When you or someone on your team suggests a marketing video, is “talking head” the format that comes to mind? If you’re nodding yes, that makes sense. It’s one of the most common web formats—plus, it’s what marketers are most familiar with.
But by and large, they’re not as effective as they could be. The talking-head video needs a refresh.
Wait—what is a talking head video?
A talking-head video is one where the main action involves someone just talking to the camera, either right into it or slightly to the side, interview style.
To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with a video of a person speaking on camera. If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you’ll know I’m a huge proponent of telling stories through video. There are likely dozens of articulate speakers with very interesting stories and insights to share, but there’s a better way to get the message across.
Boring video means disengaged viewers
The popularity of talking-head web videos has led to an unintended consequence: the belief that all you need for an engaging video is a camera and a speaker.
But that’s not the case. Video of one person talking—captured with one camera from a single perspective—without supporting footage isn’t dynamic enough to engage a web audience.
Web user experience (UX) guru Jakob Nielsen has a theory for this. In his article, “Talking-Head Video Is Boring Online,” Nielsen reminds us that while television invites “passive engagement,” the Internet is a “sit forward” medium.
In other words, people watching video online are easily distracted and often seek out other stimuli. See the heat-map imagery in the article showing where viewers’ eyes go when they watch talking heads:
To keep them engaged, you need to create a more dynamic video experience.
Getting creative: How to spice up the talking head
- Use two cameras: Shooting with two cameras is the first step for creating more dynamic videos. By alternating perspectives on your subject, your viewer is less likely to grow bored. In addition, using a second, floating camera gives you the option to integrate more creative cinematography.
- Vary your depth of field: In many talking-head videos, the distance between the camera and subject never changes. This creates a static feel and causes the video to drag. However, switching from tight shots to wider ones with a deeper depth of field improves the pacing of your video and allows you to emphasize important statements.
- Tilting and panning: Tilting is when you move the camera vertically, while panning is when you move it horizontally. Adding these simple techniques as you film lets you accentuate transitions and segues. Plus, doing so adds movement to otherwise static scenes.
- B-roll and a compelling backdrop: Shooting and incorporating b-roll—contextual video that supports your story—brings a talking-head video to life. B-roll not only makes a video more interesting to watch, it adds a compelling visual element to your story. Even if it’s simply depicting your on-camera talent in a meeting or at a whiteboard, b-roll goes a long way toward enhancing both your subject and your message.
Examples of engaging talking-head videos
Here are two examples of talking-head videos Tendo produced and that follow the advice above. The first video explores enterprise security and was produced for Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The second discusses the power of identity and was produced for Marshall Strategy.
In both videos you’ll notice lots of camera movement, different camera angles, and varying depth of field. In addition, we shot b-roll footage in locations that provide visual context for what’s being said.
Taken together, these production techniques make for much more visually dynamic talking-head videos, which result in a more engaging experience for viewers. Remember: If you want a quality talking-head video, invest the time and resources to do it right.