Using videos in presentations

There’s a group on Facebook called Speakers’ Corner. In it there are some interesting conversations between professional speakers (and would-be professional speakers). Before you rush off there, let me warn you that there’s also sometimes a lot of fluff and tosh and and even some BadVice. 😉

One of the more interesting conversations recently was kick-started by a friend of mine, Alan Stevens, who asked a question about using (other people’s) videos in your presentation. It was that post which prompted me to write this – some practical advice about using videos.  (Edit: since I drafted this, Alan himself has taken his thinking a step forward on LinkedIn.)

Let’s start with the basic issues…

A quick bitch!
There’s also a lot of self-indulgence and self-promotion badly hidden not-so-subtly as questions. In other words, my advice is for you to let me sort the wheat from the chaff and for you so you stay reading this blog.?

Should you use any video in your presentations?

Yes, if it helps your audience: not if it doesn’t. Research about how people learn has given us a lot of data to suggest that some things are better communicated and/or explained by video. So use video if it’s apprroprate. It’s not hard, really.

A better question would be whether you should use other people’s videos in your presentation. Starting from a point of “use them if it’s appropriate” there are a number of things that might fly counter to using someone else’s video. For example, a lot of people will have used the same video if it’s good. After all, how did you find out about a topic? Chances are you googled it – but so can anyone else. The last time I looked, for example, Simon Sinex’s TEDx talk (the one often referred to  as the “Start with why presentation”) had well over 33 million (yes, that’s 33,000,000!) views. That means there is a reasonable chance that at least some of your audience will have seen any given video you use, if it’s not yours.

If the point of your video is a surprise of any kind, that’s even worse. I’m pretty sure there’s no point in using the Invisible Gorilla video in my presentation skills courses, for example, because too many people have seen the video!

All of that said, I can think of a few times when I’ve used video because, well… they were videos. The point isn’t that the video necessary explained something better than I could have (obviously I’d use the video in my presentation if that was the case!) but because they explained something well enough…

What, Simon? Since when did ‘well enough’ become a mantra in your presentations?

… not often!

But I do it in those circumstances when the video is good enough and the simple the fact “it’s a video” works to my advantage. The video isn’t as good as me but it has advantages which makes it a net benefit.  An example might be when it’s useful to change medium in a presentation to give the audience’s attention a fillip.  In one of my presentations I use a video which explains something called the ‘uncertainty graph’ despite being perfectly capable of either drawing the graph on a flip chart or showing a slide of it, but I’ve decided to use the video because it changed the medium and gave the audience a break from me and how I did things.

Any weaknesses in the video were more than offset by the advantage of it being a video, not me! <insert your own joke about anything being better than me, here!>

What’s the legal situation about using videos in presentations?

It’s not complicated – unless you created it yourself, you need to check before you use it.

As a rule of thumb the safest thing is to get permission, of course. I’ve never found a video I wanted to use where I couldn’t find out who created it and ask their permission. Sometimes they’ve asked for money and at that point you have to make a decision about what you think it’s worth paying.  My experience is that most people are totally cool about it and unless they are professional video-makers they’re more than happy to just think that someone finds their work useful

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check, of course.

And while you’re at it, make a point of checking how they want to be recognised in your presentation. It’s up to you if you do that, of course, and you might find that giving a name-check in the middle of your flow-of-wisdom (aka your presentation!) breaks that flow more than you can accept. Be up front and say that. Find something everyone is happy with. For example, you might not want to give names in the middle of your presentation and they might not want their name just on a thank-you slide, at the end, in 9 point text written in the same colour as your background… but there’s bound to be a middle way.  If there isn’t, you need to make the hard choices, just like you did with a video you need to pay for.

What practical things should I consider when using videos in my presentations?

Presentation audio

Well there’s the obvious issue that there’s more to go wrong. For a start, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got the audio set up as well as the video. Most projectors come with some kind of speaker built in, so all you might need for a small office is a simple connecting cable. But be warned, the speakers you’ll get that way tend not to be massively powerful (or even very good). Personally I take my own speakers, even if the projector has something I can use, as it’s not a huge problem to carry a small pair speakers around.

Better safe than sorry for a presentation.

Presentation projectors

Then there’s the issue that most so-called conference rooms are under-spec’d – the projector you get is sometimes so under-powered it’s only suitable for black and white – and even then it’s a good idea to turn the lights out. Sometimes even coloured images are a challenge! Multiply that problem by a huge factor and you’ll get some kind of idea about how often projectors are challenged by video. Few things annoy audiences more than squinting to see a video they can’t clearly make out.

Nor is it just a question of raw pawer in the projector. Videos often challenge a projector’s Contrast Ratio. You’ll need to make sure your projector has a big (seriously bigger than that – no, bigger still!) Contrast Ratio if your video does things like move from indoors to outdoors or has shades or, well, just about anything other than a simple animation.

A possible fix for business presentations in smallish rooms…
Your best bet, if you can manage it, is to get some kind of LCD screen, TV or whatever. The specs of these might not be good, but it’s likely to be better than a data projector and the brightness of the image is better too (usually!).

The power problem is helped a lot by turning off the lights… but who wants to do that because it looks absolutely naff to have to turn them off and so on. At the very least make sure you know where the light switches are (obviously!) and check you can get to them without fuss. But ideally you should really try very hard to avoid this whole set of shenanigans.

Presentation video files

Let’s talk about where the video is stored.

If it’s online somewhere, you’re asking for trouble. Slow or missing wifi will let you down in direct proportion to how important it is that it doesn’t!?    The safest (technical) solution (but note that there are legal implications here!) is to download the video, store in on the computer you’ll be using for your presentation and embed it into your slides.

That way, you can look very slick indeed by just having the video magically appear and run, seamlessly. But notice that I said you need to embed the video – linking to it is risky as links fail, especially when you move your slides from one computer to another and forget to take the video with it. If you can’t embed it, at least make sure that the video file is in the same directory as your slides, and that you take them both with you when you go.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen videos not work because they simply weren’t there when the slide software looked for them.

While we’re at it, check the resolution of your videos. As a society we’ve become relatively tolerant of mediocre quality videos because we’ve seen so many on YouTube, but if the resolution of your video (when you download it) is too small it’s going to look really, really stupid when you start to run it. As an absolute minimum I’d go for 720 – 1080 is more reliable.

Oh, and make sure the video fits your slides too – portrait videos or videos shot on a 4:3 ratio look stupid on a 16:9 screen. If you’ve got to do that, put the video on a black background at least as a way of partially covering your shame! 😉

Summing up

So should you? Yes, if it helps explain things to your audience and/or motivate them to change something such as their behaviour.

Is it tricky? Yes, but so are all aspects of effective presentations!

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