1. Why is a movie theater dark?
  2. Why do you enter an opera from the back of the auditorium?
  3. Why do ushers only seat guests before the program begins or during an intermission?

Because the presentation of the message matters!
A few years ago we were hired to produce a capital campaign video for a university.  I was excited, it would give us an opportunity to quantitively track the Return on Investment (ROI) of our project.  We worked closely with the client to craft a message that carefully presented their vision and the need.  After a few months of we had a great product ready for viewing.
The campaign kicked off with a packed banquet.  We were careful to make sure that everything was set up and checked out before the guests arrived.  After dinner the president of the university started the program, then it was time for the video.  I knew what was coming and I couldn’t wait to see how people responded.  As the video was coming to the ask, I glanced around to see how people were reacting and I wasn’t disappointed – I could literally see people wiping tears from their eyes.  I knew we were home free, but then, something happened.  Something I hadn’t anticipated.  Right as the video was reaching it’s climax, much to my horror, the wait staff came out of the kitchen carrying trays of chocolate cake and proceeded to walk through the audience placing chocolate cake in front of each audience member – in the middle of the video.  It was like pouring cold water on a fire.  Everything we had worked so hard for was lost in the moment.
I determined then that if I had anything to do with it, I would always try to address the interruptions BEFORE they happened.  From that experience I learned 4 valuable lessons.

1. Video is NOT a Panacea

It’s message can and will be impacted by the environment in which it is presented.  Just because we believe the message of our video is important doesn’t mean that everyone else will.  It has to be presented so that they see it’s important.  If we don’t value our message enough to think about the context of it’s presentation, chances are our audience won’t either.

2. Think About the Environment BEFORE You Hit Play

Before you craft your message, as your working on the Creative Brief, find out how your video will it be used. For example, the way a program is mixed for a theatre is very different than a reverberant GYM or a church fellowship hall.   So the more you know about how it will be used, the better you can plan.

3. Know Your Audience

The more you know about your audience, the more closely you can craft a message and create an environment that will speak to them.  There’s an old saying, “Will it “play in Peoria?”  Make sure you know.

4. Don’t Assume

If only I had not assumed that the wait staff would not think their piece of cake was more important than our video, the outcome could have been much different.  But unfortunately, I did assume.  Don’t make the same mistake, communicate the “Presentation Plan” to everyone involved in the event before the doors open.  You really want to be on the same page.

Here are a few practical suggestions to get you thinking about the environment…

  • Anticipate and try to minimize interruptions
  • Black out windows/close blinds or curtains
  • Place a sign on the door
  • Post “an usher” at the door before the program begins to manage interruptions
  • Unplug landline phones
  • Turn off the ice machine (really, if there’s one nearby, they make a lot of noise!)
  • Ask your audience to turn off and silence cell phones
  • Set up and test audio/video BEFORE your audience arrives
  • Select a time of day where you’re less likely to get interruptions
  • Choice the right location

The next time you get ready to play a video with an important message, consider the impact your environment can make on that message.  Don’t let a plate of chocolate cake spoil it, because you only have one chance to make a first impression.