How low-cost videos can revitalise seminars and events

A technique developed by a lecturer to engage students in class could provide added interest to business seminars and training.

To a modern audience hooked on viral videos and funny cat memes, traditional talks and presentations can all too often seem dull. In the age of multimedia, our boredom thresholds have become lower. While business people complain of ‘death by Powerpoint’, the problem is even more acute in universities, where live lectures have long been a mainstay of teaching.

Now one academic is pioneering the use of low-cost videos to revitalise the traditional lecture but his techniques could equally be applied to business training and events.

“For the lecturer, it is now more than ever a battle for students’ attention in class,” says Associate Professor Frank Alpert, a marketing expert with UQ Business School. “Today’s students prefer multimedia. However the lecture highlights the expertise of the instructor, which is the reason they attend university, therefore the answer may be to add variety to make lectures more engaging.”

A winner of the Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy’s Distinguished Educator Award, Associate Professor Alpert has been experimenting with the use of a technique he calls VIDS (Video Instructor Designed and Starring). These are short videos made and edited by the instructor and in which they feature as lead performer or as narrator with ‘on screen’ appearances.

While the instructor or presenter will be required to learn some basic video making skills, the films themselves need not be too slick or professional. The fact that they are low-budget production may actually increase their authenticity, says Associate Professor Alpert. He trialled five different approaches, each of which could easily be adapted for use at corporate training sessions or business events:

VIDS 1: The debate

Debates are a well-known teaching method. However, instead of two people arguing different points of view, his technique uses one person to argue both sides using a split screen.

To create the video, sit at one side of a table with an assistant holding the camera and argue the first side, then put on a different outfit and sit on the other side of the table to argue the second. Shoot some footage of reactions so it looks like you are paying attention to the other side, and end each side by asking: “What are we to do now?” Then edit the two videos and merge into a split screen.

“Though it is not a really fancy technique, viewers reacted with amazement at the point in the video when the split screen image pops in showing the ‘two of him’ face to face,” says Associate Professor Alpert. He suggests following the video with a group debate and a vote using an audience response system which enables people to vote via their mobile phone. 

VIDS 2: The guest speaker

A guest speaker brings a different perspective to lectures and seminars. But instead of them attending in person, Associate Professor Alpert suggests interviewing them at their own territory. Start with the guest giving a tour of their office and follow up with an interview.

This gives viewers an insider view of the guest’s “real-world” and is particularly useful for senior business figures with tight schedules who may not be able to fit in a personal appearance. However, be sure to send them the questions to consider in advance, and ask them to sign a written agreement to cover copyright and usage of the video.

VIDS 3: Behind the scenes

Instead of addressing the class directly, the lecturer is interviewed in his or her office by a student acting as a journalist. This is a good way to introduce and ‘humanise’ the lecturer or trainer and allows students or employees to raise issues they find most of interest.

VIDS 4: Analysis

While Associate Professor Alpert used his video to analyse a TV commercial, the same method could be used to discuss a brand, product or strategy. The lecturer cues and comments on sections of the video or photos, using highlighting tools, subtitles, voice over and ‘picture in picture’ techniques where they can be seen commenting in a corner of the screen.

VIDS 5: How to guides

This technique is ideal for any type of practical skills training and uses a live video of the activity with commentary from the lecturer. The video used in the trial demonstrated how to run a focus group and featured a recording of a real life group in action, with the lecturer’s commentary delivered by voice over, picture in picture techniques and subtitles.

Associate Professor Alpert trialled the use of VIDS with over 150 postgraduate business students and their feedback showed they had a positive reaction. While trainers or presenters may be deterred by the prospect of appearing on screen themselves, he says: “In general we all come across better on VIDS than in real life. Video narrative can be edited and polished, providing concise communication, as well as being more expressive.”

He offers the following tips:

1. Be authentic and spontaneous – let your personality shine through. It should be the same you on the video as when you are speaking to the class, as if you had suddenly and seamlessly stepped into the video to continue the lecture.

2. If it doesn’t work, edit it out. The power of video is that speakers can try things they might fear in class.

3. Aim for the right level of expression – if your delivery seems flat, then do a retake – similarly, if it’s over-expressive and looks silly. In practice, this will usually only involve a few re-takes. It is harder to self-regulate when speaking live.

4. Don’t fear the occasional unflattering image or rough sound - the audience will understand that it is a self-created video. Indeed, the occasional rough spot emphasises the importance of content over presentation.

5. Give a brief live introduction before you press ‘play’ - this technique is known as ‘forefronting’.

7. Use the video for a change of pace, say 30 minutes after the start of the lecture or talk. Combine the use of video with other techniques, such as a discussion and vote.

8. Build a library of VIDS over time – they can be re-used in later sessions.

9. Don’t put the video on the internet where it is publicly available, position it as something that has been made exclusively for your audience and is a unique shared experience.

Associate Professor Alpert says: “There is still very much a place for face to face events and presentations both in universities and in business, however VIDS can add variety and motivate people to attend. They provide a low-cost tool to help modernise and revitalise live lectures, training and business events.”

Last updated:
25 March 2019