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10 Keys to an Effective Video for Subject Matter Experts

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Have you ever wanted to create a video course? Record a lecture?

Subject Matter Experts have a lot of information to share, and video can be an effective way of transmitting that information. Whether you are presenting a video for a conference or creating a visual companion to an online course, both you and your audience will benefit from finely-crafted videos.

Effective Video Production

Below are 10 Keys to an Effective Video for Subject Matter Experts. Beginners will benefit from this introduction to video content creation, and veterans will appreciate a refresher on the fundamentals of good video preparation and presentation.

1. Preparing Your Content

Consider your audience. How in-depth do you need to go? Are you presenting research? Are you creating one video, a series or an entire course?

This is a good stage to create a folder with everything you need: papers, files, visuals, journal entries, emails, exams - anything that you can draw upon. If you already have a course on a similar subject, use this video as an opportunity to fine-tune or update your material.

If you are compiling content for the first time, you might begin by dividing it by theme and priority. You won’t be able to fit everything into one video (or even one course), so rank each item by importance. Focus on what you really want to say.

Prepare an outline that is appropriate to your single video, your series or your course. Use the following tips:

1. Plot your material in the most coherent, story-telling manner possible. Even research-laden material can be presented in a chronological, general-to-specific manner, which is in itself a form of narrative.
2. Package dense, difficult material in manageable bites between anecdotes, visuals and (if appropriate) humor.
3. Know your audience. Is there jargon you should include (for viewers within the community) or omit (because it would alienate part of your target demographic)?

You might enlist the help of another Subject Matter Expert, or someone else familiar with your work, for an extra pair of eyes on your progress. It’s easy to be overwhelmed at this stage, but remember the wisdom of the ages: the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

2. Visuals

Does your material include photos? Graphs? Animations? B-roll footage?

(Hint: the correct answer is yes.)

Visuals are an important way to diversity your video. If you don’t have any visuals yet, now is the time to find some to complement your production.

Compile your visuals into a folder for the video team to use. Make sure you have the rights to all of the visuals you plan to use.

If you don’t have sufficient images for your video, consider licensing the rights to stock photos and video. (There are many such services available.) You can also find images in the public domain, which may allow use for non-profit or profit. (You will need to double-check the rights and usage for each particular image.)

Talk with your legal department to ensure that all of the material you use is appropriately licensed.

3. Practice Your Delivery

Practice, practice, practice.

Preparation builds confidence.

Even the best speakers in the world require preparation to successfully deliver their messages. Some people love speaking in front of others. Conversely, it is well documented that many people would rather die than talk in front of a group. Regardless of which category you fall into, you will benefit from practicing your delivery.

Practice your material in front of the mirror, in front of relatives and friends, in front of your cat - wherever you can. Repetition is a powerful way to learn and remember.

Take notes of the points you struggle to remember. Focus on memorizing those points.

Is there a word or phrase that twists your tongue? Change it! Remove the stumbling blocks and prepare a smooth path for yourself.

Practice the material, fine-tune the wording and gain confidence through preparation.

And remember: this isn't a live presentation like you're used to. It's ok to make mistakes! Through the magic of video editing, you can make it look like you did it right on the first take.

4. Length of Time

How long is your video? An hour? Half an hour? Fifteen minutes?

Decide what is a reasonable amount of content to present in that length of time. People can only absorb so much material. Remember to leave yourself time to introduce your material at the beginning and recap your points at the end (if such a structure is appropriate to your content).

After you have created a good draft of your material, practice a full-length presentation and time yourself.

Did you go over time? Find what material you can cut (and perhaps save for another video or a later lecture). Conversely, were you short on time? Decide if there’s material you can add.

Record yourself practicing and assess the pacing of your speech. Did you speak at a normal pace? Too fast or too slow? Many people talk too quickly when they’re nervous. You might not encounter this problem when you’re practicing by yourself, but be mindful of this if you practice in front of friends - and make a note before the actual presentation to speak at a normal pace.

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5. Notes

What notes, if any, will you use during the recording?

Some speakers benefit from notecards with bullet points, which allow them to quickly reference main points. However, others prefer to see the transcript of their entire presentation printed out. They enjoy the comforting presence of each sentence and detail.

If you are recording in a studio, you might have the luxury of using a teleprompter. This is a useful tool for providing the speaker with each word and phrase, exactly as scripted.

A handful of speakers prefer to memorize their talks, shunning notes entirely. These SMEs like to deliver their presentations unhindered by cards or papers; they rely on their knowledge and impromptu speaking to succeed.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each form of notes.

Notecards with bullet points provide a helpful framework for your entire presentation. While they lack the room for extensive wording and quotes, they can be a useful roadmap if you lose your place. Make sure you have a lectern or other place to store your cards. Number your cards to keep them in order, and limit the amount to make them manageable.

Transcripts are useful in providing the exact wording of those clever, brilliant sentences you labored over in preparation. However, if you lose your place, it can be very difficult to find it again. It’s also tempting to read from a transcript - but don’t do it! Your notes are there to assist you, not carry you. If you choose transcripts, consider breaking up the blocks of text with headers and bold font that serve as landmarks. Finally, be familiar enough with your content that you don’t read the notes.

Teleprompters are helpful tools to provide a transcript or bullet points. They provide the benefit of notecards and transcripts without betraying the presence of notes to the viewer. However, as with transcripts, it can be tempting to simply read the material. Such reading may leave you with a detached expression. Also, note that it’s visually distracting to watch someone’s eyes dart left-to-right as they read line after line. You may need to practice using a teleprompter to maintain a natural expression.

Memorizing material is what most presenters aspire to do. Memorization requires intimate knowledge of the presentation. It allows for natural delivery because you’re not reading your notes or trying to find your place. However, if your mind goes blank (it happens to the best of us), you will find yourself in an awkward spot without notes. Some presenters are so knowledgeable about their subject that they can improvise, even if they lose their place. However, if you need to improvise, be sure to keep an eye on the clock. It’s easy to go over time when you’re trying to fill.

Once again, remember that you’re not speaking live, and you can re-record segments if you need to. However, good preparation and effective notes will set you up for a successful shoot and a minimal amount of takes.

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6. Studio Audience

What is the setting for the recording of your video? A small studio? A classroom? An auditorium?

If space allows, you might consider having a studio audience. This can provide a level of comfort you might not have with just a camera and crew. It can be helpful to have people with whom to make eye contact and gauge interest. Audience members can give visual cues that they are following your presentation.The audience might consist of peers, students, association members or anyone else who will respectfully participate in the production.

If you do invite people for a studio audience, be aware that they might make noise: coughing, fidgeting, gasping, laughing, sneezing, throat-clearing - any of a number of noises. Require your audience members to silence or turn off their phones (remember that “vibrate” still makes noise). There are few things worse than a ringtone or notification ruining a good take.

The producer and director will probably want to brief the studio audience before filming to inform them of expectations and standards. Talk to the video crew about any stipulations or requests that you have for a studio audience.

7. Camera Awareness

Some people can’t get enough of the camera. Other people shy away from the lens.

Remember that the camera is a tool for you to use. It is a medium to transmit your message.

If your production involves multiple cameras, understand which camera is LIVE (typically indicated by a tally light) and focus your attention on that camera. Avoid turning your back to the camera that is LIVE. The audience wants to see your face.

Ask your producer whether he or she would have you look at the camera or not. Some productions benefit from the presenter talking directly to the camera, a personable tactic that makes the viewers feel like the speaker is talking to them. However, this choice may depend on whether you feel comfortable looking at the camera. If you are uncomfortable, you may need to speak to the studio audience and create a connection with them.

Regardless of whether you look at the camera or not, the goal is for you to deliver your best performance.

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8. Be Aware of Your Hands

Standing in front of a camera, standing in front of a crowd - it’s hard to think of a time when we’re (1) more conscious about what our hands are doing and (2) less certain about what to do with them.

Get ready for more age-old advice: your hands look the most natural when they rest at your sides. Some of you won’t believe this, but it’s true.

Shake your arms loose. Relax. Let your hands fall at your sides.

Your hands should always be resting at your sides unless you are making a deliberate gesture. Using your hands in deliberate motions can make them a valuable asset to your presentation.

Examples of deliberate gestures:

Count off your fingers to make numbered points (index finger for Point #1, middle finger for Point #2, ring finger for Point #3, etc).
Make a sweeping gesture to be dramatic.
Spread your arms wide to indicate welcoming or expanse.
Clasp your hands to show unity.

If you aren’t deliberate with your gestures, your hands can be a hindrance to your presentation and a distraction to the audience.

Do not:

Grip your pants.
Put your hands in your pockets.
Play with your loose change.
Play with rings or jewelry.
Clutch your arms by your chest (sometimes referred to as T-Rex arms or Chicken Wings).

Any of those positions and movements may seem comfortable to you, but they will look unnatural and distracting to your viewers.

Gestures must be practiced to look natural (counterintuitive but true). Planned gestures will be the most effective. Be aware of your hands and use them to your benefit!

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9. Relax

Be yourself.

Most of us have heard this advice before. It’s another tried-and-true maxim you should take to heart. Strange things happen when you’re standing in front of the camera, under the glare of the lights.

Find a relaxation trick that works best for you, whether that’s envisioning everyone in their underwear, pretending the camera lens is a person or staring just above the person in the back row.

You might find that your nerves betray you, regardless of your preparation. Arms, hands, legs or even lips might tremble and twitch. If this happens to you, stay calm.

If you can take a break, ask for a few minutes to calm down. Get some air, drink some water, take a short walk around the studio. Clear your mind and try again. You can do it!

10. Post-Production

Congratulations! Filming is done, and it’s time for your video team to work their magic.

Some helpful reminders for the post-production process, whether you are working on a large-scale or low-end budget:

Ensure the editing is smooth.
Check that audio syncs with video.
Graphics and animation should visually support the presenter.

This is an important time to remember your intended audience. Are you presenting to other Subject Matter Experts? Or are you distilling a difficult concept to a broader audience?

If you are targeting viewers without your level of education, post-production is the time to find individuals to view your content and provide feedback. Are they able to understand the content? Is the structure of the video easy to follow? Double check that your video accomplishes the desired purpose for your intended audience.

Post-production cannot create footage that you don’t have, but it can enhance and package your video in new and inspiring ways. A good post-production process will elevate your video to the next level.


Making a video can be an intimidating process. Take it one step at a time.

  1. Respect the preparation.
  2. Complement with visuals.
  3. Practice to acquire confidence.
  4. Mind the clock.
  5. Use the notes you need.
  6. Deliver in a comfortable environment.
  7. Be aware of the camera.
  8. Be aware of your body.
  9. Be yourself.
  10. Polish in post-production.

With good preparation, practiced execution, and intentional post-production, you will have a video that showcases your knowledge as a Subject Matter Expert.

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NextThought team

NextThought team

NextThought transforms workplace learning through creative technology and engaging media. We're fortunate to partner with some of the top organizations in the world to make their educational training content remarkable and effective.

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