featuring Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman who survived a gunshot to the head. Giffords has struggled to regain her speech since the shooting, and she most likely would not have agreed to speak in a live setting where she only had one chance to get it right. But she had an important message to share. Offering her the option to voice that through pre-recorded video gave her more control and more takes, so that we could hear her message loud and clear.

In your organization, use pre-recorded video to shine a virtual spotlight on people who may not be successful speaking in front of a live audience. Film them in a setting that is most comfortable to them, like in their home or office, sitting down or standing up. Offer a teleprompter to help them stay on script or make a voiceover video instead. Employ photos and b-roll to bridge cuts in the video and give more depth to their words.

Problem 2: Suits, suits, and more suits

This year, I wondered why past conventions didn’t include more speeches from “everyday people.” Other than an occasional, early evening appearance by a nervous teacher or anecdote about a blue-collar worker, we pretty much heard and saw the same type of people take the stage night after night.

By contrast, this year’s convention featured several video segments telling the stories of all kinds of Americans, often in their own words. There was the 11-year-old whose mother had been deported, the boy who struggles with a stutter, the farmer who is losing crops to climate change.

These videos gave a bigger share of voice to the people. Instead of hearing these anecdotes in a political speech, which often comes off as pandering and insincere, we heard them directly from the people. The effect was one of authentic experience and genuine emotion.

Corporate events can feel the same way — the same people in the same suits speaking from behind the same podiums. While we can’t always avoid including these people in our events, we can supplement their presentations with visual stories from the frontlines of our organizations.

To achieve this in your organization, reach out to a handful of employees who have something compelling to say or who are doing interesting work. Help them write a concise, direct-address speech or script for voiceover. Advise them on best practices for filming with a smartphone or camera. Collect pictures from them to supplement their story. Or instruct them on how to use their camera to give you a glimpse into their work. Have a professional editor cut their material into energetic videos and weave them into your live presentations.

Problem 3: Engaging people who are not in the audience

One of my favorite parts of the 2020 DNC was watching the virtual roll call, where representatives from every state reported their votes for the nominees. Unlike past years, where the delegates shouted from the convention floor, this year we saw delegates in the context of their states.

With backgrounds from Pacific island waters to a historic Alabama bridge to vast Native American reservations, we absorbed the information in the background visuals, learning by seeing and not being told, that this is a country diverse in ethnicity, geography, experience and culture.

Not all your employees will have stories compelling enough to share at an event, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a place in your agenda. For your next corporate event, invite a small group of remote employees to record “show and tells.” Be curious about the details of their environments. Allow them to show a part of their lives beyond their nondescript offices. Encourage them to tell you what’s important to them, with the added context of where they are when they say it. Knowing where your employees spend their time can give you insight on their perspectives, what they are good at, what they like, and who they are. It may not seem relevant, but it will add texture and imagery to your corporate content, making it feel as if the event has stretched far beyond the walls of a conference room or video call.

Costello Productions loves working with organizations to bring their communications to life. If you’re looking for a video partner, reach out to us at info@costelloproductions.com.

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