TFTD: Should my CEO narrate or open the video?

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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Video 101: Review your needs before writing the script

A CD Video Disc (playing side) produced in 1987.

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Always review your needs before writing the script

Planning a video or film for your business is just like planning anything else. The more prepared you are, the better the process will go and the happier you’ll be with the final product.

In video and film, you have an added bonus: the more prepared you and your producer are, the lower you can keep your costs. Follow the steps below and you’ll be well on your way to executive producing your next video or film. (more…)

The Google dance

Google in 1998, showing the original logo

Google in 1998, showing the original logo

Last month, a client called to say he still hadn’t seen his web site appear in Google‘s listings. The web site had been up one week.

This goes to show you how much we all expect instantaneous results from anything Internet-related. But that’s not the way it is, and it won’t be for quite some time.

Now, it’s possible that my client’s web site could have made it into Google within a week. I’ve had it happen, but ONLY with web sites that have a longstanding domain name (in 2008 I redesigned my sister’s web site, Colonial Photography, now Helen’s Place Photography, and she was sitting pretty on page 1 the next day (where she’s remained) — she’d owned her URL for 12 years even though there was not one word of text on it.) Google respects longevity.

Here are some important things to remember about your new web site being found on Google:

1. URL age is still a factor, albeit a lesser one. That doesn’t mean you should buy an old URL. Rather, it means that Google respects age as an SEO factor, especially if that URL has been linked to in the past. In the case of my sister’s web site,, likely she had next-day results in 2008 because her web site, even though it had no words on it, was frequently linked to. It held a single link for her clients to view their photos.

2. Google spiders don’t “crawl” every web site every day, or every week for that matter. Google performs “fresh” crawls periodically looking for brand new stuff. But Google only performs a “deep” crawl every month, on some undetermined date (but one you can make an educated guess about if you watch closely). And, depending on a lot of factors, you may not see the results of even a deep crawl for weeks. Also, Google is under no obligation to deep crawl your site at all. If your site remains unimproved for long periods of time, it’s likely that it will take some energy to get Google’s attention again.

Here are some comments by Matt Cutts, the popular Google software engineer:

There is also not a hard limit on our crawl. The best way to think about it is that the number of pages that we crawl is roughly proportional to your PageRank. So if you have a lot of incoming links on your root page, we’ll definitely crawl that. Then your root page may link to other pages, and those will get PageRank and we’ll crawl those as well. As you get deeper and deeper in your site, however, PageRank tends to decline.

Another way to think about it is that the low PageRank pages on your site are competing against a much larger pool of pages with the same or higher PageRank. There are a large number of pages on the web that have very little or close to zero PageRank. The pages that get linked to a lot tend to get discovered and crawled quite quickly. The lower PageRank pages are likely to be crawled not quite as often. (Matt Cutts interviewed by Eric Enge, 3/14/2010)

Even though Page Rank is not supposed to be a factor any longer, there is a lot of truth to these words still.

So, here are some tips for getting found by Google faster:

1. Keep an “old” URL (but not the web site) even if you’re changing your business name. Ask your webmaster to redirect the old URL to the new. It could pay off.

2. Revise your file names. Make sure they use your keywords, and aren’t too long. Google will overlook file names that appear to be similar. I’ll give you an example. Before I knew any better, I used to add the business name to the keywords for a file name — both so the business name could be better branded and the web file names could be better organized (e.g., businessname_web_site_design.xxxx and businessname_copywriting.xxxx) (“xxxx” being the file extension for the kind of pages you use, such as .html). You may find that Google will bypass any page other than your home (index) page if you do this. Keep your most important key words near the front of the file name, and make sure they’re also used in your body text.

3. Increase the volume of your inbound and outbound links. Two otherwise identical sites will rank differently in Google based on their popularity with the world at large — particularly their peers. You can’t do any better than being linked to by people in your own business. So — make sure you’re listed in online trade directories, blog directories (you do have a blog, don’t you?), and the like. The more the merrier. Just don’t pay a “link farm” to generate random links to your web site. When Google sees that these links are bogus, you’ll be penalized. As for outbound links, these are just as important to Google.

4. Drive traffic to your web site. Blog, answer questions on LinkedIn, even advertise on Google or Facebook. Just get people to your web site. This is harder than it may sound — people want interesting and useful information. Can you provide it?

5. As often as possible, freshen your web site’s content. Particularly the index page. Add new files. Add downloadables. Add a new blog entry.

6. Give your audience incentives to move to another page. Keeping your bounce rate low is much more important than you may think.

7. Lather, rinse, repeat. It sometimes takes perseverance and consistent nurturing to gain a higher ranking on Google, but you can make great strides if you’re persistent and patient.

After about a month, my client’s web site appeared on Google, on page 1 for both of his top key words, and his was a brand-new domain. It will take him longer to reach page 1 for a much more competitive key word, but I have confidence that in his market area we will demonstrate more perseverance than his competition. I’ll let you know how we do.

Oh, what is the Google dance? If you watch search engine results pages (SERPs) rankings daily, as I do, you’ll see that your web pages’ rankings will jockey around quite a bit — up by three points here, and down by one there. That’s the dance to pay attention to.

Other reading:

Timing Google’s crawl

How Google works

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