Recording Science at Home


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Let’s face it, the current pandemic has changed a lot for how most scientists work. We’re teleworking more than before, doing webinars, and having virtual meetings in place of in-person meetings. One thing I do frequently is climate modeling 101 presentations and webinars. Back in June, I was asked by colleagues at the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center (SECASC) to do one such presentation for the Climate Adaptation Resilience Immersion Meeting in August. This time, there was an opportunity to do something different. I could give a webinar, or I could record a video. Although I’d never done it before, I chose to record a video for a climate modeling 101. I chose to do a video for a couple reasons. First, to learn a new way to communicate my own work or climate science generally. Second, climate 101 presentations tend to be informative, but not engaging. This was an opportunity to try a new approach to a climate modeling 101 video that is both informative and engaging, reaching new audiences.

I had no idea what I was doing, I had never tried recording myself before, I had never done video editing. Besides that, with the pandemic going on, I could not go somewhere to learn how to do all this. The only thing I had to go off of (aside from my Powerpoint presentations) was what I liked and didn’t like from other videos I had seen. I was adamant that I would not record myself giving a Powerpoint lecture. Ultimately, the final product turned out well. Have a look at my climate modeling 101 video on YouTube. The thing is, it took a lot of work to make this video, with many… interesting… moments. So much so, that I even cut a blooper reel of the recording! For those of you who may have thought of recording a video to share your work, here are three things I learned from my experience.

First, be yourself. When I first started recording, I had prepared a script that I was trying to read. Recording at home, I had no teleprompter, and my script was on my iPad next to my laptop screen. For me, when I was reading that script while recording, I was so flat and monotone with no inflection in my voice. It also kept me from ad-libbing and putting in a bit of my humor. Remember, you are a person trying to communicate with people. You’re not a robot, don’t be robotic, be yourself with your personality involved. This extends to editing together the final product. I’m a big fan of funny memes and video clips, so I brought that bit of my humor to the video too. Be yourself, don’t be robotic. Unless you are a robot, then you be you!

Screenshot of my production storyboard

Second, follow a story. While I ended up going off-script talking, I still kept to a story. Just talking to a camera means you can end up rambling. During recording, while I didn’t follow the specific words on the script I had prepared, I used it to make sure I hit my points in order. That way your video follows a clear progression and tells the story. When I prepared the script, I also prepared something of a production storyboard. It included sections of the script, but also color-coded inserts for when I wanted b-roll or overlays in the video as I was talking. It also included notes (in a different color) for when I wanted the music to start and stop playing or change in volume. This production storyboard that I made for myself helped me put in memes, overlays, b-roll, and music where I wanted to help tell the story. How you choose to develop the script and storyboard is up to you, but have something to guide your storytelling as you record and edit.

Finally, take your time. The video I made for the SECASC is only about 20 minutes long, but I recorded myself speaking for an hour and a half. I spent so much time recording partially because I’d never recorded a video before, but also because I had multiple takes for every section and parts of sections in my script. This was to get the right wording for the material, but also to find the right tenor and tone. After I recorded myself speaking, I then gathered all the b-roll, overlays, and music that I could from free stock materials. I also made other overlays and a credits roll (always give credit for material you use). There was also the time taken to edit everything together, get feedback, and do the final edits to pull everything together. All this to say, it takes time to do a video right. I was fortunate to have the time available to learn and make this video in July. If you don’t have time to spend to do it well, then consider working closely with another person to help you with the editing. You want the story you tell to be great, so take the time to do it well and right!

That’s it! That’s my three big tips on recording a video about your own work or field. Feel free to ask away if you have questions using either the comments section here or via Twitter or Facebook. For those who have recorded a video before, or done video editing, do you have any suggestions or advice? Share them with us!

There’s more that I couldn’t get into in this blog. I used Adobe Premiere Pro for video editing, but you may be more comfortable with something else. You can also do a web search for free stock photos, videos, and music and there are lots of options. Below is where I got my footage and music, along with a meme maker if you’re interested!

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