In my prior post “Virtualization and UNlearning”, I mentioned the ZDNet (Ziff Davis Network) At the Whiteboard video series. I want to explore them a bit further with you now because I think they are very effective and a great example of how to blend the old with the new to get “just the right” type of solutions. They are relatively easy content to produce, so you may want to try creating some of your own. If you have not seen one of these At the Whiteboard sessions, you can check out a recent one called “What is a Wiki” by Joe Kraus CEO of JotSpot (recently acquired by Google).
These At the Whiteboard sessions are aptly titled because that is just what they are—a video of a person explaining an idea or concept using a whiteboard. Hardly “high tech” but, at least for me, they are surprisingly effective, and they deliver a great experience. I suspect this is in part due to the use of a very familiar scenario (a person at a whiteboard), so it feels very “natural’ and comfortable to watch. It is also worth mentioning that just as we do with our podcasts here on Off Course – On Target, a full transcript is provided with each session so it's easy to refer back to what was said in the session. For example, you can find the full transcript of the "File Virtualization" session here.
This video format is also relatively easy content to create, though they are not completely do-it-yourself since they require at least one more person than the presenter to operate the camera. But this use of a separate person on the camera is critical to the success of this format, so do not be tempted to just set up a camera and let it film you while you present at a whiteboard. THAT is boring! Did you know for example that it apparently took seven years after the advent of TV news programs before they were anything more than a stationary camera on an equally stationary person reading the news, just as they did when it was radio news?!
Instead, the rapid and rather constant changing of the camera view as it moves from the presenter to the content on the whiteboard, along with zooming in and out, is very effective. The camera rarely stays still for more than a few seconds, but it works because I think it is similar to the way our eyes do the same thing in the natural setting—constantly moving back and forth.
You would think that this constant movement would be rather disorientating or make for that bothersome jerkiness you sometimes see on cheap videos. But in this case there are none of these effects. It keeps your attention and add lots of value by being a video and not just a set of slides with audio, or just an audio recording or podcast.
I am also attracted to this format because those of us who are familiar with doing presentations using a whiteboard or any other writing surface can adapt to talking to a camera instead of an audience quite easily. Moreover, when you are having a great conversation or explaining something to others, don’t you often find yourself needing to go to the whiteboard or grab a piece of paper to draw on? And don’t you just love those restaurants that have simple white paper table covers so you can draw all over them as you are having your pre-meal discussions with your meal mates?
OK, maybe it's just me. In any case, I find that the use of the whiteboard avoids the sometimes overproduced and “slick” presentations we see in slides, though there are many situations or graphics that are complex and detailed enough that pre-produced slides are the better choice. The use of the whiteboard allows for much more spontaneity and keeps the focus on the topic rather than on the graphics. Once again, it is a matter of matching the medium to the message.
Check out these At the Whiteboard sessions and see what you think. If you like them and start making some of your own, please let me know so we can see the results and learn more from your experiences.