Leadership Face Time | Brunswick

Leadership Face Time

Business leaders need to be seen and heard, not just read. Video can build connection at scale.

“Zoom fatigue” says more about our exhaustion with meetings than it does our relationship with video technology. Video remains the next-best thing to an in-person conversation—what would you think of a boss who fired you over email?—and far more humanizing and interesting than text. As an investor, would you rather read a release about a new factory opening or be invited to a virtual tour? Are you more likely to reach the end of a 500-word update or a 30-second video?

Yet video remains a tool only a fraction of executives use regularly. It’s difficult to reconcile: If a leader is going to spend time communicating, why not do so in a way that social media platforms prioritize and which their audience is more likely to engage with?

To the point about social platforms—their algorithms weight video content above article-length blocks of text; they know video is more effective at capturing your attention. That’s why video typically plays automatically as you scroll—watching takes less effort than clicking a link. In short: The same message, delivered by the same leader, will reach more people on social media as a video than as an article.

The good news is you don’t need a full-production crew anymore to produce footage. The ubiquity of Zoom, FaceTime, and reality television have normalized a “come as you are,” unscripted aesthetic—overproduced videos seem insincere. Still, there’s more to it than just pressing “record.” Here are my top tips for executives and their teams getting started: 

  • Clarify your message and audience. Know what you want to say ahead of time. Most leaders I work with use brief memory joggers on a single note card or memorize key passages. Your audience should not only inform that message but also how you deliver it. Front-line employees don’t want to see executives in suits talking in corporate-speak. Investors aren’t likely to enjoy an earnings recap filmed by an executive walking down a busy street. Chris Kempczinski, President and CEO of McDonald’s, strikes the perfect balance. His videos, often filmed in his office or at a restaurant, show a mix of production value, ranging from the CEO filming himself on a smartphone to moments that are more composed: relaxed and dressed in business-casual attire with nice lighting and sound. He is often unscripted, sharing personal anecdotes that showcase his personality.
  • Remember the “Three S” setup: While you can record directly to your phone rather than booking a studio, you’ll look and sound better with attention to Stability, Set, and S Stabilize your phone with an inexpensive phone tripod. Choose a set with decent lighting. Improve your sound with a lav mic [the kind that can attach to a shirt or jacket].
  • Practice makes progress. You might nail your video on the first take, but chances are you’ll benefit from rehearsal. Practice builds confidence and confidence is persuasive.
  • Put first things first. A person typically spends less than three seconds on any piece of social media content. That time decreases for younger demographics and those on phones. Make sure the most important message is up front. Ask if your video would resonate if your audience saw only the first frames—because that’s all most will see.
  • Be brief. Every second beyond the first 30 increases the likelihood you’re speaking to an empty room. If you need more time, consider breaking the footage into multiple videos or providing more depth in a supplemental link.
  • Find a unique angle or opening hook. Thousands of videos are uploaded daily. What’s going to make yours stand out? Unexpected camera angles or locations can help. bp CEO Bernard Looney executes this masterfully. His recent video response to an Instagram comment placed him in a casual pose followed by an eye-catching graphic sequence to pique followers’ interest and reinforce a people-first leadership style.
  • Produce a silent movie. An estimated 70% of social video is watched without sound. Use captions and other non-verbal cues like a whiteboard, prop, or motion graphics. If your video doesn’t work as a silent film, start over.
  • Extend a video’s lifespan. The most valuable asset in any Connected Leadership strategy is an executive’s time. Maximize the utility of any video content by thinking through all the ways you can leverage it. For a 5-minute video, you can create a 30-second cut for social media, host the long-form version on YouTube to maximize SEO, post teaser snippets to Instagram or LinkedIn Stories, and craft quote cards for future reinforcement.

The point isn’t that leaders should abandon text and start only using video. It’s that video can increase the scale and impact of the messages they’re already delivering. In a sense, leaders who fail to make use of video are like boxers choosing to punch with only one arm. The good news is that such a self-imposed disadvantage can be overcome with a little practice, giving leaders more options to make their efforts land meaningfully.  

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Craig Mullaney, a Brunswick Partner based in Washington, DC, is an experienced advisor and a New York Times best-selling author. His Connected Leadership column and newsletter spotlight how modern executives use digital and social media to communicate and lead organizations.