Video Tips for Prospective FileMaker DevCon Speakers

So you’re submitting a proposal to present at the FileMaker Developer Conference (aka DevCon)… awesome! Thanks for offering to share your knowledge with the developer community. The more developers share, the better DevCon for us all. As you may be aware, the deadline for submitting proposals for next year’s DevCon is almost upon us.

One requirement is a 3- to 5-minute video of yourself for each of your proposed topics. The purpose of the video is to give the FileMaker, Inc. speaker selection team an idea of your presentation style, as well as to provide a platform for you to explain the key objectives of your proposed session and how you intend to present it. Although your proposal will not be judged on the video’s technical merits, you naturally will want to present yourself in the best possible manner.

Following are some suggestions on how to record and produce a quality video for this purpose…

    Camera Quality. To record your video, please use a quality video camera. A 320×240 webcam won’t make the grade. If you do use a webcam, it should at least 640×480 resolution and be sure to sufficiently illuminate the subject (you) — with more light than you may think you need. If you have the option, use the cooler daylight color bulbs for more natural-looking results.
    Camera Placement. If you use a built-in laptop webcam, arrange the camera lens so its plane is perfectly vertical rather than angled up from below. This helps avoid the Gulliver Effect (looking down on the Lilliputians). Try to place the camera at about chest-level when you’re standing. Doing so will usually provide the correct framing for a torso shot when you’re 5 or 6 feet away from the camera.
    Framing. Frame the subject (you) to show head and torso only. Full-body frame doesn’t get close enough to see facial expressions and talking heads don’t convey body language. Shoot against a simple background that contrasts well with the subject. For minimal visual distraction (as well as better compression) a whiteboard or projector screen works well. Also, remember to wear a solid-colored shirt, rather than that snazzy striped or checkered number.
    Video Settings. Record video at 24 frames per second or higher. Recording at 10 fps may be okay for computer tutorial screen captures, but not to record your presentation — unless you actually speak and move like Max Headroom. If you’re recording video direct-to-disk using Windows 7 or Vista, disable Direct3D/Aero graphics, as this setting takes tons of cpu cycles (see the Apple KB article).
    Intro & Outro. Leave some buffer video before and after you start speaking, at the beginning and end of the source recording. Use this to apply a viewer-friendly fade in and out. For a professional touch, add some titling during the intro roll and perhaps even the outro. Skip the musical soundtrack and sound effects, though — they will just get in the way.
    Audio Quality. Use an external microphone to record your voice, rather than the built-in mic on your laptop or vidcam. The audio quality of a video influences the viewer’s perception of quality more than the actual video image; the eye is much more forgiving of mistakes and artifacts than is the ear. There are many good mics out there; for voice recording just make sure its pickup pattern is unidirectional or hypercardioid (not omnidirectional), to record only you and not the room’s ambient sounds. Keep the mic gain up to increase the dynamic range between signal and noise, which will make audio cleanup (below) in post-processing easier.
    The Recording Environment. The physical recording environment is also important. Find a quiet room with no echo and low ambient noise. Common background noise culprits are low-level hum from appliances and fluourescent light transformers, and high-frequency hiss from air coming out of HVAC vents.
    Eliminating Background Noise. If you do notice ambient sounds during playback, you can clean up the audio after recording with some post-processing tools. As I’m primarily Mac-based, I use SoundSoap [link] and Apple’s Soundtrack Pro [link], but even Apple GarageBand can normalize an audio track (during export). A setting in the Mac OS X Sound preference panel may also help reduce ambient noise. However a cleaner source audio is always the better option.
    Other Audio Cleaning. During playback notice if you hear yourself taking breaths before speaking. If the breaths are really obvious, consider editing them down manually with an audio waveform editor (e.g. Soundtrack Pro, etc.). Attentuating breath sounds 12 or 15 dB should do the trick and make your video sound much more professional. Don’t just cut them nor silience them to zero, however — that tends to sound unnatural or may leave distracting aural black holes. It’s probably a good idea to first normalize the entire audio track to bring the volume up. The mechanics of the edit are to monitor the playback for breaths then locate the inhale visually (they’re easy to detect), select the waveform and apply the attenuation/gain reduction. One other note: you may need to match the source sampling rate (44.1 vs 48k) when you export the cleaned audio… some programs will enforce their own sampling rate — the result being out-of-sync audio & video due to the different playback rate.
    Movie Specifications. Movie dimensions are not explicitly specified by FMI, but a QuickTime-readable video format is requested. That means the .mov (standard QuickTime) or .m4p (MPEG-4) container file are your best bets. If you can only record in .wmv or .avi, use one of the free or low-cost video conversion applications. Export the video content using a standard codec; H.264 at 29.97 fps is the current standard and provides the best video quality/filesize efficiency. Size-wise, somewhere between DV NTSC (720×480) and 1280×800 will suffice nicely. HDTV is definitely going overboard. (Note that you must upload the video to one of FileMaker Inc.’s ftp servers, so you’ll want to keep it small.)
    Speaking Tips. Start out by introducing yourself and your topic. Something along the lines of “Hi, I’m [name], [title] at [company]. This brief video describes my DevCon proposal for [session name or topic].” As for any good presentation give your demo an engaging beginning, an interesting middle, and a solid, compelling conclusion. And lastly, remember to be humble and gracious: thank the viewer for considering your proposal.

Good Luck!

    [Disclaimer: this post may or may not represent the opinions of FileMaker, Inc. and should not be considered official guidance. No guarantee is offered regarding the accuracy of its contents.]

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