If you’re going to tell the world how to communicate, you have to communicate it well.

Would you take advice on how to dress for success from this guy?



You’d think this would be a piece of common sense. But it’s not. I don’t want to mention any names because all the guilty parties are so well intended, but I’m subjected to this over and over again. It’s happened AT LEAST five times I can think of. People get in touch with me about making a video about how to communicate science well, but when I start asking questions about how much budget they have, how good of a crew, what are their plans for sound design, do they have a good gaffer who knows how to light well — all sorts of reasonable and necessary questions for good communication, I usually get an answer of, “nah, we just got a friend who has a handi-cam we’re gonna shoot it on.”

You can’t do that. You can’t make a video telling an audience about how messages need to be communicated well only to have the video turn out so poorly lit with such crappy audio that the viewer can hardly understand it.

Does everyone understand this simple problem? Did I just start talking Portuguese up here? Does anybody remember H. Ross Perot?

Let’s repeat this all together … FILM AND VIDEO … ARE … VISUAL MEDIA. Say it a few more times to yourselves. A “well communicated” video consists of plenty of visual material that clearly conveys a certain amount of information coherently. Looking at the face of a human being (i.e. the standard “talking head”) says only one thing visually — “face.” That’s it. If you want to make a video about fish, you need to have images of fish. If you want to make a video about bridges, you need to have images of bridges. But here’s the hard part …



If you want to make a video about something that is exciting, the video itself needs to be exciting. You can’t have some lackluster person staring at you saying listlessly, “It’s important to make exciting presentations.” That does not work.

Similarly, if you want to lecture people on the need to communicate effectively, it does not work to do it in a video that most people want to shut off after 30 seconds. It doesn’t. Sorry. It’s a conundrum. I’ve railed about this before with the stoopid Bloggingheads concept that usually presents two horribly lit old men blabbing about some dull topic. Yes, the transcript of what they say may be fascinating, but do you know what they are saying VISUALLY in such a presentation? “Hi, we’re boring old men who don’t care what we look like because we’re so certain that everything we have to say is priceless.”

Do you have any idea of why TED Talks have become so popular? Do you really think it’s because the content of every presentation is so amazing? Would you watch a TED Talk if it were poorly lit with bad audio shot on a single camera that is so wide the speaker is just a little blip on the screen? TED Talks are exciting and interesting in large part because they are shot in a manner that is exciting and interesting with great lighting, multiple cameras and flawless audio. They are presentations spoken perfectly in the language of presentations.

Yes, we all want to communicate better, but you need something more than good intentions. You need an ability to communicate well to start with. Unfortunately, for film and video production this usually requires money, with the bottom line being that you get what you pay for. And this is a concept that most scientists, who are the ultimate do-it-yourselfers, simply cannot comprehend. (and I know this to be a fact — I was a scientist and was just as bad at it as anyone)