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Video Testimonials: The Ultimate Guide (Part 2)

Video Testimonial Production

How to Record and Produce a Customer Testimonial Video

You’ve lined up the perfect customer, and prepared a list of questions. You’ve selected the ideal location, and know what you want your video to look like.

The next step is to actually shoot and produce your video.

A recent search turned up 7,260,000 results for how to shoot a customer testimonial, and I have no intention of trying to replicate the collective wisdom available there.

Rather, I’ve prepared a list of considerations that I think you will find extremely helpful in approaching the subject, so that you end up with the customer testimonial video you really want.

Use the table of contents to find the topic you’re most interested in, and jump right in. Bookmark this page, or download the PDF, so you can return to it later.

Concentrate on the Fundamentals

Again, the internet is full of advice on how to actually capture your subject on video. You could fill volumes on lighting, camera settings, sound levels and other technical considerations.

For our purposes, my advice here is that whichever way you choose to shoot your video, you should concentrate on the fundamentals of focus, exposure and clean audio.

Viewers will forgive all manner of technical mistakes in a video, but failure to nail the fundamentals will not be forgiven.

Picking the Right Location for Your Customer Video Testimonial

With this topic, we’re beginning to enter the realm of aesthetics, which presents us with an almost infinite range of options, depending on what you want your video to look like, and how much you want it to cost.

So, leaving those two considerations aside for a moment, it’s safe to say that the best testimonial video locations provide the following:

  • A controlled environment for managing light and noise
  • Sufficient physical space
  • Desired aesthetics

Let’s jump into the detail for some of these factors.

A Controlled Environment

It’s important that your audience be able to see and hear the subject of your testimonial video. Achieving this result will depend on your equipment and your environment.

Most folks like to shoot videos in a room where both noise and light can be controlled to achieve the greatest visual and audio effects. But, there are times where it makes sense to shoot in what is often considered to be a less than ideal environment.

For example, if your testimonial video is about how great it is to exhibit at a busy trade show, you may want to shoot that video on the trade show floor. Shooting outside is another possible option. In either case, be sure secure permission and any required permits before shooting in public areas.

Your ability to shoot in these locations effectively will depend, in some part, on your equipment.

A smartphone camera and an internal mic will present challenges that a camera with creative controls, and a good lavaliere mic won’t. So, you’ll have to take both equipment and environment into consideration.

A professional studio will give you the greatest control over light and sound, but studio costs may make that option cost prohibitive, if you’re shooting the video yourself. Studios can also be a little sterile, which may not be the aesthetic you’re looking for.

That leaves offices, ideally theirs, as often the best location for your next video testimonial.

Once you settle on an office setting, you’ll have to decide where in that office to shoot. Meeting rooms are often an obvious choice, as are individual offices, quiet hallways, low-traffic “cube farms,” and lobbies.

Before selecting a location, make sure it has the following features:

  • Sufficient natural light, and/or enough space to use artificial lighting that you provide.
  • Minimal background noise from HVAC systems, neon lights, nearby elevators, noisy hallways, and office workers. Sometimes a little background noise from other office workers can be a desirable feature that adds a sense of vibrancy and activity to a scene.
  • Sufficient distance from floor traffic. Lobbies can be a great location, provided that people aren’t getting off elevators every few minutes and walking through your shots.
  • Sufficient distance from people who are trying to get their work done. A video shoot on the other side of your work cube can be very distracting.
  • Sufficient physical space for your equipment, your subject, and the camera crew. (We’ll cover this in greater detail, in the next section.)

If you’re working with a video marketing agency, you’ll want to help them understand location options, within the office.

Asking your customer to send a couple of quick photos of possible locations, will help your agency narrow down the choices, and allow your customer reserve any meeting rooms that might be required.

Sufficient Physical Space

Lights, cameras and film crews can take up a lot of space, so you’ll want to make sure that your chosen location can accommodate them.

How much space do you need?

Well, if you’re working with an outside agency, they should be able to tell you how much space is required.

If you’re shooting the video yourself, you’ll want to start with an inventory of everything the space will need to accommodate.

Here’s a sample list:

  • One or more cameras
  • One or more tripod
  • Camera slider
  • Lights on light stands
  • Microphone stand
  • Recording equipment
  • One or more chairs
  • One or more crew members, the interviewer, and the subject
  • Electrical, camera, and sound cords

Needs will vary, but this list should cover many configurations. Be sure to make space allowances for people to be able to move easily and safely around the set.

If time permits, it’s helpful to set up all the equipment you’ll need, before the day of the shoot, so that you can be sure you have enough room.

Finally, if you plan on doing more video testimonials over time, take measurements of the space you fill, as a reference for the future.

Here’s a diagram that will give you some idea of the space requirements for a typical rig we use at Thoughtcast Media, with a two-man crew.
Choosing a Desired Aesthetic for Your Testimonial Video

What’s the look and feel you want for your video?

Offices add context, allowing you to show your subject in their natural environment. (Office locations also allow you to easily capture b-roll footage, which can add additional context to your production. We’ll have more on b-roll footage, later.)

If that’s not the look you’re going for, you may want to consider shooting against a white background, or shooting in the dark with dramatic lighting for effect.

There countless different settings to choose from, to give your video the precise look you desire – far too many to discuss here. Just be sure to spend some time thinking about the look you want, and make sure that it can be accommodated by the location you choose.

Looking for options? Search the web for something like news interview, for a wide range of samples.

How Many Subjects?

The simplest customer testimonial video features a single subject on camera, talking about their experience with your company, its products and services. But, there’s no reason not to include multiple subjects on the task of telling that story.

If you’re going to incorporate more than one subject, remember that you’re trying to tell one story, not multiple stories. Make sure that your different subjects are adding their own take on the same story, providing supportive commentary to the main theme.

Pulling together the different parts of the collective experience is often easier done in post-production, by bringing subject into and out of the story timeline, as supporting commentary is needed.

However, it’s also possible to interview two, or even three different subjects on camera at the same time, if you are very careful in how you ask your questions.

It can be very interesting to watch multiple subject from the same company riff on their collective experience, and respond to each other’s comments.

Conversely, you can ruin your video testimonial by including subjects who had very different experience with your company, and provide dramatically different takes on what actually happened.

Interviewer on Camera?

One of the first considerations you will have to contend with is whether or not to include your interviewer in the video itself.

Including the interviewer on camera, can add a different dynamic to your video, and provide you with shot options for covering awkward cuts in the footage of your subject. But, overall, it will add complexities that can be troublesome and expensive.

For example, the footage you shoot of the interviewer will either require one of three technical accommodations:

  • An unpleasantly wide shot of both the interviewer and the subject
  • An additional camera
  • Staged footage of the interviewer pretending to ask question and nodding in agreement with the answers given by a subject who is not actually there.

There are a few other tricks of the trade that I won’t go into here, but my very strong advice is to keep your interviewer out of the video. You’ll reduce the cost and aggravation involved, and have much more flexibility in putting the video together in post-production.

However, by not including the interviewer, you now have to figure out how to let the viewer know what questions are being asked, short of having the interviewer’s off-camera voice ask the questions.

Your two best options solutions are to either ask subjects to repeat the question in their answers (e.g., “So, the reason we did it that way is. . .”), or ask the questions in the form of text, added in post-production. The first option provides a much more fluid solution, but the second option works well, too.

Finally, if you decide not to include the interviewer on screen, be sure that he or she remains quiet once the subject begins to reply.

In normal conversation, we like to provide speakers with verbal cues to suggest that we understand what they’re talking about.

A good interviewer will provide non-verbal cues for this purpose, so as not pepper and subject’s answer with a string of “uh, huhs” and other verbal responses. Confirming head nods usually do the trick, in these circumstances.

Decide on Eyeline

Will your subject be looking directly at the camera, or slightly off-camera?

While there are some advantages to looking into the camera, most of them are trumped by the much easier option of having a subject respond to an interviewer seated behind and slightly to the side of the camera.

Cameras make some people nervous. For most applications, when shooting interviews with non-professionals, I work very hard to get my subjects to forget that the camera is even there.

Plus, by asking subject to look into the camera, you’re adding “trade craft” to what should be a simple conversation that requires no technique at all. Looking consistently into a camera, with all the emotion you’d like to see from your subject is not easy to do.

Finally, people want human feedback, and chances are your subject will frequently look off-camera to get it. Chances are, you’ll have to reshoot, every time that happens.

So, set your camera at an angle to your subject. Take a position next to, and slightly behind your camera, and ask your subject to look directly at you, when responding to questions. This creates a natural effect, in which the camera reflects the viewer’s perspective, as witness to a conversation between two people.

Long-sided, Short-sided, and Center-composed Framing

When you place a subject in a frame, there will be space to the left of their head, and space to the right. Unless you place your subject directly in the center of the frame, there will be more room on one side than the other.

The space that is larger is the long side of the frame. The space that is smaller is the short side of the frame.

You then must decide in which direction the subject will face; the long side or the short side.

For most interviews, long-sided framing works best. It creates a very pleasing, balanced look, while short-sided framing makes the subject looked confined and a little off balance.

Center-composed is another option, but it is often reserved for subject speaking directly into the camera, delivering a very specific message.

Keep the Camera Rolling

There’s no need to turn your cameral off and on, between interview questions and answers.

Rather, keep your camera rolling, even as your giving instructions, answering your subject’s questions, re-asking questions, and asking for explanations that won’t ever actually make it to the final video.

Remember, your filming a conversation between two people. The more you do to promote that vibe, the more natural and responsive your subjects will be.

Lights, Cameras, Audio, Action!

Assuming that you’ve chosen long-sided framing, as described above, you’re now ready to position the subject, the interviewer, your camera(s) and lights.

Start by positioning your subject and interviewer directly across from each other. Place your camera slightly to the left of your interviewer, pointing at the subject.

In your viewfinder or monitor, position the subject so that he or she appears about a third of the way from the left of the frame. This will give you a long-sided frame, with the subject looking toward the right. (Reverse the camera position and framing to have the subject look toward the right of the frame.)

Place your key light (the stronger of your two light sources) slightly behind and to the right of your camera, to illuminate the side of the subject facing the long side of the frame.

Position your fill light (the weaker of your two light sources) so that it illuminates the short side of your subject.

If you have no artificial lighting, position your subject so that a window or other natural light source takes the place of your key light.

Some Thoughts on Equipment

When it comes to equipment, there are countless options, and the internet is chock-full of information about cameras, microphones, lighting, and other video gear.

Remember, your primary objective is to shoot focused, properly exposed video, with clean audio. You should be able to accomplish that with virtually any equipment rig.

So, the difference between less expensive and more expensive equipment rigs often comes down to how easy it is to accomplish that primary objective, and trade-offs between quality, flexibility, and complexity.

Here are three options for you to consider:

Basic Video Rig
Camera: Smartphone or tablet

Stabilization: Smartphone tripod

Audio: Built-in microphone, or wired lavaliere microphone that fits into the headphone/microphone port on the smartphone

Lighting: Natural lighting, supplemented by available artificial lighting, when necessary

Pros: The current generation of smartphones and tablets can shoot great video, and you probably already own one. Light and easy to transport.

Cons: Most smartphones and tablets provide limited control over creative options, like depth of field, and white balance. Digital zoom is problematic. Built-in smartphone microphones can be make it difficult to isolate background noise. A wired lavaliere microphone will provide better isolation, but quality can still be mediocre. Relying on natural light can make it very difficult to properly expose your subject, when conditions are not ideal.

Intermediate Video Rig
Camera: Consumer Camcorder

Stabilization: Camera tripod

Audio: On-camera condenser microphone

Lighting: Two-light, LED lighting kit

Pros: Most consumer camcorders provide some control over creative options, like white balance, color saturation, and sharpness. Lens-based zoom capabilities make zoom a creative option. While the built-in microphone is still an option, adding a condenser microphone that attaches to the top of your camera, and plugs directly into your camera’s mini microphone port, will give you much better results. Adding a two-light LED kit will give you much greater control over exposure, and allow you to shoot in less-than-ideal natural lighting conditions.

Cons: You’ll have much more control over the way your videos look and sound, with this rig. However, with greater capabilities come greater responsibilities, and added complexity. Added creative camera controls, a separate microphone, and artificial lighting will require more time spent settings, and introduce more opportunities for error. (E.g., the separate microphone for this rig will give you better audio, unless of course, you forget to plug it in and turn it on.) Finally, while this rig represents a real step up on overall quality, it’s far from able to provide you with the high-quality video and audio available with more professional rigs.

Advanced Video Rig
Camera: DSLR or mirrorless camera, with interchangeable lenses

Stabilization: Video tripod, with basic rail rig for attaching accessories (Optional: slider and/or motorized gimbal stabilizer)

Audio: Shotgun mic or wireless lavaliere, separate recording device, with professional inputs

Lighting: Three-light, LED lighting kit

Pros: You can capture professional quality video and audio with rigs like this. These cameras have better sensors and most of the creative controls you need. Plus, the ability to use different lenses provides added artistic control, and more flexibility for different applications. A good quality microphone will result in much better audio capture, and the separate recording device will eliminate the noise associated with in-camera pre-amps. A three-light kit will allow you to throw light behind your subject, which will help separate him or her from their background.

Cons: Depending upon which brands you buy, the costs associated with this rig could be considerable. I’ve only included major components in this kit’s description. There will also be added costs associated with all the cords and other accessories you will need to tie all these components together. You’ll also be hauling around more equipment. Finally, all the complexity concerns that apply to the intermediate rig will be magnified for this rig. Lots of capability, but lots of complexity.

The advanced rig, described above, is just the beginning in terms of what is available to professional video production teams. Cameras costing tens of thousands of dollars, along with similar costs associated with the rest of a professional rig are common.

However, for marketers just entering the video marketing arena, the three kits described here should provide some understanding of where you might want to start.

How to Take Your Testimonial Videos to the Next Level

Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals of producing quality customer video testimonials, you may want to consider some options for taking your videos to the next level.

Add B-Roll to Lend Context

There’s nothing wrong with filming your subject in front of a gray wall. But, you can make your production more compelling and add a lot of context by incorporating b-roll into your video.

B-roll is footage that is added to the interview footage (the a-roll), to help the audience better understand what your subject is talking about.

B-roll is also enormously helpful in covering transitions between video clips, and in hiding bits of a-roll where the audio is sound, but the video isn’t useable (e.g., a subject looking the wrong way).

One of the advantages of conducting your interview in your subject’s place of work is that there is often a lot of b-roll footage to be had, that helps the audience learn more about the subject and the subject’s story.

Does your subject work in a busy office? On a factory floor? With heavy equipment, or maybe with patients? Does your subject work in large groups, small groups, or alone?

How has this environment affected the subject’s need for your company’s products and services, and how might you capture footage of that environment to help flavor your video?

Here are just a few b-roll ideas you might find useful:

  • Subject working with colleagues or staff
  • Subject working with clients
  • Subject working with relevant equipment
  • Subject entering workplace, pan to logo on building
  • Subject in the workplace lobby, pan to logo behind reception desk
  • Subject working at a computer
  • Subject surrounded by your equipment, sharing a humorous moment between takes
  • Subject standing, smiling at camera, with some movement (great for testimonials that consist largely of sitting interviews)
  • Street scene outside of company location
  • Recognizable landmarks
  • Cityscapes
  • Archival footage

As a rule of thumb, each b-roll segment, once it finds its way into your final video, should be between eight to ten seconds long.

Get several different takes, from several different angles. Variety is key. You can never have enough b-roll footage, so be sure to budget your time accordingly.

Add Motion to Add Interest to Your Testimonial Video

Our attention spans are getting shorter every day, it seems. So, it’s important to engage your audience visually, throughout the length of your video. One way to do that is to add a little motion to your production.

The easiest way to add motion is to take your camera off the tripod and hold it in your hands while filming. The handheld look is recognizable and, if there’s not too much motion, acceptable to most audiences.

Keep in mind that handheld video gives your production a very definitive look, so you might want to use it sparingly, and not rely on it for the bulk of your production.

Sliders, booms and stabilizers are other options for adding motion to your video. By sliding your camera along a stable plane, while keeping the focus on your subject, is a great way to spice things up.

With sliders, moving from an out-of-focus foreground shot to an in-focus shot of your subject is one very typical effect that can be easily achieved

Booms operate in much the same way, allowing you to move your camera across multiple planes, within a single shot.

Finally, stabilizers provide you with the ability to follow your moving subject around, while keeping operator movement to a minimum. Stabilizers rely on battery-operated gyroscopes to keep your image much steadier than if you were holding the camera in your hand.

Used in conjunction with stabilizing effect in your post-production software, you can eliminate virtually all camera movement, allowing your audience to focus on your moving subject, without being distracted by camera shake.

As with all creative enhancements to your video, these tools and techniques are best used sparingly, to add a bit of finish to your production. For the bulk of your video, your tripod will be your best friend.

Post-Production Considerations

It’s hard to imagine a customer testimonial video that couldn’t benefit from at least a bit of post-production work. And now, with so many free or inexpensive options available for editing software, there’s really no reason you shouldn’t invest the time to learn some simple techniques.

At the most basic level, editing software will allow you to stitch all the footage you’ve captured into a coherent production, with a beginning, a middle and an end. You’ll also be able to add titles, transitions between clips, and a soundtrack to keep everything moving along.

It’s also at this stage of the process that you will be able to add elements that represent your brand. Opening and closing logo sequences help the audience understand who produced the video and remind them to reach out to you for further information.

Calls to action within the video, help focus the viewers’ attention on what you would like them to do next, e.g., share the video, visit your website, complete a form, buy a product, etc.

“We’ll fix it in post.”

Editing software also provides the opportunity to fix both minor and major flaws in your videos. As a result, the call to “fix it in post” can be a popular one at the end of a long day of shooting.

Of course, best practice calls for you to do everything you can to get things right “in camera,” but when that fails, post-production can really save the day.

Among other things, editing software can help you fix:

  • Bad lighting
  • Footage that is slightly out of focus
  • Bad color reproduction
  • Blemishes
  • Audio that is either too quiet or too loud
  • Annoying background noise

And, that’s just for starters. So, acquiring some basic editing skill can be very helpful to your ability to produce your own videos.

But, keep in mind, “fixing it in post” takes time and attention. Additionally, there are some things that are really hard to fix in post, if they can be fixed at all, like bad focus, noisy audio, and poor composition.

So, it’s important to focus on the fundamentals when you’re shooting, so that you can get things right “in camera,” and then use your editing software to add additional elements to your productions.

Finally, if software’s not your thing, the editing process is very easy to outsource. Drop your footage onto a file-sharing platform and provide instructions to your outside editor. When the editor is finished, a rough cut is shared through the same file-sharing platform.

All you have to do is repeat that process until you have the final production you’re looking for.

Nail the Video Review Process

As with any piece of content, it’s very important that your testimonial videos are reviewed and approved by everyone who should be reviewing and approving them. The last thing you want to do is to publish and distribute your video, only to find out that an important reviewer, like your customer, hasn’t yet signed off on it.

Remember, it’s always less expensive to fix mistakes on rough cuts, than it is to fix those same mistakes on final cuts.

You’ll have to decide how much you want to involve your customer – the subject of your video – in your review process. Will they be asked to weigh in on just the story, or will they also be asked to comment on the lighting, the shots, and the other artistic elements of the video?

Whatever you decide, it’s critical that your customer understand exactly what is, and what is not expected of them, at this stage in the process.

Keep in mind that, regardless of your prior agreement with them, the customer will ultimately be the final decision maker for whether the video is published or not. No one wants to lose a customer over a dispute like that.

A Collaboration Platforms Can Help

If you’ve never managed the review process for video productions before, you might be surprised to learn how difficult it can be to understand what your reviewers are talking about, ask they make suggestions for improving the videos you offer for review.

Over the years, I’ve had many phone conversations that go a little like this:

Client: Hey, you know that part in the video where that guy holds up that book and talks about management practices?

Me: Maybe. (Keep in mind that, at any given time, I can be managing half a dozen video productions.)

Client: Well, I’d like to shorten it a bit, and then move it to just before the clip where the woman in the blue dress introduces her staff.

Me: Huh?

All that goes away with a good collaboration platform, designed exclusively for video.

Collaboration platforms put everyone on the same page, by allowing reviewers to make comments that are time stamped with the video’s timecode. Multiple comments on the exact same piece of footage can be gathered from different reviewers, allowing the group to discuss a variety of proposed ideas and solutions.

At Thoughtcast Media, we involve our project manager, our editor, and our clients in the review process. This eliminates the inefficiency and potential inaccuracy of having the project manager miscommunicate client instructions to the editor.

Plus, communication is asynchronous, allowing reviewers in different time zones to collaborate when it is most convenient for them, without delaying the overall effort.

To DIY or Not to DIY? That Is the Question

The cost and complexity of shooting quality video are dropping every day. The quality that can be achieved with nothing more than the smart phones in our pockets, would have been quite costly to reproduce ten years ago.

As a result, more and more people are choosing to do it themselves (DIY), and produce their own video, with their own equipment, at costs much lower than those offered by studios or video marketing agencies.

The falling cost and complexity of video equipment are great reasons to consider the DIY option. But, before you pursue that option, there are some things you should consider. Gauge your ability to produce video content by downloading our video production self-assessment.

Coming up in the next chapter

Now that you have an understanding of the fundamentals of filming and producing a customer testimonial, it’s time to learn how to put your videos to use in the real world.

Here’s some of what you’ll learn about:

  • How to use video testimonials in your marketing most effectively
  • Optimizing the performance of your video testimonials
  • Choosing a video platform for your testimonials
  • The power and importance of video analytics
  • Why video marketing is more about marketing than it is video

At Thoughtcast Media, we do a lot of testimonial videos for our clients. It’s one of our specialties, and we’d love to tell you about it.

We offer an all-inclusive, fixed-price video testimonial service, that make sense if you need only a few videos. We can also build an entire custom program for you, if you’re looking for a truly strategic solution.

Whatever your needs, we’re here to help.

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