Christian Heilmann

Presentation tips: using videos in presentations

Sunday, May 4th, 2014 at 11:46 pm

I am currently doing a survey amongst people who speak for Mozilla or want to become speakers. As a result of this, I am recording short videos and write guidelines on how to deal with various parts of presenting.

movie projector
Photo Credit: Carbon Arc via Compfight cc

A lot of the questions in the “Presenting tips for Mozilla Reps” survey this time revolved around videos in presentations. Let’s take a look at that topic.

Videos are a great format to bring a message across:

  • They are engaging as they speak to all senses (seeing, hearing, reading)
  • They allow for a lot of information in a very short time
  • They are relatively simple to make and with the help of YouTube and others very easy to distribute

As part of a presentation, videos can be supportive or very destructive. The problem with videos is that they are very engaging. As a presenter, it is up to you to carry the talk: you are the main attraction. That’s why playing a video with sound in the middle of your talk is awkward; you lose the audience and become one of them. You are just another spectator and you need to be very good to get people’s attention back to you after the video played.

Videos with sound

The rule of thumb of videos with sound is either to start with it and thus ease people into your talk or to end with it. In Mozilla we got a lot of very cool and inspirational short videos you can start with and then introduce yourself as a Mozillian followed by what you do and what you want to talk about today. You can also end with it: “And that’s what I got. I am part of Mozilla, and here are some other things we do and why it would be fun for you to join us”.


Screencasts are a superb format to use in your presentation to narrate over. Using a screencast instead of a live demo has a lot of benefits:

  • They work – you know things work and you are not relying on a working internet connection or being able to use a certain computer setup.
  • You can concentrate on presenting – you will not get into trouble trying to talk and do things at the same time. This is harder than it looks and it is astonishing how many speakers forget their password when talking and logging into a system on stage
  • They have a fixed time – you know the time you will use for the demo and not get stuck at your computer slowing down for random reasons or showing the audience a loading animation for minutes because of the slow WiFi. Silence on stage is awkward and whilst you can crack a joke it seems bad planning
  • You can focus on the important bits – you can zoom in and out in a screencast and only show the relevant bit. This is also possible with a live demo, but needs more skills

Of course screencasts have a few pitfalls:

  • They could appear as cheating – make sure you explain the setup used in the demo and point people to live examples where they can try out the same demo for themselves. Do not show things working you know not to. This is what sales weasels do.
  • Make sure you have the video on your computer – no, you will not have a connection fast enough to show a YouTube video at every event. Actually that is almost never a good idea.
  • Test the video with the projection system – sometimes presentation software doesn’t show the video and you might need to use a media player to show it instead
  • Keep them short – you want to make a point, not narrate a movie to an audience.

What about length?

Videos in presentations should make a point and have a purpose. In the end, a talk is a show and you are the star. You are the centre of attention. That’s why videos are good to make things more engaging but don’t lose the audience to them – after all they will have to look at them instead of you. One minute is to me a good time, less is better. Anything above 5 minutes should be a screenshot of the video, the URL to see it and you telling people why they should watch it. This works, I keep seeing people tweet the URL of a video I covered in my talks and thanking me that I flagged it up as something worth watching.

Share on Mastodon (needs instance)

Share on Twitter

My other work: