How to make a YouTube video about science | ‘Talking Science’ Course #10


YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world and there are over a billion views on learning related videos every day. So, it’s a great place to get your science out there. But if you’ve never made a YouTube video – let alone one about science, tech, engineering or maths – where the heck do you start and how can you get some of those eager eyes on your content? This video will help with all that. It’s part of a YouTube course on how to talk about science with the public. Course videos include how to deliver a great talk, perform a demo, give an awesome media interview and of course, explain your science in an interesting and understandable way. Today though, we are all about YouTube and there’s a lot to cover. I’ll start with Pre-Production: Planning your video. And there are three big questions you’ll need to ponder. 1. Why do you want to make it? 2. Who do you want to watch it? And 3. How do you help them find, click and stick? That last one is all about title, thumbnail, having a clear, engaging explanation and we’ll have a look at some of the different flavours of science videos on offer, so you can decide which to try. Then, we’re going to get to the production phase. What can you film and how? And you don’t need fancy kit and a team to make it. You could shoot the whole thing on your phone or your laptop. But we’ll get to that, plus recording good sound and a chunk on presenting tips too. Then finally we’ll whiz through Post-Production: What you can edit your video on and how to upload it. Oh and this is an introduction to making a YouTube video about your science. We could probably make a whole course on it. In fact, let me know in the comments below, if you’d watch that and subscribe to catch future videos. Right, Let’s get going. Okay, so you want to share your research or your favorite science with people on the Internet, great! But why? Maybe it’s just because you find it interesting and you think others will too. That’s fair, or perhaps you want to discuss something that can affect people’s lives or provide actual facts in the face of alternative facts. You might just want to make it for fun, scratch that creative itch, or maybe you want to get loads of views and become famous. About that last one, with over 300 hours of video uploaded every minute, this is a crowded marketplace. It’s gonna take some hard work to break through, which is doable, but start with thinking about what your USP is, your angle and be prepared to put the hours in. YouTube is watched all over the world, by people from all walks of life. They could be a plumber in London, a business owner in Bangalore, a student in Florida or a teacher in Namibia. You need to decide who you want to watch your content. What are their interests? What are their backgrounds? What do they know about your subject already? Working out who you’d like to engage is super important as it shapes everything, from the level and content of your explanation, to your preferred format and presenting style. Sketching out an audience profile is really helpful and video two of the course, takes you through it. YouTube claims to host more educational videos than there are books in the U.S. Library of Congress. That’s a heck of a lot of content. So first up, how do you make sure people can find your video? One of the most common drivers of traffic, i.e., what often brings people to a video is ‘search’. Typing something in the YouTube search bar and then clicking on one of the results. So you need to have a title that your audience will be searching for. And that comes from making a video, that frames your science in a way that appeals to who you want to watch it. Could you link your science to what they love on TV, what they read, what music they like. If they’re an inquisitive bunch, is there an intriguing question or something curious your science answers, that you could use? Or maybe there’s a common misconception, you can investigate with it. These are all ‘hooks’. Ways of capturing your audience’s attention and the key is to find one for your science. For example, my buddy Trace, from ‘Uno Dos of Trace’, did a brilliant video titled, ‘Could we actually build the wall from Game of Thrones?’ Vanessa Hill of ‘Brain Craft’, made one on how to stop overthinking everything, and Maren over on ‘Seeker’, answered ‘What happens if Earth loses its clouds?’. These are awesome titles. They tie into the audience’s passions, their worries and their general curiosity. Another big driver of traffic is ‘recommended’. YouTube recommends videos to its viewers, based on content they’ve watched before. So, tie your title into the subjects and types of content, your audience already watch. When you’ve got a top-notch title, you also need a brilliant thumbnail to attract that click. It’s like the cover of one of those library of congress books. If you’re glancing along the shelf, you’re going to be drawn to something clear, nicely designed and that gives you a sense of what’s inside. Do the same with your thumbnail. Oh and putting your face on there often helps too. You also want to ensure your metadata, the tags, etc., reinforce all this but I’ll leave that for another video. Okay, so they’ve clicked because they’re interested in the title or the thumbnail, nice. They’ve started watching. Now you’ve got to keep them watching. That’s the thing about YouTube, It’s like being stood in a sweetshop with your hand in the jar of jelly babies happily scoffing them, surrounded by shelves of other new enticing options. How do you make someone stick with jelly babies, when they could switch to liquorice allsorts or flying saucers or foam shrimps over there in recommended? I’m going to break this into two parts. Keep them watching more than eight seconds. Which one study I read, suggests is our current attention span and keep them watching more than a minute. I remember Derek from ‘Veritasium’ once saying, you should lead with awesome. Don’t slowly build suspense, don’t waffle on with backstory, get to it! They’ve already seen the title, they know what they’re here for. Give them it. You don’t need to give them all of it, though of course, give them a taste and then they’ll hang around for more. Mark Rober is great at leading with awesome. His world’s largest horn shatters glass video, starts with shattering glass and a giant horn. The title and thumbnail delivered and I’m totally sticking around for more than eight seconds to see how he made it and what else it can do. Likewise, if you click on a title about camera robots and you see some super slick camera moves, like you get in this video from ‘MKBHD’, you’re game for more. That also doesn’t need to be a big eye catching spectacle though. It can also be a mind-blowing fact or story. Tom Scott does that brilliantly in loads of his videos. So does Johnny with ‘Vox Borders’ and you hang around because you want to know more and join them on the journey. You could also pose another question. Continue to capture them with curiosity. Physics girl, Diana, made a video called ‘Why aren’t plants black?’. That kind of intriguing title got the click. But what kept me, was that she then ignored the question and the first 20 seconds, was her asking people what color they think the sun is. “So it would be all the colours”. “Fire reddish orange”. “orange, yellow”. By cleverly layering questions like that, your audience will want to hang around for all of the answers. And then there’s emotion, whether that’s excitement, joy, frustration or anger. As I’ve discussed in other videos, it’s so powerful for you to show your emotions, as the audience feel what you show you’re feeling. Many of Destin’s ‘SmarterEveryDay’ videos stand out for this. Especially the one where he starts by excitedly saying “I love laminar flow”. Whether you know what it is or not, you want to know why he is so hyped about it. Once they’re hooked, you’ve got to hold them. If you think of big potential switch off moments in a science video, up there on the list has to be explanations that don’t make sense. That have holes in them so they lose people or contain words your audience don’t know, impenetrable jargon. You need to ensure you start the explanation where your audience are, at their starting point and then build up carefully. Video six of this course, dives deeper on how to explain your science clearly and includes a discussion about dumbing it down and a range of ways to deal with jargon. Nothing holds attention like a story though. Which is not you sitting down with a book and reading a bedtime classic, it’s a way of structuring your video or talk or demo, that brings along your audience’s interest and emotions, as you strive for a goal, making a way through conflicts and resolution. For a ‘STEM’ video, science, technology, engineering or maths, the goal could be the answer to the question you set up in the title or to find out what is the number one unsolved science mystery? Or the goal is getting your PhD or building a one thousand shot nerf gun. Your explanation is part of the science story, it develops and has challenges or questions along the way. But to really level up your content, thread in an emotional story too. Making a video means you’ve got the bonus of being able to show something, to help you explain your science. That could be animation, from the hand-drawn playful style of ‘AsapScience’ and ‘MinutePhysics’, to full-blown masterpieces like ‘Kurzgesagt’ or ‘Every Think’, or it could be incorporating a demo, actually showing phenomena, linking them to principles and then exploring them. Steve mould does lovely demos and his ‘Visualizing gravitational waves’ video, is a great example of using a visual analogy to bring an idea to life. One of the course videos is on performing demos and there’s something in it that really applies here. An effective demo routine breaks down into catch, hold, reveal and the same is true of an effective science video. The catch was the title and thumbnail. The hold, through the awesome opener and then the careful explanation and story. And if you want to make the video super satisfying, incorporate a reveal. A realization, a bonus fact or story, that ties into what you’ve been saying, or perhaps another question that you don’t answer. So, how do you actually turn your idea into reality and film your video? I could talk about all the different cameras and microphones that are available. Take you through how to set up and light a studio or crush you an interview. But I’m going to save all that for future videos because what I really want to do in this introduction to YouTube in your science video, is just encourage you to go and film something, using the kit you’ve already got, your phone or your laptop, somewhere that works for you. There are youtubers with millions of subscribers who used nothing but a simple webcam in their bedroom. Maybe you could shoot your video in your kitchen, the lab, out in a forest or in your office. There are two things that you need to think about, if you want the audience to stick with you. They need to see you and hear you clearly. So you need to make sure you’re well-lit. I’m going to use this small camera to show you my setup in the office. So if you’ve got a desk lamp, use it. You could play with putting it more on your face or less on your face. And then if you’ve got daylight, that’s great, too. But you need to think, is the light going to change a lot while you’re filming? And make sure that daylight is falling on your face. It’s behind the camera or to the side, because if it’s in front of the camera, then either you become a silhouette or the background gets completely blown out. You need to think about where your laptop is as well. I’ve got this so that the lens is at the same height as my eye. All I’ve done, is I’ve just stuck it on a whole load of books. If instead it was at table height, all you’d get would be yep, chins and nostrils and no, no one wants that. If you’re shooting on your phone, the same applies. Put it up at eye level. Maybe on a shelf or you could get hold of one of these mounts that attaches to a tripod and then you could put that on the shelf or on a wall or whatever. If you want to take it up a level, then you can use one of these small cameras, point-and-shoot cameras, good for vlogging or you can go for a complete DSLR rig, which is also great if you want to make a vlog. If you’re filming on your laptop or your phone or one of these small cameras, you can leave it on automatic and it’ll handle the focus and the exposure. That’s how light you want the shot to be. If you’re using a DSLR, you can put it on auto but you’ll get much better results if you learn a little bit more about how to use the camera. Recording good quality audio is normally the last thing that people think of but that can make it the most off-putting thing in a video. If you’re recording inside and it’s nice and quiet, then just using the internal microphone on your laptop or your phone will normally be plenty good enough. Just don’t record it with an open window next to traffic or next to a noisy boiler. And record a little bit and then listen back to it, to check the quality. Just make sure you’re not too far away from the microphone and if you’re going outside and it’s windy, then you might just be able to use the headset mic on your phone or if you’re using a small point-and-shoot with a microphone on top or on the side, then using one of these fluffy’s, is a really good way to protect the sound. And if you want to use a DSLR, then you can put a top mic on it, which gives you great quality audio or if you’re going further away, you could use a radio mic and an external recorder, but these are much more costly options. Oh and finally, if your video is graphics based or it’s a top-down shot of your hands doing a demo or something, and you want to use a voice-over, think about how and where you record it. Use whatever microphone you’ve got access to but get quite close to it so it sounds intimate but not so close that it peaks and sounds terrible. Don’t record it in a big echoey room. What’s better is to get into bed and chuck the duvet over you or to crawl into a cupboard. That gives you much better sound quality. When it comes to delivering your science story, there are lots of presenting styles you could go for. You might be more academic, talk like a teacher or a lecturer would to a class say. Or be more personal, talking like you would if explaining something one-on-one. You could be confident and funny, but equally you could be more quiet and reserved. Trust me, both can work. The key is to be real and authentic. That’s a big thing on YouTube. It’s much more personal than traditional media and the audience will see right through it, if you’re not being yourself. You also need to think about using carefully placed pauses, to let ideas land and dial up your emotions as the camera subtracts enthusiasm. Video seven of the course, is an introduction to giving a great talk about your science and some of those presenting tips will really help for hosting a YouTube video too. Oh and don’t feel you need to have planned everything. YouTube videos are great when they contain the slip ups and the funnies. when you fall off your chair or get all tongue-tied, they add personality. Plan the explanation carefully. Yes, but if you’re say doing a demo, try it on camera first. We want to see your reaction if it doesn’t go as expected. You probably don’t just want to put the whole clip straight up on YouTube. At the very least, top and tail it. That means, cutting off all the faff at the beginning, before you start speaking and chop off the stuff after you say goodbye, so there’s a neat ending. You can normally do this pretty easily on your mobile or your laptop. On my iPhone, I can edit straight in camera roll and on my mac, I can use trim in ‘QuickTime’. But you may have taken multiple shots and you want to put them together, reorder them, perhaps add music and titles. Well, I’ll show you some apps that allow you to do that on your phone. Most people though, will use a laptop to edit, so i’ll start with your options there. And because this is just an introductory video, that’s already rather long, I’m not going to go into any detail on how to edit. Just search here on youtube and you’ll find brilliant tutorials for programs and apps. So for apple laptops, I’d suggest beginners use ‘iMovie’. It’s got pretty much the full functionality, you’ll be looking for when you start making videos. Plus, it can export directly out to YouTube. For Windows, you could try ‘Video Pad’ or ‘Video Editor’. That’s got some simple transitions and allows voice-over. Or try ‘OpenShot’ or ‘VSDC’. On phones for Apple fans, you’ve got an ‘iMovie’ app, that allows you to trim and add transitions and music and add voiceover, and that’s free. Or I use ‘Splice’ for Instagram story edits and you can use that for YouTube too. On Android, try ‘PowerDirector’ or ‘kineMaster’. Both are free to download but ‘Power Director has in-app purchases, to remove the watermark and ‘KineMaster’ has a subscription cost. If you’re keen to incorporate graphics, you could just film down on pictures that you’ve drawn or use pre-made images. But, consider copyright. If you don’t own the copyright to the images and they’re not ‘Creative Commons’, you can’t use them. That’s the same for music, too. And if you can already use the likes of ‘keynote’ to make presentation graphics, you can bring them over into your editing software, if you’re using more meaty editing apps like ‘Final Cut Pro’ or ‘Adobe Premiere Pro’. If you want to upload from your phone, you can often share direct to YouTube if you’re logged in. Nice and easy. On your laptop, you need to sign in. Just use a free Google account, then hit upload, drag in your file and as you wait, you can add your title and description. Then, you can choose a thumbnail or add your own and hit publish. If you enjoy it and want to start making more videos, think about when you want to upload. If it’s a video linked to studying, then you’ll want it up before the main revision starts for finals. And plan ahead. Seasonal content will need to be filmed in advance, so you’ve got time for the post-production. To help build an audience, upload regularly and have a consistent format and if you interact in the comments, chat with your viewers and bring them along on your journey. That’s how you can turn the audience into a community. Well that turned into a bit of an epic didn’t it? If you’ve made it to the end, you’re a legend and I hope it was helpful. Let me know in the comments below, which bits you found most useful, any questions you’ve got and what you’d like me to dive deeper on in future videos. Subscribe to catch those and do go explore the rest of the course, If you’re interested in giving a talk or performing a demo or preparing and delivering a successful media interview And if you’ve watched the whole course, thanks so much, It was an absolute labour of love writing and making these videos. And keep in touch too, I’d love to hear what science communication you get up to. Good luck with it and I’ll see you soon.

5 Comments

  1. Samuel Altarac July 11, 2019 at 3:32 pm

    Thank you. I’m a science teacher and this kind of video is very empowering. Looking forward to more

  2. StoneAgeMan July 15, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    Greg – Well done buddy. Not sure why I hadn't subscribed already to your channel. Looking forward to more from you! – Rob

  3. lotsofplots July 16, 2019 at 6:24 am

    Thanks, Greg! There are so few resources out there about making educational YouTube content. So super pleased you made this would definitely like to see more, particularly tips on researching and scripting a topic.

  4. Catherine Traynor July 30, 2019 at 10:06 am

    This is great Greg – extremely useful! I will pass it and the rest of the course on to my students

  5. Chris Andersen August 6, 2019 at 11:03 pm

    Awesome!?

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