How to Produce a Whiteboard Video
And Reasons to Prefer It Over a Webinar
Let’s take as granted that most PowerPoint presentations are needlessly long and severely unattractive. Just thinking about the last one I sat through makes me reach furtively for my iPhone.
So why extend the pain of slide-based presentations by distributing them as an on-demand webinar? Instead, why not produce a simple, three-minute video that does the same job with more spontaneity, fun and visual elegance — at a comparable cost?
I’m talking about the whiteboard video, in which a subject-matter expert (SME) illustrates a concept on a dry-erase marker board. The best I’ve seen are produced by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce, but the cheaters are using a green screen and a lot of post-production effects. DIYers should note these less post-intensive examples on YouTube.
Whatever route you take, there are three components in a whiteboard video project that would be new to a webinar producer:
1. Storyboarding and illustrating the video. Besides being key to gaining approval, careful storyboarding ensures the audio narration will match the visual action of the video. (Figure 1) As for the illustrator, find someone who can draw in a style that matches the tone of the content.
2. Lighting and shooting the video. Even a minimal set-up will require a pro-sumer camera with manual exposure controls and adequate lighting. If you don’t have studio lights, 400-watt construction lights are said to work — but I can’t verify this. I recommend lighting from three points with diffusers. (Figures 2 and 3) Correctly lighting and exposing the shot so that the board looks white is the hardest part of producing a whiteboard video.
3. Editing the video and audio. The editor will need to speed up the footage (by about 50 times normal) and drop in the voice over. I also recommend using sound effects to punctuate important details.
Two components of a typical webinar are eliminated, offsetting some of the new costs:
- PowerPoint slide design and production. Say goodbye to corporate templates!
- Webinar recording costs. Most use a desktop application or record over a WebEx-style conference line, paying a webinar production vendor.
And three components are comparable to a typical webinar production:
- Hiring talent or SME.
- Asset hosting and registration, if any.
- Promotion and distribution.
Shooting on-screen talent. Most whiteboard videos show a disembodied hand. But in cases where the SME is a recognized figure and comfortable in front of the camera, you may decide to shoot the individual standing in front of the board. In this case, I suggest employing a second camera for close-up shooting of the illustration. Note that in this format, the drawing will be in real-time, not sped up as in my example.
Dry erase board versus paper. Unless the act of erasing is visually important to the story, I advise using paper and markers. The surface of a dry erase board is more difficult to keep pristine and will reflect a lot of light. Grab a stack of tabloid-sized printer paper and a 12-color pack of Sharpies.
Recording the voice over. If you don’t mind the lower quality, doing the voice-over (VO) in-house can save you another $500 in studio recording fees. Use an external mic with your shooting camera to record the VO as its own take, making sure to minimize outside noise. Check out the low-cost audio recording hack at the bottom of this article.
Keep cool. Under three lights, my poor illustrator for this client whiteboard video must have felt like an Arby’s Roast Beef Melt. I kept her hydrated with plenty of iced beverages and mandated breaks every 30 minutes.