Customer Development, Customer Strategy, Life Hacks, Marketing Strategy, Startup

How to Make Your Own Explainer Videos (for under $149)

Creating an Effective Explainer Video

A prospective customer may have only 30 to 60 seconds to understand your Unique Selling Proposition. When you’re not right there with the customer, one of the best ways to share the benefit of your product is a brief and effective “Explainer Video”. You’ve seen them – they are the 2-4 minute video clips that accompany almost any product these days. Depending upon your budget, the time available, and your level of effort, it’s easy to spend lots of money building an explainer video and not end up with much in return. The goal is to create a “good-enough” explainer video for a minimum amount of money that won’t embarrass you or your company and will give you a good template for future action.

Creating an effective piece of content requires some time and effort, but it’s not that hard to start. I created an explainer video for creating explainer videos (how meta) to demonstrate the process and have eight tips to get you ready for “lights, camera, ACTION!”

Tip 1: Write a Script.

It’s easy to come up with words on the fly, and they sound even better when you took a few minutes to write them down. To get the right level of detail, think of your script either as talking points or as a word-for-word reading that you can record and re-record until you get it right. The basics that you’ll want to follow are as follows:

  • What will happen in the videowhat’s the big idea that you’re trying to convey? Usually this is a bite-sized concept that someone can understand in two to five minutes.
  • What you will say – what idea are you trying to convey right now? Demonstrating a portion of the screen or an easy-to-use idea makes more sense if you don’t just read your script or your slide.
  • What you will demonstrateshow, don’t tell to get the maximum impact.You may need to show something more than once to get the viewer’s attention and to communicate what you mean. As a teacher friend of mine says, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, Tell them, and then Tell them what you told them.” It’s a good model for planning your teaching approach.

Practice each of these until you have a relatively smooth delivery. Some explainer sections may come together in a single take, while others require a bit of editing to get right.

Tip 2: Create a Motion Graphic Intro or Exit.

Video walkthroughs always look more professional when they have a snappy introduction and exit. Perhaps this is because we are all conditioned on 15- and 30-second commercials, and it remains that the intro is a worthwhile investment of your time. You can use iMovie or ScreenFlow (as I did in the overview above) or you can use a service like GetMoovd to build a 5-10 second introduction. The key here is to end up with something that looks and sounds professional – that look and feel lends credibility.

Note: if you’re not good at this part, this is an excellent item to outsource. Whether you use oDesk, 99Designs, or some other source, getting a freelancer to create an intro clip is much cheaper than hiring a designer to build the entire explainer video for you.

Tip 3: Buy a Decent Microphone.

bluesnowballThe first thing that many people recognize about a video (paradoxically, it seems) is how it sounds. The better a piece sounds, the higher the quality bar to the listener. You may not be a professional sound engineer, and there are a few things to do and make an immediate impact on the results.

First, use a real microphone, not just your iPhone earbuds. I recommend the Blue Snowball – it’s a USB mic and works well to eliminate a lot of the typical background noise you might here (clicks, etc). I also found that investing in a $5 microphone shield made it easier for me to avoid some of the vocal “pops” I’ve heard before when I try to record.

The Snowball has a standard microphone mount so it will also fit on a stand if you’d like to go “professional”. If you don’t want to spend $50 on a microphone, you can probably get away with a $25 headset that has a noise canceling boom microphone.

The Blue Snowball is a great choice for getting started however, and also makes you feel just a little bit like a newscaster or a Rock Star while you’re laying down your lines.

 

 

Tip 4: Spend $99 on Screen Capture Software

screenflowImageOnce your audio sounds good, you’ll also need to make some improvements on the video side. Creating videos with solid, consistent transitions and unobtrusive titles is also a great investment toward the goal of winning customer trust and time.

ScreenFlow is the best screen recorder you will find for the Mac. I’ve used Camtasia, Premiere, iMovie, and Flash. This one makes it really easy to record the screen (even allowing you to record the ScreenFlow software itself or record output on an iPad or iPhone.

Adding transitions, editing sound, and fitting things together is really easy. When you’re ready to publish, ScreenFlow also connects directly to popular video hosting sites like YouTube or Wistia. In short, this is money well spent and the investment (a small one, really) is worth your time and money.

 

Tip 5: Take the time to Smooth the Vocals

backgroundNoise

Now that you’ve invested in a microphone and the screen recording software, make sure you invest a little time in making the audio sound better as well. You can use software like Audacity or GarageBand if you want to do some serious processing, and I’d recommend just using the tools in ScreenFlow. Simply lower the background audio, smooth the volume levels, add a small amount of vocal effect, and remove background hiss and the vocals will sound much better.

A note of caution – it sounds like a great idea to filter the vocals with a fancy filter. It never comes out sounding like you want, so just a touch of filter is probably a better idea.

Your goal is to bring the vocals out of the background and make sure that they sound consistent – not to have the listener be surprised by an overloaded vocal.

 

Tip 6: Add Callouts to your Video

Professional explainer videos help you to know where to look in each segment of the video. This might take the form of a low-key “lower-third” caption on the screen, an animated callout to accompany a multi-step procedure, or other styles of getting the customer’s attention.

speechBubble

Good callouts are:

  1. Not necessarily a repetition of an audio track
  2. Limited in the number of words – they are not a book – and help to bridge gaps in audio or video
  3. Linked to the “Big Idea”

Bad callouts have these characteristics:

  1. Take too long to read
  2. Distract the viewer
  3. Leave more questions than answers

Building callouts is easier said than done. One good method of determining whether you have the right level of instruction is to show the video to testers when it’s partway finished and ask them for feedback. If they ask for callouts, it’s a good sign that the script needs to be refined or that callouts are needed.

Tip 7: Create Standard Transitions

In addition to callouts, you’ll need standard transitions between sections to help the viewer know what’s happening next. These provide a visual and mental break for the viewer. You might think of using a “Lower Third” technique, e.g.

lowerThird

A simple treatment catches your eye. Use Bold to set off parts of your text or italic to emphasize a point. And try not to do too much. Transitions should show up gracefully, add meaningful value, and then disappear. If they become the focal point, you said too much with the graphic.

Tip 8: Add some background music

Last and certainly not least, the tone of the background music sets the mood for the video. Consider adding a backing track to your video at a very low volume level, in addition to whatever main music you will be adding. Whether you create a simple loop that adds a sound texture or do something more elaborate, building sound layers will make your explainer video sound more professional and interesting.

While these tips give you the fundamentals for creating a great explainer video, they are hardly the last tips out there. If you’d like to read more about the topic, check out The Greatest Explainer Videos or read the book The Art of Explanation.

Want to do this yourself?

Find these resources at
http://bit.ly/ExplainerVideoContent – a Dropbox link to the raw files I used to create this video
http://bit.ly/MakeExplainerVideo – the script you can use to create your own Explainer Video.
Career, Life Hacks

What is your Superpower?

Courtesy of ap-photographie on Flickr
Courtesy of ap-photographie on Flickr

What is your Superpower?

Are you Super? Some programmers are 10x+ times better than their peers. And this distinction applies to team productivity in general. It makes it really important for you to know the thing you do better than anyone else. Doing more of that thing will make you happier at work and in general.

What is the one thing you do better than anyone else? If other people were to talk about how you interact in the world, what’s the “signature strength” they would talk about when they talk about you? Continue reading

Life Hacks, Productivity

To Get More Done, Automate the Stuff You Hate

Inbox Art

Like you, I spend a lot of time doing the same things over and over again. In physical space this is easier to think about: when you have clutter in your home, if you attack each area systematically you’ll eventually get to a clean room. It’s impossible to ignore a stack of things in your way that cover every surface. In contrast, it’s really easy to ignore a stack of digital things when you’re not looking at your computer screen. So what should you do when you have a lot of unwanted emails that keep showing up in your inbox?

I’ve tried a lot of solutions to this problem, and read some great suggestions about getting your inbox down to reasonable level. Getting your inbox down to true zero might be overkill, and there are some great easy tips to make that task faster and more manageable. But the thing that helps me the most is SaneBox – it’s a simple subscription service that makes my life easier. Sanebox connects to my email accounts and automatically files the emails I might not need to read immediately into SaneBulk and SaneNews folders. It also catches my important emails – those from people I talk to frequently – and puts those emails into the SaneTop folder. Sanebox makes the daily email scan easier because I’m reading (or deleting) emails of the same type.

My favorite Sanebox feature is SaneBlackhole, because it magically makes unwanted email disappear. I subscribe to a lot of newsletters and blogs, and sometimes my name makes it onto an email list and I’m not sure how it got there. Instead of having to figure out how to unsubscribe, I just drag the email into SaneBlackhole and Sanebox makes sure I don’t see more emails from that sender. The best thing about Sanebox is that it doesn’t care what email program I use – it just works. So if your inbox is making you crazy, I’d recommend checking out Sanebox (yes, I’m a subscriber).

Life Hacks, On Writing

Future You Will Thank You for Handling Email Better

We get a lot of email – especially the kind we don’t want. The worst is getting email from sites that you don’t even know (when they got your details from the people that you did want you to send email originally.) How does this affect an average person? You might be spending 28% of your time just answering email, as this graphic from McKinsey demonstrates. That could be two or three hours out of every day.

email_time

(source: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/the_social_economy)

I understand how this feels. I used to feel completely overwhelmed by email – and it was a constant game of “ping-pong” where when I received emails I would need to either delete, answer, or file them for later. Deleting wasn’t hard – it was easy to find the emails I didn’t really need to answer. Yet it was more challenging to store the emails I kind of wanted to read and didn’t need to act on.

My solutions for this organizational problem were to put everything in a folder. I then tried the “pomodoro” method of only answering email a few times a day for a set period of time. And I also tried answering all of the emails. None of these items really worked. I still ended up with a lot of email that I didn’t really want to read. And it seemed like it got harder and harder to unsubscribe over time. It still felt like I was wasting my time instead of either enjoying the email or just ignoring it.

Three actions solved my problem with email. The first was to turn on Gmail keyboard shortcuts. The second was to adopt Keith Rarick’s method of dealing with email using just a few shortcuts. And the third was to use Sanebox to automatically filter my email.

After starting to use Sanebox, I had two great benefits: first, all of my mail got filtered automatically into “News”, “Bulk”, and “Top” folders that I could also rename and train if I wanted (but frankly, I’ve just left it at the “set it and forget it” mode because it just works). And I also gained the “SaneBlackHole”, a folder into which I can drag any email that I never want to hear from again. There are lots more great features in Sanebox (works in any client, has lots of cool “snooze” and reminder features), but it’s worth it to me to subscribe just for the automatic filtering and the Black Hole feature.

Trust me, future you will thank you for trying it out. You can do that here.

Life Hacks

There are 96 15 minute intervals in a day

Time

(photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/numb3r/2394803508)

How busy are you, really?

A day starts with 96 15 minute-long sections – you have a limited number of these in your day – and you are not going to be 100% available during all of them. By most people’s count, you probably need to spend between 28 and 32 of these 15-minute periods asleep, or you’ll be incurring a sleep tax during the rest of the day. Add in 6 intervals for eating and 3 for personal care, you’re down to about 57 intervals daily. Many of us also commute for 6 to 8 intervals in a day. And you probably need 4-8 intervals of family time beyond that. That leaves about 45 15 minute intervals for effective action during your entire day.

You are also distracted. Right now, you might be thinking about three to seven things that have nothing to do with this post. You might simply be scanning the first few words of every sentence, and you might be working or listening to music when you’re reading. It’s okay – I’m probably distracted too.

I guess this explains why that day flew by.

What would you do if you had a limited time to make an impact in a single day?

You might do a few things differently, including identifying a few of your key priorities every day; shortening or aggressively declining meetings, and spending some time at the end of each day seeing if you got your Most Important Tasks completed. You might read about key planning techniques that other people use to be Amazingly Productive. And you might start a habit. Which is great until your day strikes and activates your lizard brain.

There are many things that happen in a day that are unexpected. From emails that prompt action to just-in-time meetings, some of them are genuinely important and others are not. Sometimes, you do need to drop everything and focus on something else.

Planning and executing in an interruption-driven culture is really challenging.

The best laid plans often disappear in the face of whatever is happening that day. And you can combat that distraction with ruthless triage, if you can focus. What is the most high-value thing I can work on right now? And what can I get done in the next 30 minutes or 1 hour?

And what if I can’t focus? Do whatever you have to do to get in a focused place. You might need to turn off your phone. You might need to close your computer. You might need to have nothing else in front of you but an empty whiteboard or an empty piece of paper. On the paper, you should write: your desired outcome, the goals that will reinforce that outcome, and the strategies you will use to get there.

You might not know how to get there yet – the first step might be to ask for help from someone on the team – and you might not feel great about your contribution that day. And you can move something forward in the next 15 or 30 minutes.

“Those with resilience build on the cornerstones of confidence — accountability (taking responsibility and showing remorse), collaboration (supporting others in reaching a common goal), and initiative (focusing on positive steps and improvements).” —Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Are you making the best use of your time right now?

The “best” use of your time is to combine the best action you can take with the best planning you can take. On the best day, that will be your most important tasks done at the right time with enough buffer to handle everything that the day can throw at you. On your less-than-best day, it might be just enough to move one of your most important tasks forward.

You don’t have to be perfect. The best use of your time is to make the time you spend more intentional. Multi task less. Single task more. And remember that done is better than perfect. And also remember that some things must be done perfectly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(image courtesy of http://www.digitalscrapper.com/blog/)

Life Hacks, Media Mind

There should be an App for a Personal API

 There should be an app for that

There Should Be An App For That

Apps and websites (and features) are becoming single function, best-of-breed experiences.

And in the future (and the present) customers want to knit them back together into a mix-up of their own creation.

Services like Zapier (http://zapier.com) and IFTTT (http://IFTTT.com) are just the start. These services enable a kind of personal operating system where you identify the “channels” (where stuff happens, e.g. Twitter, Salesforce, Facebook – there are hundreds), the “triggers” (what causes this to happen, e.g. receiving an email, creating a calendar item, or posting a tweet), and the “actions” (what data is transferred or referenced in another channel, e.g. When I post on Instagram, also post it for me on Flickr; or make a calendar appointment for me automatically when I get this type of email.)

The future belongs to startups that help you make “Data Glue” and “Personal API” management, sticking together all of your best of breed digital exhaust and interactions and photos and stuff into one coherent management view. Yeah, yeah, I know – you keep all of your stuff in Facebook or on Twitter or on Google. But do you? Do you really know where all of your online stuff lives?

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends presentation is a must read.
What is there was a personal API where you could see all of your stuff?

Today you share a lot of information online. And you don’t have a good place to review all of that data, understand how it’s shared, and stop sharing it when you want. We need an API of Me that gives you one place to know what you’re doing and sharing online. You might argue that this is dangerous to connect all of the streams of information and to put management controls in one place. I might argue that it’s potentially dangerous to not know all of the information that’s being shared and connected to you with and without your knowledge.

A personal API could bridge this gap by giving you better control over the information you choose to share and understanding where it’s shared. There are some technical hurdles to making this happen and a start might be: allow consumers to create their own chunks of information that are connected with an API using oAuth to publishers. It’s the same way a company might broker and share this sort of information, only you would be brokering the information and using it as a “pass-through” for the information you currently share on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other services.

There would need to be a minimum amount information that would be always be shareable and discoverable – for example, you might use as your key the username that you share on those networks (your Twitter handle, LinkedIn ID, etc). As a start you might simply provide extended information to those services. If this is a valuable service to share highly targeted information, then those services might start using you as an API provider.

What if there was a way to package up that data and sell it to people who wanted your stuff and to get payment?

In a world where you had better control over your personal data, you might choose to give it away freely or sell that information. Today there is a Creative Commons license that allows you to give away content easily and it’s much harder to centralize the way that you sell data, mostly because you are often operating under the auspices of other organizations when you create that information. Who owns a Tweet? Who owns a Facebook post? Who owns the digital exhaust of an interaction that you create when you move from place to place?

The future will include:
– tightly controlled views of uncontrolled data
– custom bundles of seemingly random information that have value when aggregated
– individual micro payments for actions online and offline

Would you use an “API of Me”?

Life Hacks, Startup

5 Steps to Surviving and Thriving in Startup Life

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/nomadicentrepreneur/

 

On Climbing the Startup Mountain

Life in a startup is a non-stop business. Whether you are aware of it or not, your work-life balance suffers, your relationships are strained, and your personal health and motivation may waver. Yet it’s the most amazing rush in the world.

Working in startups gives you the freedom, opportunity, and responsibility to build an uncertain product for am uncertain customer in an uncertain market. There is more change in a startup day (and sometimes, intraday) than most businesses see in a week or a month. And that change brings stress, excitement (sometimes anxiety) and an intense need for resilience.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” 
-Nelson Mandela

Failure Happens. How do you get up?

We often fall in startups. And we need to get up stronger and faster to make the changes that prevent the same mistake from happening again.

With that in mind, here are 5 steps to help you survive in startup life as you scale new heights:

Continue reading