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Creating video abstracts: a few hints and tips

We were inspired and excited about Michael Walsh’s recent Abstract Video so we asked Michael for a few tips to share with TASA members. Here they are:

Creating video abstracts: a few hints and tips

Recently an opportunity arose where I was asked by a journal (Symbolic Interaction) to develop a video abstract to accompany the publication of a journal article. At first, I thought this was not something I had any interest in doing for various reasons, most significant of these was that I genuinely dislike being recorded! But having considered it for a week or so, I relented as I realized it would be a good opportunity to increase the discoverability of the article.

I was fortunate to have a friend who knows a bit about video and I asked them to help me. While I started off thinking that I could simply recite a pre-rehearsed monologue to camera, when we came to record the video we quickly discovered that it wasn’t going to be very interesting for others to watch. We decided to go back to the drawing board and make something that was, ironically enough, somewhat more conversational (the article explores conversational interaction).

A few weeks prior to filming I developed a small script that we then used as a basis to prepare a question & answer format that arose from my friend’s questions about the article and the research area more broadly. This seemed to work much better in that it not only made the content more interesting (and general in nature), but it also made it easier for me to talk ‘naturally’ while being filmed.

A few things I learned along the way:

  1. Keep it short. Anything longer that 2 or 3 minutes doesn’t work unless your audience is already invested or you are an exceedingly engaging speaker.
  2. Try and make it as conversational as possible – avoid the use of jargon. This will make it more accessible for a wider audience. Yes, you want other researchers to find the article, but maybe also students and members of the public. While it’s important to convey the main ideas from the paper, simply replicating your written abstract won’t engage all these audiences.
  3. Prepare a script beforehand and practice from it but be flexible when you come to record it.
  4. When you come to recording the video, don’t read from a script; looking down at your notes spoils the illusion of it being conversational (use the main points you’ve rehearsed prior to filming and improvise on these ideas).
  5. A good strategy is to try and break-up the video into smaller segments, so you don’t have to do one long take for the entire video (our video uses question prompts as a way of breaking up the video; each question was shot separately and then spliced together).
  6. Get a friend or coauthor to help you or incorporate them into the video especially if you’re nervous. They will ideally make you feel like you’re just chatting to them, rather than to the camera.
  7. Think about where you’re shooting (what’s in the background? Will it distract or augment what is in the foreground – try and keep it simple).
  8. Make sure you test how you look and sound before you start (natural light is preferable if there’s enough of it and microphones can pick up things that you are unaware of so test this out a few times to make sure everything is sufficiently captured both audibly and visually).
  9. Perform a few dry runs, so you feel comfortable and relatively relaxed.
  10. Try to incorporate b-roll video to create a bit of variety rather than having the same image the whole time (we didn’t do this, but if I had more time, it is certainly something I would try).