Amanda Winn-Lee
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Should my CEO narrate or open the video? No.

Almost definitely, NO.

There are many reasons, and I’ll give you the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

1. Narration and on-camera performance are skills, like acting. Most talent I know specialize in either narration or on-camera work. Those who do on-camera work may narrate, but that’s rarely true the other way around.

Your CEO may be a well-spoken person, and may have a speaking voice that can make you swoon. However, learning to speak for audiences is an art unto itself. And performing on camera is even harder.

It can take a long time for a nonprofessional voice talent to get through even a brief open and close on camera. Even the best of them have trouble being directed — they don’t understand vocal intonation, nuance, and adding emotion such as “smile.”

Let me take that back. They’re smart — they understand these things. They just can’t deliver them. Because they don’t have training. Period.

I’ve spent hours coaching some of the smartest CEOs on the East Coast to deliver dazzling performances, and I don’t want to do it again. Sure, I’m being paid. But it’s a waste of money, and producers inherently dislike wastes of money. Our job is to bring you the best product for the least amount of money.

2. Your story doesn’t need it. Every time you pop a Hollywood movie into your DVD player, do you see the head of Paramount or Universal Studios commenting on what a great movie you’re about to see (or just saw)? Of course not. Because the movie’s greatness should be evident on its own. A good movie should need no explanation of any kind.

Same with your video. Honestly? It’s the exact same thing.

Not only that, but having a CEO appear on screen can actually damage your message. If you’re trying to sell “Widgets with a Heart,” the best way to open a video might be something other than with your CEO. Certainly something other. Very few audiences are captive these days. And the ones that are can still tune out.

If you’re just considering having your CEO narrate the piece, I’d simply ask, “why?” It’s going to take longer to record, be challenging to direct, and perhaps put the audience off. They want to hear from their peers, not their superiors.

At any rate, please concern yourself with the message that your video needs to impart, and let your scriptwriter and producer help you deliver them. They are professionals at crafting corporate messages.

As you’ll hear me say many times, the process is very like taking your car to the mechanic. Do you tell your mechanic HOW to fix your car? No. You describe the problems you’re having. Your mechanic fixes the car.

3. It’s more expensive, not less. Using your CEO or your own homegrown narrator (the financial analyst with a great voice) can add, not save, money. What if your selected speaker doesn’t have chops?

You can add to your producer’s (and recording studio’s) time because your speaker has a problem saying one or more words, or can’t understand (or worse, doesn’t care about) the difference in inflection that your producer is going for. Narrators are a relatively tiny percentage of your budget (I typically pay $350 to $600 per hour, which is plenty of time to lay down an 8- to 10-minute narration). Add to that the hourly cost (around $250) of a producer, videographer, and audio engineer (not to mention a make-up artist and members of your own staff), and your cost has skyrocketed.

While we’re on the topic of cost, many narrators do their own recording from home and small office recording booths these days. And they do a good job. (You and your producer can even be patched in to supervise the recording.) So you can save the cost and time of recording your voice talent in a studio, a cost that often starts at $200 per hour, not including file management and delivery times.


Sure, you can demand that your CEO be part of your video, maybe because it would be flattering for him or her somehow to be in a video, or good for your own career to have championed the idea. 99.999999% of the time, you will be wrong to do so.

If it is important to get your CEO’s face in front of your audience, please do it in another way. In an interview on camera. In a press release with a photograph. A podcast. A live webinar. A poster. A postcard. Something aside from a video.

In closing, please leave storytelling to your scriptwriter and producing to your producer. You’ll have plenty of input. After all, whatever your stated problem or challenge is, you can bet that your scriptwriter and producer will need background and perspective to create your message. And your message will need tweaking. You are the expert on content, probably not on the delivery of a message. (I hear a lot of people balk, “But I watch movies all the time!” My answer: “But when was the last time you wrote one?” There’s a big difference.)

You’ll approve the script versions and each incarnation of the final video. You determine what’s appropriate for your audience. And you’ll approve the choice of narrator, just as you approve the choice of tires when you take your car to a mechanic.

At any rate, don’t start telling the story yourself, just because you know more about the topic than anyone else. You might very well know more about your topic than anyone else on the planet, but that’s not the point.

Your scriptwriter and producer know more about positioning your message than you do. They know how to build a story and make it accessible and engaging to your audience.

Everyone is NOT a director, Everyone is NOT a writer. Sure, many people CAN become a director or writer. But it takes years and years to get there. Do you really want to use your expensive video as a guinea pig?

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TFTD: Should my CEO narrate or open the video?

by susan time to read: 4 min

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