Using Video in Your Next Presentation: A Baker’s Dozen of Ideas and Tips

by Steven J. Bell

At the 2009 Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) conference, two colleagues and I gave a presentation about user experience and how to deliver it in a library setting. We framed the presentation around the experience delivered at the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. Instead of just telling the audience what happens there, we obtained a 30-second video shot at the fish market. Those 30 seconds captured the essence of the experience and told the attendees far more about the fish market than we ever could with our words or a single visual image in our slides.

When it comes to helping others learn, there is a simple piece of advice that is often recommended to educators: Show! Don’t tell. While appealing to the visual learning style of an audience is always a good idea, there is a growing expectation for more than just static images. They want video. If you want to deliver more dynamic presentations with more powerful visuals, then consider integrating video into them. It’s up to you to determine how to find the best content and how to smartly integrate it into your presentation. This article will provide tips and techniques for doing both.

Why Video?

1. Capture audience attention: At Temple University, where I work as associate university librarian, I see how video grabs attendees and bolts their eyes to the screen. Through their shared expressions of humor or shock—whatever response I hope to evoke—the video quickly creates an emotional reaction that engages the attendees in the presentation. Experienced presenters know the success of a presentation can depend on what happens in the first minutes. That may be all the time a presenter has to grab the audience’s attention. Beginning a presentation with video is sometimes a perfect way to surprise, wake up, or just plain grab the audience by the throat to secure their investment in what you have to say. 2. Present to the “video learning” style: Experienced presenters acknowledge attendees’ different learning styles and leverage techniques that meet the needs of all types of learners. Telling stories, playing music, having attendees talk to each other, having them write something down, and using images are all methods that appeal to audio, visual, and kinesthetic learners. Video is an extensively used medium for educators at every level between K–16. People are exposed to video throughout their education. Integrating video into your presentation ensures you will meet expectations for video content and effectively connect with the video learner. 3. Provide breaks for presenters and attendees: When I first started using video in presentations, I discovered an unexpected bonus. Put simply, it gives the presenter and the attendees a break from each other. While a video plays, I can take a sip of water, check my notes, or just let my mind relax. Sometimes, I just look for visible reactions from the audience that might provide a transition from video back to speaking. Conversely, for the attendees, the video provides a break from the speaker. Video reduces the possibility that the audience will perceive you as a droning “talking head.” 4. Generate better discussions and engage attendees: For me the No. 1 reason to use video is to generate discussion. The video should raise an issue or dilemma that engages the attendees and encourages them to comment. For example, if I wanted to foster some discussion on customer service challenges, I would choose a short video portraying an interaction between an employee and a customer that would raise questions or point out either positive or negative qualities of the transaction. I would follow the video with a discussion opener such as, “How do you think that customer felt about the quality of his/her service experience?” Brief, targeted discussions, facilitated by video, dynamically engage attendees.

Options for Using Video

The options for both discovering and integrating video into presentations are expanding as more web services lead to video content. Admittedly, much web-based video is amateurish and of little use to a librarian preparing a presentation. But a wealth of possibilities still exists. There are at least four options that video librarians should know about:

5. Synchronized graphics video: For a unique presentation start, to get attendees immediately focused and in the right mindset, consider using a synchronized graphics video. These videos are composed of images but can incorporate text as well. They are then converted into a video that plays a montage of the slides along with music. For a presentation on career advancement, I created an Animoto ( with images and text related to career paths and opportunities. Rather than explain it, you can view an Animoto at A well-done Animoto can wake up the audience, expose them to some subliminal messages, and prime them for your presentation.

6. Commercial video: Commercially produced video—be it feature films or professionally produced videos such as those from Soaring to Excellence or other educational vendors—offer excellent opportunities for establishing themes, setting the audience’s mood, or obtaining an emotional response. I saw a presenter who used clips from several different feature films to structure the presentation by topic, for example, establishing the problem, generating support, creating the team. It was highly creative and added a powerful dimension to the presentation. Afterward, I asked the presenter about the use of feature films and copyright issues. The presenter told me his institution’s counsel established that showing no more than 30 seconds of a film in an educational conference setting would not violate fair use guidelines; it certainly did not constitute a public performance. When a publisher is identifiable, I request permission to use the video, explain my intent, and agree to provide credit and attribution to the source.

7. Self-produced video: What happens when you need a long video segment that is somewhere in the video’s middle? How do you get it? Is there a good way to condense long videos into short ones? I have yet to discover a perfect technology for this, and most of us lack the required skills and software for video editing. My technique keeps it simple. I play the desired video and use my Flip Mino camcorder to record the portions I need off my monitor. Even better, I can take several clips from a longer video and then blend them together to make a short, transformative video that gets to the important points I want to make. The proliferation of low-cost, handheld camcorders such as the Flip Mino or Creative Vado introduces a new option for presenters. Shoot your own video.

8. Web-based video: Video in this category consists of whatever exists on sites such as YouTube and Blip TV. But there are loads of video segments out there. How do you find the right one? The options for video discovery are expanding. It’s no longer a matter of just searching for video on YouTube. Multiple search engines are dedicated to finding the right video online. Google, Yahoo!, and Bing may help you find a video, but other engines are specially optimized for video retrieval. Four video search engines that are often recommended are Blinkx, ClipBlast, Truveo, and Veoh. Between them, these engines index thousands of hours of video, from sources on YouTube to CBS News. Find a list and summary of video search engines at

Tips for Using Video

What more do you need to know to successfully incorporate video into your presentations? Just a few things:

9. Keep it short: Video is no different than any visual. It’s bad presentation style to talk over a slide that just sits on the screen for several minutes. Likewise, limit your videos to 2–3 minutes. People like video, and it can capture their attention, but they can also tire of it easily. If you are doing a longer workshop, perhaps a half-day to a full day, then you’ll have more time to show a longer video, especially if it sets up a discussion.

10. Check the Sound System: Make sure the venue you are presenting in has a working sound system. This sounds too obvious, but all your hard work on acquiring video content and incorporating it into your presentation will be for naught if there’s no audio. And you’ll feel like a real loser.

11. Go with a MacBook: Without getting too technical here, which I couldn’t do anyway, let it suffice to say that it all just works better on a Mac. If you do use a Mac for your presentations, make sure you have, if needed, the correct adapter for connecting your Mac laptop to the standard projector cable. Never assume the presentation venue will have what you need.

12. Watch other presenters: If you see presenters using video and their methods look interesting, be sure to speak to them after their presentation. Ask how they captured the video and used it in their slides. This is how I first learned to capture YouTube video and embed it in slides. Learn from others.

13. Relevance is a must: Do not underestimate the importance of using video clips that directly relate to points being made in the presentation. The video needs to be relevant to the discussion. Some videos are fun, others are slick—and they can be entertaining. But use caution: Be purposeful in selecting video content, and remember your overall goals as a presenter.

Video Is the New PowerPoint

I didn’t make that section heading up. It was actually a statement made in the closing remarks at a conference I attended. The speaker, in summarizing the conference, made special note of the proliferation of video in the presentations. She said, “As a conference organizer I dropped into nearly every session and I’ve never seen so much video content.” That’s when she said, “Video is the new PowerPoint.” Given PowerPoint’s reputation as a presentation killer, the statement may suggest that video is evil too. I know what that speaker meant. PowerPoint, for better or worse, is a predominant presentation technology. You almost expect to see it in use. That’s where video is headed. Expect to see it being used more frequently in any number of creative ways. Video, like any communication medium or presentation technology, can be used for good or evil. It is up to all presenters to make sure their use of video is for more than just filler. Video works when it is relevant to the topic, stimulates audience involvement, and is just plain well-done. This article, hopefully, will get you started on the path of video righteousness. 

Integrating Your Video: Where and How

Presenters using PowerPoint or other slide software should aim to embed their video directly in the slides. This will make for a much smoother transition from standard slides to videos and then back to slides. Importing a video into a slide is accomplished reasonably easily on a Mac.

First, obtain the video as a single, manageable file. There are a few options. If you make your own video, the file should be easy to output in a video format ready for embedding. Your best bet is an MPEG-4 file. I have encountered no difficulty importing that format into a PowerPoint slide. Simply open up a PowerPoint slide and choose to “insert” a movie onto a slide. Just add the file at that point and specify to start it with a click on the slide.

Then, during the presentation, just click on the movie image to run the video. When the video ends, simply advance to the next slide. One important caution here: Whether you create the embedded video on a Mac or PC, be prepared for the type of computer you’ll use for the actual presentation. If you used a Mac to embed video into a slide, it may not work on a computer that runs Windows. Just be consistent.

If you plan to embed video from YouTube, there is a specific procedure for capturing the video from YouTube so that it can be downloaded to your computer and then uploaded into your slides. Again, this captures the entire video, not just one segment of the video. Saving a YouTube video as a file may require a bit of practice. These instructions are specific to Macs and the Safari browser. The goal is to capture the video in the FLV or Flash format. Once the video is captured as a unique file, it is easy to insert it into a slide in PowerPoint. My YouTube video ran flawlessly on my MacBook during a presentation.

What if the video you want to show is on a commercial DVD? You have two options. If you want to capture just the section you need and then embed that as a file in your slides, it will require more sophisticated software (e.g., Final Cut Pro) and skills to capture a single file. An easy option is to simply play the DVD at the appropriate moment in your presentation. Simply have it load in your media player, cue up where the video begins, and then pause until you are ready. Make sure you are comfortable with the “Alt-Tab” method to switch between applications, and use it to quickly transition from your slides to your media player. Depending on the presentation venue, there may even be a separate player for DVDs. It is always best to find out in advance the specifics of the sound system and how it shows a DVD.

Steven J. Bell is associate university librarian at Temple University. His blogs include The Kept-Up Academic Librarian, ACRLog, and Designing Better Libraries. He authors the From the Bell Tower column for Library Journal Academic Newswire. A co-founder of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community, he co-authored the book Academic Librarianship by Design.

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