The next time you screen one of your videos, turn your chair around and watch the watchers.

Almost all of us who make video have the opportunity to “showcase” our work to an audience that we are a part of. It might be only three people in our own living room, or it can be 30 people in a small theater. Either way, we are in the room while our work is being displayed.

Most of us tend to watch the video with the audience. We are proud of our work, and, somehow, watching it with them seems compelling. Maybe it is because we know what will come up next on the screen, and when it appears, it is particularly pleasing to us because that is what we worked so hard for.

I have a suggestion for you next time. Instead of watching the video, watch the people in the audience. Try to see whether theyre captivated or bored. Did the humor that you tried to use work the way you wanted it to?

We can learn a great deal about video production by watching the audience react (or sleep). Some of you may be practicing what the professionals do: show a rough cut to a small audience to get feedback prior to the final edit. This is simple and it works pretty well, but it is not quite as honest as observing someone (who may not be a friend) while he watches your video.

What types of things should you look for? The easiest thing to notice is, as I mentioned earlier, laughter. If your viewers laugh out loud, they really think something is funny. That’s a good sign, provided they laugh at the right time. Laughter can also be a bad sign. If someone is laughing at something that you did not intend to be humorous, then you may have a problem. If only one person laughs, it may be meaningless. He may be laughing because something reminded him of a humorous event in this own life or one of the people on the screen reminds him of a joking cousin. But if a few people laugh when they shouldnt, you may have made a mistake.

You can also look for attentiveness. If people are whispering to one another, that may be a sign that they are rude and/or your video is not captivating enough. If you see someone dozing off (bobbing head) that is usually not a good sign (unless your video bears the title “Falling Asleep”). There are other, more subtle things to look for. When people in the audience look anywhere but the TV screen, it could be that they are bored. Some people need to have their eyes take a rest occasionally, so they will remove their eyes from the screen briefly.

Since most of us are not Steve Spielberg (nor do our videos have budgets like his) we can’t expect to have the same results. The people in our audience are less likely to be awestruck, with their eyes riveted on the TV set for the duration of the program. As long as no one seems bored, the videomaking beginner should be satisfied.

One of the keys to captivating an audience is good pacing. Not unlike carrying on a good conversation, it is important to get to the point without much dilly dally. Some video producers may take too long to get to the point, while others may move too quickly. Depending upon the effect you are after, the pacing can vary greatly. If you are trying to develop a sense of suspense, then you would “get to the point” more slowly. In sales and promotional videos, the style is very different. The audience expects you to get to the point very quickly.

Captivating the attention of an audience is your ultimate challenge. Watching the people while they are watching your video can teach you a lot about how to make more compelling videos.

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