Creating a video abstract

Effective storytelling for researchers.

Edmonton, Canada —

Working with researchers at Southampton is immensely rewarding, meeting people who are working across a huge range of disciplines and specialisms, almost all of which are fascinating and crucial and adding to our understanding of ideas in science, arts, technology and society.

Although it seems a relatively new idea for the research community, it’s encouraging to see the creation of video abstracts. Researchers are finding that these are increasingly valued ways of supporting publication, engaging with the public and turning ideas and theories into learning objects that can be used in their teaching.

We’ve been running a series of workshops that are aimed at teaching researchers to create media content to tell stories about their work, enhance their own understanding around public engagement and open up conversations with communities either on social media, the internet and elsewhere locally, nationally and beyond.

Why create video abstracts?

We’ve been receiving great feedback about the different ways video abstracts serve peoples’ work, these include the following:

  1. To support a conference submission, sometimes even as a way to flip the session so that you can turn a presentation or talk into something more interactive like a workshop, debate or discussion.
  2. To support a funding bid, as a way of illustrating your work and providing context. Funders tend to be influenced by video in terms of an understanding of the level of enthusiasm and engagement for your proposal, it also demonstrates your confidence in terms of speaking to the press or talking at events.
  3. To support public engagement and public policy, video is an incredibly accessible and easy way to get your message across — but remember good public engagement is a two-way conversation, use your video to appeal for help and show people how they can get involved and support your project. Ask questions and invite feedback, make sure you include contact details.
  4. To support teaching and learning. An engaging abstract is an excellent basis for a learning object, in fact you might have to break it down further in class by just playing a section of it, but if the video illustrates something important in an engaging way, then it will be valued by your students, who’ll watch it and return to it closer to exams.

How do you make sure your video abstract is effective?

Video can be created very simply using mobile phones and tablets, as well as digital cameras and webcams. Whilst the production quality is certainly important, crucially capturing clear audio, it’s important to plan and make good decisions that can improve the way you present and tell your story.

  1. Script your abstract and memorise it. This is worthwhile for a number of reasons, it means you’ll include all the points you intended, you’ll be engaging and able to keep eye-contact with the lens, if you don’t you’ll come across at best under-confident, at worse insincere. Many people think that an autocue is the answer to their problems, but you’ll find there’s a skill in using one of these too and it takes a great deal of practice to ensure you don’t look like a robot reading from left to right.
  2. Keep to your timings. I really wouldn’t run anything more than three minutes, remember — it’s a video abstract, it’s not your final dissemination. If you’re really struggling to remember your lines, then use short bullet points, break down your ideas and be succinct.
  3. Lead with your key message, viewers tend to stay watching a video until the moment they feel they’ve understood the central point, they don’t stay any longer than necessary.
  4. Illustrate your ideas. I can’t emphasise this enough, viewers will gain so much information from what you show so take the opportunity to create animation, simple graphic presentations, use illustrations, props, secondary interview, vox pops and much more. The more creative and arresting these images, the more engaging and effective.
  5. Try to think about your audiences, this might be revising the language to ensure it is accessible, perhaps cutting down on technical terms unless you know that your audience will understand. Even in this context, your audience will thank you for simplifying your script and ensuring your points are clear.

You will find uploading a video to YouTube a simple process, but many publishers prefer you to use their own platform, this might be for reasons of copyright or distribution rights. It’s important to check your procedures for a video in the same way as you would for written submission.

You’ll find that some of the main publishers have guidelines to help you get your video online and ensure it works. Remember to upload according to the guidelines but email the editor or conference organiser to tell them it’s on the platform.

If you need some further guidance, then please feel free to email me or message on twitter.