Everything you need to know to get started in video during quarantine.

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Feeling lost can be a blessing, but at the time I viewed it as a frustrating low point in life. Every day I’d wake up with this feeling of complete despair and ask myself, “what’s the point?”

I felt frustrated that everything I’d tried in recent years — a podcast, group coaching, mentorship, events, copywriting, becoming a startup consultant, etc. — fell flat and brought me such little joy and fulfillment that I rarely wanted to continue beyond the first year.

All of those things had simply weighed on my conscience and my bank account.

Little did I know that the simple act of buying a cheap video camera and investing into a digital photography course would later turn into a fulfilling vocation. A vocation that fills me up every day, even when it’s hard and it’s uncertain and nobody seems to give a shit about the things I create except for me.

Like this video I made for shits and giggles the other day:

Or, this one:

In both instances, I poured an entire afternoon of blood, sweat, maybe a little bit of poo, and tears into something that earned me nothing

…and I’m happy to do this work.

It makes me feel alive.

I find it incredibly rewarding — both financially and deep in my soul — and as I continue to master my craft and learn more about the art of making shit and testing new ideas, I only find my love for it continue to grow.

But even if you have no visions of turning video production into a vocation of yours, there’s still plenty of reason to learn how to leverage it.

I mean, let’s look at the massive shift that’s already occurring around the world and currently being expedited by Corona:

  1. Video is already the preferred consumption medium. Which means that in order to communicate ideas, we’ll be relying more on concise storytelling through mediums that people readily consume. Cisco estimates that upwards of 80% of consumer traffic is video, and almost 60% of executives would rather watch a video than read text.)
  2. Telecommuting will start to become the norm. As more and more companies are adopting work from home policies to combat illnesses in the workplace, we’ll start relying increasingly on teleconferencing for communication. Which means that people who are comfortable speaking and presenting through video (and in the technology as a whole) will see greater opportunities for advancement, more success in communicating their ideas, and so on.
  3. More and more ad dollars will be moving online. The days of in-person events, conferences, workshops, and so on — while they certainly won’t be eliminated entirely — will become increasingly fewer and farther in between. So those who have mastered the art of creating digital promotions — whether that be short videos, copywriting, podcasts, software, or even banner ads — will find greater success.

Which is to say that if you’re not already using video in a serious way, you can start now.

In fact, you should, RIGHT NOW.

STOP READING THIS, GO GO.

The challenge is that video, more than most other forms of digital communication has a massive learning curve.

And it can feel like a lot to get started — let’s ignore the equipment and technological aspect of it all, and just talk about what might go into a short video for a second:

  1. What do I say? That’s the biggest question for most people starting out — just what the hell do I even say?! Most people have no clue. They have all of these ideas in their head, but can’t think about an eloquent or concise way to phrase them.
  2. What’s my brand?! Are you the Gary Vee type where you just yell non-sensical shit into your camera, or the calm and collected, TEDx-like speaker? I don’t know who you are so I can’t speak to this.
  3. How do I setup my camera? What kinda camera should I buy? And then this is where most people will be absolutely defeated by the prospect of getting s**t going — instead of simply saying, “I’m going to start meh, and then continue to iterate,” most people will say, “BUT I WANT MY VIDEOS TO LOOK PERFECT SO I WONT DO ANY OF THIS.”
  4. What about editing? This is easily the most time-consuming and frustrating part of the process — even after you’ve pumped out a few short videos, there’s probably a small part of you that wants to edit something here, or tweak something there, or, like, add captions. But then, who even has time for that s**t?!
  5. And then, most importantly — how do I get people to watch this stuff? The goal of any compelling message is to get people to listen. Fair warning: unless you’re willing to invest a ton of money upfront in hiring a team to help you accomplish this, most of the things you produce initially won’t really grab anyone’s attention. Which means that for a while, you’re simply bootstrapping your way to greatness and taking punches all along the way.

Which is to say that video — like any new skill — is difficult to learn and to master, but eventually it can become a powerful tool for storytelling.

If you’re patient.

In the rest of this email, I’ll just detail exactly how you can start the process of creating videos for you and your brand.

This process has worked for dozens of clients, and is something that’s pretty idiot proof: I’ve managed to pass this process off to clients who have almost zero experience with video, think they’re well past of the point of learning it, and turn them into people who are consistently making great video content every week.

But the important piece is that it requires a lot of work.

For the first few weeks, likely at least a few hours a week.

Eventually, with this process, you’ll be able to get it down to just an hour (and maybe even a few minutes) a week, but that’ll likely be a few months down the road.

Step 1. Don’t buy a camera.

This advice mind sound counter-intuitive, but far too often I see people who are considering getting into video spending $100s if not $1000s on camera equipment, lighting, and all sorts of other superfluous shit that typically just gives them an excuse to not do the work in the first place.

The honest answer is that for the first few months (at least), your smartphone camera is more than capable of capturing good video content.

The only things I might recommend are…

These ring lights are great because they require minimal adjustment and setup, almost always include a phone stand, and provide ‘good enough’ lighting (and are cheap as hell).

The newer iPhones (with a couple setting tweaks that I’ll show you) perform incredibly well with the built in camera and microphone, but most older phones will sound pretty scratchy and choppy.

I’d recommend purchasing an inexpensive lavalier microphone to get started.

Notes on making sure your videos don’t look like shit.

Your first few videos will suck.

They will look stupid.

You will hate how you look because the media has taught you how to hate yourself.

That’s ok. We’re going to work to undo all of that psychological damage.

Here’s how…

A. Ensure your face is well lit.

You shouldn’t look like you’re spelunking with Batman.

Oh and make sure that the camera is facing INTO the room, and not towards a window.

When you shoot videos towards a window, the cameras automatically adjust exposure for the windows.

Which means that the camera underexposes your face (bad) and the light in the background is still totally blown out and distracting (also bad).

B. Create some distance between you and your background, and minimize distractions.

A distracting background makes your video look b-rate. The background should be simple and clean.

If all you have is a whiteboard — great! Maybe draw something on it, like your logo, or a simple slogan.

If your background is an active office — that’s generally fine, but the movement might get distracting if the video cuts around a lot.

And if you’re outside — honestly, for most people, shooting videos outside might be the easiest means of accomplishing an interesting, but not distracting background, and good lighting.

Just see this video, which I shot on my iPhone on a cloudy day.

C. Put your primary audio source close to your mouth.

If you’re shooting on an smartphone with its built-in microphones, you’ll want to be as close to the microphone as possible.

That’s why I’ll often recommend a lavalier microphone for most folks — it ensures good quality audio in just about every circumstance, and provides minimum distraction.

Step 2. Write a script.

A typical script that I work on with clients often looks something like this:

Or, this:

And here’s what I often suggest clients to do after we’ve written the script: Print the script, and read it out line-by-fucking-line.

Don’t try to improvise.

Don’t try to be cute.

Often the words that you’ve written out are good enough — look down at the script, remember the line, and look up directly into the camera and read the line out.

Line-by-line.

Q: Will it feel weird at first?

A: Yes, of course it will. Especially if this is your first video. You’re talking into an inanimate object and for whatever reason you feel nervous. Isn’t that weird? You’re trying to scrunch your face up like you’re holding in a massive dump. And then you look like a psychopath — why do you look like a psychopath? I don’t know.

Q: So will reading a script prevent that?

A: No. Not for the first few videos (or maybe even few dozen) at least. That’s not the point — the point with this process is to eliminate all of your bullshit excuses, and just give you everything you need to go out and make videos.

Simple talking head stuff works!

Scripts don’t apply to just videos that you’ll be publishing on social media — they also apply to any form of sales outreach videos; trainings; and anything else that you might find interesting or otherwise want to record.

Having a script is critical for knowing what you need to cover in a concise manner.

Don’t cut this part out, especially when you’re just getting started.

How to write a script.

Here’s how I typically format most of my scripts, taken from my Notion content calendar:

(And don’t worry, I’ll include this template at the bottom of this page that you can just duplicate.)

But here’s the structure that I typically use for most of my videos…

Part 1. The Hook. (15 seconds.)

Some sort of interesting, controversial, or otherwise mind-blowing piece of information that will get somebody to stop — i.e. In this one city, Co-Vid 19 cases fell almost 95% overnight. What happened?

That’s interesting, relevant, and will get people to want to stop to read more (if they’re interested in that topic). Great.

Part 2. The Story. (30-60 seconds)

This is the meat of your video. In it, you should either tell a specific story that relates to your greater point, or expound upon it in an interesting way with some sort of personal detail.

Here’s an example from a piece of a story I wrote on Quora that’s managed to reach over 500,000 people already. I didn’t :

“A boy and his father were walking through the woods together. They came across a large log, blocking their path. The boy turned to his father and said, “Do you think I can lift this log, Dad?” The father replied, “If you use all your strength, absolutely you can.” The boy rolled up his sleeves, bent his knees, and got his hands under the log. He locked his arms and heaved with every ounce of strength he had. But the log wouldn’t budge. He tried over and over again until at last, exhausted and breathless, he gave up.

He looked at his dad with disappointment and frustration and said, “You told me I could lift it!” His dad smiled and said gently, “I told you you could lift it if you used all your strength. You didn’t ask me for help.”

So the boy asked his dad to help him and together, they lifted the log out of their path.

Your strength isn’t held by you alone, but also by the people who march alongside you. When you feel unequal to the task in front of you, perhaps it is simply because you aren’t using all your strength.” – from, The Bravest You

Not all of your content has to be personal stuff, but I find that the more relatable you can make something, the more likely somebody will be to respond to it, and possibly share it.

Part 3. The Takeaway or CTA.

In order to tie things together with a neat little bow, the last piece that you want to include in each of your videos is some sort of takeaway — how will this make somebody’s day better, more interesting, or improved?

That’s what you should always be leaving them with.

Beyond that, especially on channels like LinkedIn and Facebook and otherwise, you should always be encouraging some sort of response.

i.e. What are you doing to prepare for the next 6-12 months? How are you hanging in there?

Your final point should be wildly interesting, and leave people with a, ‘huh, I never thought about that,’ feeling.

Some examples:

Really, this process comes through testing a lot of ideas, identifying your audience, and writing to fit them.

Step 3. Hire an editor.

When I first started creating my own videos, I couldn’t afford to hire an editor because none of the projects I was making were bringing in any money and editing felt awful, time-consuming, and I hated the process.

I hated the process because at the end of a 5 or 6 hour editing session, what I spit out was still essentially a polished turd.

(And sometimes it still feels that way.)

But over time, as my editing skills got better and better, it took less and less time to create things that I now look at and think, huh! That was pretty good!

Like this video. I love this video:

A stupid video about a bike.

But for most entrepreneurs, business-owners, and people exploring the world of video, learning how to edit your own stuff is a waste of your time.

Sure, you might want to familiarize yourself with the process for a few hours (or a few dozen, at most), but most will ultimately end up frustrated, exhausted, hating every moment of it.

Instead, what I recommend almost anyone do is find a solid editor on Upwork. Identify a few editing styles that you like by watching big YouTubers, put out an ad on Upwork for a video editor, find people who have created similar work, and work with them on a few projects.

It might take a while to pin down somebody who you love.

(Alternatively — you can just join our video content accelerator program, where we handle all of this for you 😎)

This will be the greatest choke point for most people, and I’d say that 80% of people who try to tackle this solely by themselves will give up.

An alternative is to simply become so well-versed in your talking points, and so concise in how you make them that your videos won’t require any editing.

Then, you can refer to tools like Kapwing which can auto-transcribe your captions for you, and allow you to make your videos pretty good, pretty quickly.

That’ll work for short, 1 to 2-minute snippets, but it often takes a while to get there.

Step 4. Post your content with a short blurb.

Most of my video nowadays goes up on LinkedIn, but it’ll often be reposted on places like Quora (and to a lesser degree, YouTube, which is something I’m working on).

The next step, after you’ve gotten your video video edited and ready to post, is to come up with a captivating story that matches that video.

Often, if you followed my script template from above, you’ll end up with a post that’s hopefully under the LinkedIn character limit (1300 characters) and something that you can easily copy + paste into your update with the video attached (and just clean it up a bit).

Step 5. Create a habit of it.

At least once a week, for an hour or so, I’ll set aside time to script, shoot (and then sometimes start editing) my own LinkedIn video content.

Often, depending on what I’m putting together, I can shoot 3 to 5 videos in about an hour’s span.

If I were the only person editing those videos, then total it’d probably take me 4 to 5 hours every week to create three videos to post on LinkedIn weekly.

A good starting point is at least posting once a week — if you write one script in 30-minutes, and shoot a video in another 30 minutes, that’s pretty doable for getting started.

I wouldn’t spend any more time than that every week — and as you get better and better at it, your processes will continue to improve and you’ll start posting more and more.

And before you know it, bam!

You’re famous.

Or, at the very least, you don’t hate the process of making videos.

Only then would I start to think about the next steps like leveling up your video production, creating more in-depth ads, and so on.

I’d also highly recommend developing some sort of content calendar — I know what you’re thinking, “holy s**t! this is a lot already, and now I have to do more stuff!”

No sweat, seriously.

Here’s a template that you can duplicate that I typically give to new clients in order to give them everything they need to get started in making their first videos.

It includes an entire breakdown and video that goes over how to use the database.

That’s the process I recommend for almost anyone getting started in creating talking head videos for thought leadership — if you’re a documentarian, or a filmmaker, obviously the process will be different, but this is something that almost anyone can easily repeat and apply to their own process.

And it works — it’s something I’ve worked with dozens of clients on, tweaking it, modifying it, making it work…

So, yeah — that’s about everything I know on getting started in video.

👉 Lastly, here’s a link to your content calendar that will give you a simple framework to start creating great content. You can duplicate it for free. 👈

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