Science communication videos: 4 steps before touching a camera

Simon Landry
Oct 15, 2018 · 4 min read

Video is an effective medium to communicate science. However, writing a script to start can be intimidating and overwhelming. Here are 4 steps to help you plan your science communication video before touching a camera. The more time you spend preparing for your video, the easier it will be to record exactly what you have in mind!

You will also find Real examples from when I helped a graduate student make a submission for NSERC’s “Science, Action!” competition.

1. Find your purpose

This is the most important part of the creation process. Knowing why you are making a video will guide the entire process. Starting with this question is based on Simon Sinek’s Start With Why framework.

Ask yourself the following question (and be honest).

Why are you making this video?

  • To entertain people?
  • To entertain yourself?
  • To build your personal science communications portfolio?
  • To connect with a specific audience?
  • To make your lab look good?
  • To make yourself look good?
  • To win a competition?
  • To learn a new skill?

The purpose of your video will help guide how you will communicate your idea and what it will look like.

Real example: After a conversation with the graduate student, we determined that the purpose of the video was primarily to entertain the audience. He also wanted to share the excitement of what is happening in the lab with a larger audience.

2. How do you communicate your message?

Keep your purpose in mind and start thinking about what your video will look like. You want your purpose and format to be aligned. For example, if your aim is to make something serious, then an animated video might not be appropriate.

How will I communicate my message?

  • Will it be animated?
  • Do you want the person on the video to speak directly to the viewer?
  • Do you want to present data?
  • Will you offer a tour of some facilities?
  • Will you use archival footage or shoot something new?

It is important to consider who you want to communicate with. Always keep the audience in mind and ask yourself, is this what they would watch?

Real example: We decided to allow ourselves to have some fun and be creative. We wanted to provide an immersive tour of the lab with an accessible overviews of the research. We decided that we would mostly use footage that we would shoot ourselves.

3. What are you saying?

This is the fun part (though honestly, they’re all fun parts). You will now write your script. Start by putting down general themes and ideas you want to include. This early part should be more like a brainstorm.

  • What are the key ideas you want have in your video?

Afterwards, elaborate on your key ideas. Take each idea and detail how you will communicate it to you audience. Elaborate on what makes those ideas important. Once you have a good amount of text, read it with the video in mind. If you are writing text for someone, ask them to read it out loud and to modify it so that it feels natural for them. Write your script the way you would say something, not the way you think someone would expect you to say it. Read and rewrite your text until there’s nothing you want to change. Audiences connect with authenticity so be true to yourself!

It’s also important to be respectful of your audience’s time by using effective words. To do this, ask yourself if what you are saying is essential to your message. Shorter videos are generally better.

Real example: We went through several iterations of the script. Though I helped write the script, we changed it a fair bit once the grad student read it out loud.

4. Test it out!

Making a storyboard will help you visualize your video and test your timing. This is the part where you will have to answer key questions such as:

What will it look it?

  • What do you show when you are reading your script?
  • Will the person stand by a wall and talk?
  • How long will you stay on each shot?

We used a tool called Storyboarder that allowed us to make an animated storyboard. The advantage of doing an animated storyboard is that you can test your timing and have a sense how your video will really look. We timed each line in the script see how long it took to read to get the storyboard timing right. Keep in mind that it’s important speak unnaturally slow in videos. It will feel weird at first, but it will make your video easier to understand. Also, it’s important that what you’re saying and what you are showing are congruent.

Real example: Below is our animated storyboard. Having this helped us speak on more concrete terms. We both had a vision for the video, but having something to work from helped us understand our respective visions. This also allowed us to keep what we thought worked and quickly change what didn’t.

Once you have your script and your storyboard, you are ready to film! You will likely change a few things when you film, but having a script and storyboard will make the filming faster and easier.

Real example:

How do you prepare your science communication videos? Are there steps missing? Share your video in the comments below!

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