#SciFund Challenge Class

Video storytelling made easy for scientists

Part 3: Thinking About Your Own Videos

You already went through our awesome Audience First guide, right? Well, if you haven't, you'll need to do so now, as we build on that material from here on out. You'll also need our Audience First worksheet for video.

The purpose of your video is to cause a (small) change in behavior

Hopefully, working through the Audience First worksheet helped clarify your thinking about your audience. Let’s walk through the ideas behind the worksheet, within the context of video production. Here is the biggest idea: the point of your video is (very likely) not to convey information! Rather the purpose of your video is likely to motivate your audience to do something.

Let’s stop and examine why this is the case. There are certainly plenty of short science videos that have no purpose other than to inform an audience, like this video on aircraft engines by the very popular Minute Physics:

Using science video in a purely educational way is a perfectly fine choice, but there are real limitations on the ability of video to convey information. One of the key limitations is that the rate of information exchange via video is generally pretty low. A good speaking rate for video is about 150 words per minute, which means that a five minute video is covering no more than 750 words. In comparison, in that same five minutes, you could likely read 1500 words. Actually, the information transfer rate of written language is effectively better than this, as the information-density of written language can be much higher than of spoken language.

But what video lacks in its ability to transfer information, it more than makes up for with its ability to change behavior in the viewing audience, through visual and audio cues. What might you want your audience to do? There are many possibilities mentioned in the Audience First guide:

  • Motivate your audience to read more about your research
  • Motivate your audience to be more concerned about a particular issue
  • Motivate your audience to take action on a policy-related matter
  • Motivate your audience to take a closer look at your website

Here’s a great example of the power of video to influence behavior, from one of our favorite science videos. Take a look:

If you watch carefully, you’ll see that this video of Stanford University’s self-driving DeLorean actually provides no information at all! But the video nonetheless provoked such an intense interest (in the authors of this humble guide anyway) that we wanted to immediately learn more about the project.This is an extreme example of course. We are not saying that you should provide zero information in your video. What we are saying is that any information you provide should be placed in the context of providing the motivation for your audience to do something.

What’s the connection between what you want and what your audience cares about?

You know what you want your audience to do. You know what your audience cares about. Now, here comes the hard part: what’s the connection? How does the behavior change you want fit into your audience’s interests and concerns? Perhaps you will find that your “call to action” (to use marketing-speak) slides easily into your audience’s concerns – if so, congratulations!

But what if it there isn’t an obvious connection? There are potential ways to solve the problem.

  1. Perhaps you need to think more imaginatively about how your call to action might fit in with your audience.
  2. Perhaps you need to understand your audience’s interests and concerns better (back to studying your audience).
  3. Perhaps there genuinely is no connection between your audience and what you want you your audience to do. If so, you might need to alter your call to action so that it does fit your audience. Alternatively, perhaps you need a different audience for your call to action.

What’s the single-point message that crystallizes the connection?

In a 5-minute video, there isn’t time for more than one central message on which to frame your story. This one central message is the core of your story and it should encapsulate the connection between your call to action and your audience’s interests and concerns. Use this message as a way to engage your audience in the way that you think they want to be engaged.

All too frequently, science communication is described as “dumbing down the science”. It’s a phrase that is both dead wrong and also pretty insulting to both the science communicator and the intended audience. So, when figuring out your core message, you don’t need to “dumb down” anything. The goal is to connect with people in a clear and engaging way – you don’t need to be simplistic or “watered down” to do that.

One person who provides a great example of how core messaging does not need to be watered down is Dr. Kristina Killgrove, a biological anthropologist and a fantastic science communicator (follow her on Twitter: @DrKillgrove). Some of her research has focused on unearthing skeletons from Ancient Roman cemeteries in order to learn more about the lives of the lower classes of Ancient Rome. Not much is known about this set of people despite the fact that they comprised the vast majority of that society. Dr. Killgrove aims to change that and, when she talks about this part of her research, she calls it “the study of the Ancient Roman 99%.” Take a minute to absorb that phrase. With just a few words, she has encapsulated her research, taken it out of the confines of history, and put it directly in the context of present day concerns (here’s an article about her work, by the way). This is a perfect example of how a simple message (which this is) and a simplistic message (which this is not) are extremely different animals.