Wednesday, November 13, 2013

10 Tips for Making a Good Webcam or "Talking Head" Video

For online courses, it's nice to have at least one video of yourself speaking so the students get a feel for who you are. Unless you're making a MOOC, these don't have to be super high quality. In this post, I'll share some tips to help you make, minimally, an "acceptable" video.

Technologically speaking, my favorite ways to record a webcam video (because they're easy) are
  1. On an iPad/phone/other mobile device via the camcorder (camera)
    1. You can ship these videos off to YouTube usually just by choosing it as an option under "Share"
    2. You can also put it on Kaltura, one of UWEC's streaming services, via the browser on your phone (Chrome/Safari/"Internet" on Android).
  2. Using CaptureSpace Lite, the recording tool associated with Kaltura.
  3. If you work at UWEC, the video department can record you (ask me for details). 

Here are some tips on how to create a good webcam video

1. Use a table mic or built-in mic rather than headset. Don't look like a nerd with a headset on - use a table mic or the built-in. On a Mac, the built in is usually pretty good; on Windows, make sure to test it first. If you work at UWEC, we have high quality mics to loan from CETL.

Nerdy                                   Less nerdy
2. Look into the webcam. This may be obvious if you've ever taken a selfie, but make sure you know where your webcam is located and look at least close to it, so it seems like you are making eye contact with the viewer, or at least not like you are awkwardly looking in another direction. You don't have to eerily stare at it the whole time though; in a natural conversation, you'd occasionally avert your eyes and look up or down while thinking, for instance.

This is a screenshot of a webcam video I made showing the size of a "talking head"
 that seems most appropriate. It's an ok video in regards to eye contact, background, and lighting.
Background could be better though. 
3. Make an outline. People learn best from a conversational voice rather than a voice that sounds like it's reading or is overly formal, so avoid reading from a script if at all possible. It's not like you read from a script in a classroom, right? That would be weird. The beauty of recording a video is that if it sucks, you can just try again! An outline is definitely recommended to make sure you hit the main points you need to cover in the video.

4. Position your outline near the recording area. This is a detail, but try not to have shifty eyes while you are recording the video, from looking back and forth from the webcam to your outline or reading across the computer screen. I know one instructor who just wrote some notes on a piece of paper and taped it next to the webcam on her iMac so her eyes only shifted slightly and it worked out well. If that doesn't work for you, it's probably most natural to look down at a piece of paper on a desk than anything else.

5. Position the computer/webcam/iPad for a straight-on shot. You don't want the webcam aiming down at you or the iPad shooting up your nose! (I've seen both.) You may need to prop the iPad or laptop up on a stack of books or something to get a head on shot, like the image of me above. Proper alignment will help avoid a double chin too :)

Using a tripod or otherwise propping the recording device up would improve this situation considerably
6. Act like a normal person. This may seem like a silly thing to say, but a benefit associated with a webcam video is that the students get a little insight into you as a person. They may like you more if they relate to you, and research has found that students perform better for instructors they like (Really! Look it up!)  If you act robotic or overly practiced, that's not normal. Use your hands, smile, reposition yourself a little. It's fine if you misspeak a bit or act goofy if that's how you are. You don't always choose the perfect words in a classroom, so it's fine if you aren't perfect in your video either. I've heard feedback that the students even like it when something happens like a cat meowing in the background. Although that could definitely distract from your instructional message, in an intro video you could go with it and introduce Fluffy (briefly!). This is partly to help you not feel like you need to spend tons of time editing either; know when to leave it alone. Maybe have someone else watch it to see if they notice the things that bother you. I'd rather give the video a try and record it a few times to get a good take than to script it and sound like I am reading or practiced too long.

7. But know where the "too casual" line is. I'm giving you some leeway to be a normal person but still be mostly professional, of course. I'm just saying don't be a robot with no personality. I tend to play with my hair a lot in real life without even realizing it but I focus on avoiding that in a video. Avoid long "ummms" or other distracting behaviors as much as you can.

8. Consider your lighting! Definitely do not record with a window behind you or you will be a shadow. Although I am a fan of low light, it may cause the lip sync to be off when recording (i.e., your lips and voice might not match up), so you may need to turn on all the lights or go somewhere with natural light. Also, if you're recording on a computer, turn down the brightness of the screen to avoid weird lighting or glare if you wear glasses. As in the photo below, avoid having a lamp in one corner if possible.

9. Consider your background. Some people like to have a scholarly bookcase background which can be good, but try to avoid an exceedingly messy office background or something distracting behind you. The stuff in the background of my image above is at the upper limits of what I'd like to see in a background. In hindsight, I should have moved the stuff on the table. There may be some easy things you can do to clean up your background, like shut the door behind you rather than leaving it part way open. But at the same time, a plain wall is pretty boring. Do what you can with where you're at, but think about whether you may need to relocate. I personally would prefer an instructor's office background rather than one of those cheesy backgrounds that professionals use that looks pretty 90's, but I've never found research on backgrounds!

If you have a video camera, laptop, or iPad (ideally with a tripod), take advantage of your ability to be mobile and record in cool places. Make sure the camera is not too far away or you have an external mic so your audio turns out decent though. If you go outside, audio can be problematic due to wind. Do a test first.

Not the best background choice.
Also, try to find someone to take care of the baby if possible
10. Don't over do it. A few webcam videos are nice but don't make too many. Just like standing in front of a room lecturing is not always the best way to convey content, neither is a talking head video. Actually, talking head videos get a bad rap. Make sure they are valuable experiences for the students or they will quit watching and you'll be making them for no reason. Don't always jump to creating a video as you become more comfortable with the technology; text is quicker both to create and read. As with all online digital content, the length of one video should be about 3-10 minutes.


PS: While I was working on this post I googled "introduction webcam" to see if I could find good or bad examples and, wow, did I ever. I'm sorry to pick on this woman because at least she's trying, but here's a good bad example: the background is bad, she's using a sepia tone for some reason, she's clearly reading, and the end is cut off. I thought this was obvious, but don't make a webcam video in a computer lab...

PPS (or is it PSS?): Many times I base my info on research but that is not the case for most of this info. There is no research saying headsets are nerdy or you shouldn't hold a baby while recording a video. However, there IS research that says people learn best from a conversational voice, digital content should be short, and students do better in classes when they like the professor but I don't have the citations handy. Can you tell I'm used to writing scholarly papers lately?! I just want to be clear on that :)

Last update: 4/10/17

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