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No one taught you key steps to a compelling talking head video...
…until now. If you follow this guide it guarantees your video gains you more views, comments, shares, and watch time. (It’s YouTube focused.)
Diving into making our “great video idea” is a tempting path… but it just results in a rushed, un- polished, video failure.
Instead, channel your enthusiasm into following the steps of a great talking head video, in the proper order.
*This guide assumes you’ve at least chosen a niche, style, or brand for your youtube channel.
Whether you’re doing an interview, thought-leader video, podcast, testimonial, explainer, educational how-to, or something else…
…YouTubers often accidentally make their talking head video boring.
Or they end up being awkward on camera.
Or they struggle with audience retention.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
It’s just that no one has explained to you how to create a truly great talking head video, and so you plunge into video-creation without knowing which steps to follow, in what order, to get high-performing results.
And I’ve been there.
I made failed video after failed video.
I once spent 60 hours a week, for 4 weeks on a video.
It had storytelling, voiceover, tens of thousands of cuts, b-roll, a full soundtrack, special FX, transitions, sound design and layering, animations, and more.
And it was an hour long. It was my proudest moment, and the best video I’d ever made.
All for just one person to watch it.
And he didn’t even get all the way through.
An epic fail, for sure. And that’s not even counting all the previous bad videos I made.
I learned a lot from all my failures though.
And I learned a lot by being a famous YouTuber’s right-hand advisor for over a decade.
Most YouTubers have heard of Evan Carmichael, but they don’t know I worked closely with him on his thumbnails, teasers, video titles, pacing, editing, and more for years.
I even helped him create his “believe gesture”, “signature airplane sound”, Top 10 and #entspresso series openers, illustrated his books, and more.
And now that I co-host the Eyes Wide Open podcast, it’s time I compiled all my video knowledge to help you, me, and other talking head YouTubers like us.
One of the biggest mistakes I used to make was jumping into a video with no plan or prep.
Most people don’t even jump into their next meal without at least thinking through what they want.
Most people at least consider their mood, what’s in the fridge, or what restaurants are nearby, right?
So why would you do that with something as important as your videos?
Jumping right into creating our “great video idea” is a tempting path…
…but that just results in a rushed, un-polished, video failure.
Instead, make sure your video has a purpose that serves not just your own whims…
…but one that serves the clearly recognized desires of others.
Your video’s purose informs the direction it will take. Most creators think they’ve already got a great video idea, and a good reason to upload. 99% of them are wrong and their video will fail. How do you avoid being one of them?
First, make sure your video’s purpose doesn’t start with your wants, your needs, your ego. Instead, make your purpose start with fulfilling & serving the needs of your viewers.
And I don’t mean what you believe, imagine, or “could have sworn” they need. I mean what they already recognize they need, clearly broadcast they need, and that you can prove they need, because it’s an active YouTube search term.
Who is your chosen tribe?
Do they have a name?
Can they be represented by a single ‘avatar’ or ‘persona?’
Before you even think of a video idea…
…make sure you’re clear on who it will serve. Are you aiming to help gamers? Jocks? Virgins? Trad wives? Intellectuals?
Whoever you serve, focus on understanding their fears and hopes. Know what language & keywords they resonate with.
And, as with anyone, there are things your viewers care more about, and things they care less about.
Can you see how this subtle difference is actually priceless knowledge to have before we craft our video? Can you say you know similar subtleties of your own audience?
I hope so, because knowing our tribe’s top desires and most resonant concepts… lets us ensure they click our videos over most, if not all, others.
If you’re stuck on this step, read my guide “Make Getting Customers A Breeze (Attract Millions With Ease!)” or google how to do market research, read competitors’ audiences comments, or actually interview representatives of your audience.
OK, our video has a purpose, and we have a deep understanding of the individuals it aims to serve. Now we need a video idea.
Ideas aren’t “everything.”
And a good idea without committed execution tends not to go very far.
A good idea does provide something very valuable.
It provides momentum.
If you take the time to brainstorm a truly great idea for your video, that boost of momentum helps the video almost ‘make itself.’
Things start to click and you get things off on the right foot.
Titles and thumbnails are easier to come up with. People support your video and are excited to give feedback on it before it’s even begun.
There’s huge momentum contained in a tiny little seed idea… as long as it’s inspired.
So where do we start?
In the most general place of all, a topic!
This is the ‘heart’ of your video. It’s the foundation of everything else. So choose a video concept that impresses & resonates with viewers.
Starting with a topic is wise, because some topics resonate more with your tribe than others.
Here are 5 ways to get topic inspiration:
Each of these could be an infographic in themselves, but hopefully as a YouTuber, it’s enough to spark you towards a topic your audience will ‘click’ with.
Great, you’ve got a topic, but thousands of others have that same topic. If you want to stand out and not be ignored…
…Put a twist on it. Flesh it out into a subtopic. For example, see the following example subtopics of “A.I.”
The difference in ‘juicyness’ and intrigue between “let’s talk about A.I. this episode” and “let’s talk about A.I Conspiracy Theories this episode” is huge.
You can get a giant boost in your video’s retention, by spending a minute or two on choosing a juicy subtopic rather than just settling for something broad and over-generalized.
There’s another quick but important step that will level up your talking head video massively.
Instead saying “Oh, A.I + Conspiracy Theories is a great topic, lock it in and let’s film!”
…instead, package each subtopic in creative wmays, then choose the most compelling one.
Can you connect it to a celebrity? Trigger the viewer’s identity? Make them want to know an answer? Make it weird?
Brainstorm more than one angle for each subtopic.
This will leave you with a pool of great video concepts and headline angles that are highly likely to perform.
Test your top three choices on a test audience to see which one resonates most.
We’re purposefully serving a tribe, and we’ve turned a vague topic into a well-framed winning angle…
…now we can actually plan our video.
Viewers on YouTube only pay attention to three things about your video at first. They care about the thumbnail, the title, and which channel* published the video.
These are so key that your video, or even your entire channel, may be ignored if you do an average job with them. How do you avoid being ignored?
Start by brainstorming titles for your video angle that make your viewer feel.fmarket
Notice titles can change a lot, despite having the same ‘5 Myths’ angle.
And each title version requires a completely different thumbnail to match it.
Try to test your headlines & thumbnail designs with a test audience, because feedback makes for wise decisions, and choosing blind makes for failure.
If you refuse to build a test audience, you can use an AI-YouTube Tool (like CreatorML.com) instead.
That gives us the following:
Next, you make multiple versions of your thumbnail.
More work? Yes, because if you don’t get your thumb and headline right, everyone ignores the (even more) hours of work you put into your well-edited video.
So unless you want to be ignored…
…just do the f*cking work.
So now we have our final thumbnail and headline, an incredibly key step in creating a high-performing talking head video.
If you’re up for more testing you can even make extra tweaks here, such as emphasizing the words “hurt you” in this final version.
The actual content of your video has to ‘deliver’ on the ‘promise’ that your thumbnail and video title have already made to the viewer.
Your viewer clicked because they were curious to know more, and they’re expecting the process of discovering more to start immediately.
Which means the content of your video should rarely, if ever, be decided or planned until you’ve finalized your thumbnail and video title.
But what parts of a talking video are worth planning?
It may look like your favorite youtubers just ‘improv,’ ‘throw together,’ or ‘first take’ their videos.
But most –even livestreamed ones– have a loosely outlined narrative ahead of time, at the very least.
Successful youtubers don’t walk into their video ‘blind.’
They have a beginning, middle, and end outlined from the start… whether you believe it or not.
(Any exceptions are punished for leaving narrative til post-production through much higher editing costs.)
If you want to create a successful ‘talking head’ video, do your best to craft a narrative before you being production.
It’s far easier than most people think, as long as you understand basic storytelling principles. Even using a simple framework like the 3-act structure, the hero’s journey, or Dan Harmon’s Story Circle will upgrade your videos audience retention.
How do you apply a 3-act structure to a talking head video about A.I. Myths?
Simple, you just give it a compelling beginning, middle, and end.
Even writing down three lines of script, or even three bullet points, to touch on during your filming can be a game-changer as far as your viewer’s are concerned.
Here’s a summary of a narrative-less talking head video on A.I.:
“A meandering, aimless conversation that eventually busts 5 myths about A.I.”
And here’s a summary of a narratively driven one:
Creating great narratives could be an entire book, but hopefully this example is enough to get you jotting down your own before you film.
And feel free to flesh out your narrative more, even using story boards if necessary.
“Stakes” aren’t totally required, but if you try it, you’ll be blown away at how much more watch time, views, and shares you get.
If you’re creative, you can add stakes to any video.
Here are a few examples:
Any of these could’ve been yet another boring ‘how-to video’, but the easy act of adding stakes to them makes them 100 times more riveting.
Note: It’s easy to add stakes into a video before filming but it’s almost impossible to add them afterwards, since stakes are something the video needs to be crafted around, not bolted on later.
So, how can we add stakes to our “A.I. Will Kill Us All” video?
Well, we tweak our currently ‘stake-less’ narrative.
So instead of video logline like this…
We get one like this…
And now we know we can film our talking head video busting the 5 A.I. myths, but we can also make sure our on-air talent comments on how long it will take the rest of humanity to ‘catch on’ to the truth, and can even ask viewers’ opinions.
Or we could go with more immediate stakes.
Setting up stakes at the start of your video automatically creates a boost of anticipation in your viewers, and will summon a decent level of investment and engagement from them.
Anticipation works on, well, everyone.
But if you stop there, don’t be surprised if your viewers tune out or get distracted, because we live in a world of over-stimulation and viewers are constantly bombarded by distraction.
Great video creators beat this sprinkling ‘anticipation devices’ all throughout their video.
Some do it naturally by instinct. Others rely on their editors to add anticipation. But by far the best way to make sure your video sparks enough anticipation in your viewers is to pre-plan it.
How do you add anticipation in a talking head video?
Here’s a few ways:
Open with some curiosity sparking teaser-moments that appear later in the video, making viewers anticipate them.
Create an ‘open loop’ in viewer’s minds by asking an intriguing question, then promising to answer it later in the video.
Display a box, bag, or closed container of some kind, hinting that it’s contents may be revealed later.
Tell your guest or co-host that you “want to hear their intriguing story,” but first go on a side tangent.
Reference a post-video bonus segment such as bloopers, contests, on-air games, reveals, etc.
And much more.
So if we apply one or more of these to our “5 A.I.
Myths” video, we get something like this:
With our new 5-point outline, even if we decide to improvise our A.I. Myths “Talking Head” Episode, we can be confident that…
We have a strong narrative which engages the viewer right from the start and we have a couple ‘anticipation points’ sprinkled in to keep them anticipating more of the video.
Technically, we should be giving “introduction” and “ending” their own mini-plans as well for best results, but this guide is long enough already.
Just keep in mind it may be worth researching how to make a magnetic intro that hooks your viewer.
One that’s hyper-relevant to your video title and that resonates well with your tribe.
(Ideally you’d plan out your scenes, shots, and b-roll too, but that’s a bit too ‘Hollywood’ for most talking head filmmakers, so I’ll leave that out for now unless many request otherwise.)
With planning done, let’s keep going.
The conclusion of your video ideally circles back and references your introduction, so viewers feel they’ve come ‘full circle’ and had a ‘complete’ experience.
This is called a ‘closed loop’ and is fulfilling for viewers.
It’s like when you watch a great show that ‘ties up’ all the loose ends and gives you a sense of closure.
These kinds of films tend to be remembered as extremely satisfying.
“…and that busts the fifth and final AI-myth, good night!”
The downside of closed loops, is people get a feeling of finality and ended-ness, so they move on to other parts of life.
This feeling of ‘ended-ness’ is also why most videos, upon reaching their conclusion, lose a huge percentage of viewers.
If you don’t want to be one of them, you want to set up cliffhangers, or plant seeds of curiosity about your other videos, right as you’re wrapping up.
If you do it well, you’ll keep your viewer’s attention all the way to the end card, at which point most of them will click through to watch another of your videos.
A good end card or end screen on your video is one that creates an ‘open loop’ or a ‘curiosity loop.’
In filmmaking, an “open loop” is a storytelling trick where a point or narrative is introduced but not resolved within the film itself. Instead, it remains unresolved, leaving the audience to interpret or speculate on its outcome.
In our A.I. video, we could try something like this:
“…now, you think that’s the final myth busted, but there’s a secret we haven’t told you yet that could be a guarantee that A.I. actually WILL take over the world. Click the video on screen if you want to discover what it is.”
See how much more compelling that open loop makes our video’s ending?
You could also do similar, but encourage viewers to subscribe instead, if your data says that’s more important.
(Just make sure you leave enough space in your footage at the end for a 10 or 20-second open loop and call-to-action.)
Your endcards are a precious opportunity to provide more value to interested viewers, get more viewers, or convert subscribers…
…so invest time into doing them right.
With planning done, let’s keep going.
Tribe, topic, and angle handled. Narrative, stakes, anticipation, & intro done. Our video is really coming together. With planning done, we can now film!
Fixing things in post sucks.
Trying to beautify bad footage sucks.
Cleaning up sound with A.I. that can’t recognize slang or foreign names, sucks.
That’s why it’s smart to pour some love into your studio or filming setup.
(But don’t worry, there’s no need to break the bank. There are simple, often free tricks you can use to level up your footage.)
We’ll start with audio.
This is because viewers often click away or to another tab, leaving only the sound playing for them to pay attention to.
People even put Hollywood movies full of gorgeous visual FX “on in the background,” so it’s even more likely that folks do it to ‘talking head’ videos.
Plus, our sense of sight can make up for sub-par video, but our sense of hearing struggles to do the same with sound.
Bad sound is a distraction a best, and a deal-breaker at worst. Whereas rough visuals aren’t nearly as problematic for the majority of audiences.
There’s lots of research available out there about this issue if you want to know more.
This means, your sound often has to carry the video.
You can google the pros and cons for different types of microphones or check out Nick Kendall’s video on it.
And the microphone world gets pretty deep, so there’s more I haven’t touched on.
If you don’t want to deal with all that, and you just want an affordable mic with decent quality, I’d go with tried-and-true USB podcasting staples like Samson’s q2u or Shure’s MV7.
The point here is: Since audio is arguably the “most important” part of your video, it’s worth investing in a decent microphone.
Most people don’t realize how big an impact their room makes on sound quality.
It’s actually huge.
This is why professional directors and musicians are so obsessed with ‘a good studio.’
They want sound-absorbing panels and sound-insulation. They want to minimize unwanted reverb, echoes, and muddiness in their vocals.
And even if your room is nowhere close to studio-quality for sound recording, chances are you can get a huge boost in the fidelity of your audio through a couple low-budget tweaks.
1. Sealing as many ‘cracks’ as possible.
2. Minimizing as many reflections as possible.
Soundwaves bounce and reflect and warp like crazy when there’s cracks for them to ‘leak’ through.
If you can’t record in a closet full of soft blankets, then placing some heavy blankets over mirrors or windows, and adding sound-insulating strips around your doorframes can really elevate your room acoustics.
We started by sticking some 3m Adhesive Strips and some alligator clips just above the mirror, then clipping them to a large blanket.
Covering the mirror was a big improvement.
Then, when Cyn was researching what sound engineers were saying on Reddit and she came back and told me that caulking our windows would help substantially, I didn’t believe her.
“What? We’re not even facing the window, how is this going to help?” I wondered.
But we did a small test just by putting some pillows in the basement window, and the change was noticeable.
So then we invested in some $15 insulating sound-and-weather-striping for the door frame, and booyah!
Another huge improvement in sound quality.
Investing in a decent mic, and some DIY room acoustics leveled up the sound on our talking head videos majorly.
The last key factor in talking head audio is often overlooked.
It’s your speech.
If you (or your talent) are filming talking head videos…
Compare your speech to a professional speech coach’s, like Sara Geiger’s.
For most people, the difference is usually stunning.
You don’t have to lose your personal style or avoid slang, but almost every talking head video personality I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen many) could level-up their game with just a tiny bit of speech practice.
Again, a few minor tweaks can upgrade the quality of your on-air presence significantly.
Removing filler words is one of the easiest and biggest tweaks.
Letting words such as “I mean”, “uhm”, “like”, “very”, “really” and so on go…
…can make your audiences listening experience far better.
Replacing them with higher-leverage words will help you stand out and sound less average.
Instead of “very strong coffee”, say “robust coffee.”
Rather than “you gotta speak with more, uh, confidence” say “speak with gravitas!”
I hope you get the point.
Viewers hear above average word choice, and they conclude above average person.
The research shows that confident, precise, eloquent speakers are seen as more capable, more competent, more trustworthy, and more persuasive.
You can also practice your vocal tone, rhythm, and melody, or one of the most important factors…
Or more accurately, your vocal projection.
Learn to ‘project’ your speech towards into the room effortlessly, and learn as well to ‘pull it back’ when necessary.
It’s easy for speakers on talking head videos to lose volume at inopportune times, only to discover during editing, that the microphone missed entire words, if no effort has been put into vocal projection.
(Also, if you’re interviewing someone or recording a testimonial, you can give your guest some tips on speaking clearly and well, if you’ve already learned them yourself.)
And more important than projection even, is avoiding mumbling or stumbling over your story or message.
Lastly, if your video isn’t an organic ‘improvised’ format, consider…
Rehearsing / Multiple Takes
Rehearsing your message or talking points, or filming multiple takes, can make your filming and editing so much easier, and provide you with the quality presentation and on-air talent necessary for a truly great talking head video, so don’t discount them.
So there you have it.
If you actually dig in, do the work, and apply the above tips, you’ll take your sound recording capabilities to the next level, and get way more value out of your time spent filming.
Onwards, to lighting!
The biggest thing that impacts your visuals is lighting.
Sure, your background and personal style are fairly important.
But they don’t hold a candle to how important lighting is.
Lighting affects inch of your visuals in a talking head video.
This demonstration video shows how the woman can go from friendly, to evil, to sad, and more just by changing the lighting.
It’s truly impressive how much impact the lighting makes.
And if you’re making a talking head video where viewers are going to be looking at a face for large amounts of time…
…their enjoyment of your footage will be influenced quite a bit by the lighting.
“But isn’t lighting complicated and expensive,” you may be wondering, “because I’ve seen giant lighting rigs from a lot of creators.”
A lot of creators make lighting look complicated, but it’s really not, and filmmakers have been managing just fine since the early 1900s.
If you’re familiar with lighting, you can experiment with 3-point light setups, rim lighting, and other cool tricks.
A $40 ring-light with a pillow case or pantyhose on it…
…can make all your future videos look high-quality and professional.
What often happens once you have a decent ring light is that it’s too harsh, creating unwanted deep shadows on your subject.
Professionals solve this with…
Softboxes & Reflectors
But as mentioned earlier, you can solve this harshness by placing a pillow-case, pantyhose, or some other mesh-netting overtop of your light, as a makeshift softbox.
If that’s not an option for some reason, try a jerry-rigged reflector.
Set up your light at 45-degree angle or so, slightly to one side of your subject, (or wherever gets the best lighting for you)…
…and then turn it around so instead of shining directly on your talent, it ‘bounces’ or reflects off your wall towards them in a much softer, diffused way.
Nick Kendall has a good video on this lighting hack.
As with other sections, we can go pretty deep on lighting, but this should be enough to get you rolling.
Next, we’ll talk about your physical space and filming setup.
Blocking is the process of choosing where characters will be at any given point in time, staging is the process of moving talent around a set.
Why is this important?
Well, a big chunk of your favorite movies are just ‘two people talking.’
And whether you know it or not, the actors in those scenes are given directions on where to stand, and where to move.
Now, a talking head video doesn’t need much staging, since your talent isn’t moving around much on-camera.
But if they move around a lot between cuts, it can be very jarring for the viewing.
And their limbs, or even themselves, may end up out of the frame entirely if you take breaks between takes.
And even if they’re very still, if the camera moves at all –say someone bumps it– this changes the frame once more.
This is where ‘blocking’ comes in.
You mark (or your talent memorizes) where to stand or sit during filming, as well as mark where your camera is supposed to be.
Similarly, mark the elevation level of your tripod, tilt of your lights, and so on. (Cyn uses a ‘glass’ marker because it’s meant to go on metal, glass, porcelain, etc., but I’ve used chalk, pastels, tape, you name it. You can use whatever works for you.)
This ensures your camera doesn’t end up out of focus or have to refocus, and that your framing is consistent throughout, even if you or your talent take breaks during filming.
Do this for any ‘scene’ you end up having. A quick and dirty way to do this is use a roll of “painter’s tape” to block off various spots that your shot or talent relies on.
A little goes a long way to making your video more ‘pro’ and saves you headaches of trying to match mismatched footage or correct things in post.
This seems like such a small thing, but it’s extremely valuable…
…and all your fave talking head filmmakers use it.
Are you going to join them?
“The clothes make the man.” (Or woman. Or non-binary.)
In a talking head video, you don’t have as many flashy visuals to work with as most other video formats, so it’s important that you make whatever is on camera… count.
One of those things is the wardrobe, clothing choice, and costuming of your on-air talent.
Take into consideration things like contrast, color palette, brand aesthetic, textures, accessories, layers, fit, and more.
One of the best things you can do, is choose a statement piece like a quirky hat, meaningful broach, or neon shirt and include it in most or all of your footage.
This gives people a visual touchstone, and creates a ‘signature look’ for you or your talent.
Aim to give something for the viewer to connect with in each outfit, but avoid making things ‘too busy’ or chaotic or the viewer’s eye.
A lot of what I mentioned about wardrobe above, applies here too.
Be careful not to choose a background that’s too cluttered or busy, but also avoid choosing one that’s too sparse, depthless, or flat.
Choose backdrops and scenery that either contrasts your talent and makes them ‘pop’ how you want, or ones that embrace your talent and make them seem like they ‘belong.’
Or choose backgrounds that set a tone or a mood that you’re going for in your piece.
You can have a ‘signature location’ or you can vary your background from scene to scene, or a combination of both.
The main thing is that you’re conscious and intentional with your choice of background or location, and that you continue remaining conscious enough of it to make improvements in future videos.
Just use the absolute best camera you can, and google the best settings you can for it.
If your lighting, blocking, and acoustics are set up well, you’ll film the best footage you can, and it should be good enough to shine once edited.
Hooray, you’re all set up! Go film your video and then we’ll talk editing.
We’ve got our purpose, we’ve got our idea, we’ve got our plan, and finally, we’ve filmed… Next up, editing!
Editing gets a lot of buzz in the YouTube world.
They say you’ve gotta over-edit. They say you’ve gotta pull out every editing trick in the book to keep people entertained.
Is it true?
Yes, and no.
Editing is a balance.
The more charismatic your talent, the more compelling your narrative, the more polished your footage…
…the less editing you’ll need.
But it’s rare for anything to be as good as it could be on the first draft.
So even if you had the best talent, message, and footage on earth, chances are you’ll still gain a lot of value from editing it.
And for most videos, including talking head ones…
…the invisible edits are some of the most powerful.
Namely, audio edits and sound design.
It’s tempting to focus on using visuals to make your talking head video ‘less boring’, but a better approach is to understand your audience.
Your audience expects (and is fine with) ‘boring visuals’ in a talking head video.
Audiences happily watch talkshows, interviews, how-tos and more, and have for years, without fancy visuals.
(That doesn’t mean we’re not going to spice up our visual interest, but it does mean we’re focusing on sound first.)
We focus on sound, because like many talking head videos, you’re going to get played in the background more like a radio show, and the main value of your video is what people are hearing, not what they’re seeing.
One of the easiest tweaks you can do is add music.
Music & Score
Choosing the right music for your talking head video is key to holding your audience’s attention.
So here’s a few tips to select the best music select the best music:
1. Complement the tone, mood, and message of your video. Are you delivering serious information, providing entertainment, or trying to evoke emotions? Choose music that pairs well with that.
For example, if your video is motivational, you might opt for uplifting and energetic music. For a serious topic, you may prefer something more subdued and contemplative.
2. Consider the age group and culture of your audience. Some might resonate with various music styles differently.
3. Watch the pacing. Aim for the tempo of your score to align with the pacing of your video. If your video has a fast and dynamic presentation, upbeat music might work well. Conversely, for a slow and reflective tone, choose a slower tempo track.
4. Don’t overdo it. In a talking head video, the main focus is on spoken content, so your music should accent your message nicely without overpowering the dialogue. This means sparser, more instrumental tracks or those with subdued vocals are best to avoid distracting from the main content. “Ambient” is a good tag to browse.
5. Test different options with beta-viewers. Try out different music tracks to see which one best fits your video. Experiment with various genres and styles until you find the one that enhances the message and keeps the audience engaged. You may be shocked at the different responses you get from test audiences when they hear “Song A” vs. “Song B.”
6. Adjust your audio levels. Make sure your score doesn’t overpower any dialogue. Adjust the audio levels in your video editing software to maintain a balance between the music and the spoken words. You can even manually lower the volume or create silence at key moments if necessary.
Music is worth investing in, but there are plenty of free, royalty-free songs out there.
(Whatever you do, avoid using copyrighted music without permission to avoid potential legal issues and copyright strikes.)
Here are some popular websites that typically provide royalty-free music:
YouTube Audio Library – YouTube offers a vast collection of royalty-free music tracks that content creators can use in their videos without worrying about copyright issues.
Free Music Archive – This website offers a wide range of royalty-free music across different genres. It’s a great resource for independent artists and creators.
Jamendo – Jamendo provides a selection of royalty-free music for personal and commercial use. They have a mix of free and paid content.
Incompetech – This website, created by composer Kevin MacLeod, offers a large collection of royalty-free music suitable for various projects.
SoundCloud – While SoundCloud is primarily known for hosting user-generated content, many artists offer their music under Creative Commons licenses, making it a source for royalty-free tracks.
Bensound – Bensound offers a variety of royalty-free music that can be used in videos, games, and other multimedia projects.
Freesound – This platform is more focused on sound effects, but it also includes some royalty-free music tracks available for use.
Note: Always double-check the licensing terms and conditions on each website to ensure proper usage and attribution, as different tracks may have different requirements for their usage.
With music out of the way, let’s talk sound effects.
Sound effects can substantially elevate the overall quality and engagement of talking head videos.
If you examine any of your favorite talking head videos, it’s very likely they use some (or many) sound effects.
This is because sound effects add so much.
Immersive Experience – Sound effects can pull your audience in and transport them into whatever is being discussed, making them feel like they are part of the conversation or story.
(I probably should’ve wrote a section on ‘passive’ viewers vs. ‘active’ viewers, because it’s insanely important for actually impacting your audience.
For now I’ll just say that anything you can do transform a passive viewer into an active one is going to boost every single metric you care about.)
Emphasis and Impact — Sound effects easily emphasize key moments in your video. They can highlight humor, drama, or add emotional impact to the content.
Keeping Interest — Videos that are mostly spoken word can easily become monotonous. Sound effects wake your audience’s zombie-brain up from potential monotony and keeps them more engaged.
Context and Setting — Sound effects can set the scene and provide context to the listener. Whether it’s the sounds of a bustling city, a serene nature setting, or a historical event, these effects can create a mental image for the audience. (And mental images turn ‘passive’ viewers into ‘active’ ones, again, I can’t stress how important this is.)
Brand Identity — If you use ‘signature’ sound effects consistently, they’ll create a unique brand identity for the podcast. If you’ve ever heard the Netflix logo stinger or the THX sound or even a Warner Bros. character, and had an instant visceral feeling, you know the power of sound branding. Leverage that for your own video brand.
Accessibility — Sound effects can be extra helpful for individuals with certain disabilities. They can assist those with visual impairments in understanding the context and atmosphere of the podcast.
Plus, sound effects let you flex you creativity and artistry. They elevate your talking head video above most others. They make your content stand out.
You can use sound effects as transitions between segments, to highlight points, and generally make your video feel more organized and polished.
Just be careful not to over do it. Strike the right balance between dialogue and sound effects to ensure a great listening (or viewing) experience.
This is usually seen more in Hollywood movies or beautifully edited shorts, but who’s to say your talking head video couldn’t make use of it?
Hearing a ‘canned’ or sampled sound in a video, such as a “boing” sound when your talent opens a container, can be great…
…but imagine if you layered a drumroll building up to it, then when the ‘boing’ happened it was full-bodied and resonant, because you layered that ‘boing’ with squeaks from a spring, a pop of bubble gum, and a distant explosion.
And all of that built up with the pace and crescendo of the music at just the right moment too.
Your viewers would be thrilled and riveted by the simple act of opening a container.
Sure, sound layering takes a lot more work, but the results can be monumentally rewarding for anyone hearing your video, and they’ll rave about the production quality of your talking head video.
Is this worth the effort? Only you can decide, but it’s something impactful that’s often overlooked, so I wanted to mention it.
Saved the best for last.
Even if you have no music, and eschew sound effects, vocal enhancement can make or break a talking head video, and I’d say this is by far the most important editing step you could do.
People are often happy to play talking head videos in the background as if they’re podcasts or radio shows…
…but people click away immediately if the sound feels ‘unlistenable’, or even ‘mediocre’ to them.
People are sensitive to the quality of human voices, so make yours count.
If you have Adobe Audition or Adobe Premiere, you can enhance vocals from there with a simple YouTube tutorial.
If you’re using free software Audacity or Da Vinci Resolve may be a fit for you (again, YouTube tutorials will help.)
My new favorite tool is AI Vocal Enhancement.
It’s so awesome.
At time of writing, Adobe Enhance is a free online tool that uses artificial intelligence to polish the quality of your spoken word content.
I’ve also heard good things about DeScript‘s AI Enhancement.
Whatever you use, please, please, please make sure the audio quality of your talking heads is the best you can make it.
Your viewers will love you for it, and your YouTube metrics will show it.
Next up, visuals.
Ah yes, flashy visuals.
This is what a lot of people think of when they think of editing.
But actually, the main foundation of editing isn’t that flashy at all.
It’s the classic ‘cut.’
Putting one clip next to another clip creates a story or a conversation in the viewer’s mind.
Good cuts create an ‘active’ viewer out of a ‘passive’ one and make your content sing.
For a long time, I made every single cut I made a ‘jump cut.’
It took me ages to recognize the power of J-cuts and L-cuts, but I’m glad I did, because they’re so valuable.
If you use B-Roll or swap between different personalities, you can play with match cuts.
And although whip-pans, cross-cuts, and more aren’t really used or expected in talking head videos…
…you’ll want to at least put some attention on cutting out “uhms”, “likes”, and “dead air” for the most part.
The trick here is to make sure your talking heads still sound natural and listenable, while also not wasting the viewers time on filler words and silences.
Keep your video moving and pack in the value.
B-roll is a vital factor in enhancing talking head videos.
Visual interest and variety — Talking head videos are often just faces delivering a message. The thing is, without visual variety, audiences can quickly lose interest. B-roll solves this by adding tons of visual variety.
In Hollywood movies, the visuals change about every 9 seconds on average. Does Hollywood know something about keeping viewers engaged?
Well, a talking head video that shifts visuals that fast might be too much (and more editing work than you’re willing to do)…
…but the principle stands. Aim to add visual interest.
Narrative and storytelling — B-roll can add context and depth to whatever’s being discussed. By showing relevant footage, animations, scenes, examples and more that are related to the topic…
…your video becomes more informative and compelling. It lets the audience better understand the content and provides a more complete experience.
Illustrating points — When your talent mentions something specific, add supporting visuals on screen to reinforce the message and aid absorption.
Emotional impact — B-roll footage can massively increase emotion in your audience in ways that your on-air talent may not be able to achieve alone.
Since heightened emotion switches a viewer from ‘passivity’ to ‘active viewing’, it’s absolutely essential.
Covering edits and cuts — You can also use B-roll to cover any rough edits, mistakes, or abrupt transitions.
Branding and aesthetics — If you use a certain clip or kind of B-roll consistently, it can help with branding and visual aesthetics.
Overall, b-roll complements talking head videos by adding visual interest, context, and supporting material that enhances the overall viewing experience, making the content more engaging and impactful for the audience.
What if you don’t want, like, or use B-Roll for some reason, and you’re sticking to just showing your on-air talent?
Pans & Zooms
Well, that brings us to pans & zooms.
It may seem to you that “I have nothing to cut to. All my footage is the same people in the same scene.”
But even cutting from a standard head-and-shoulders shot to a zoomed-in or close-up version when your talent says something important can add so much for your viewer.
Or panning quickly towards a specific personality or prop when a noteworthy point or witty retort is made can work wonders.
You don’t have to have B-Roll to cut to.
Instead you can pan, zoom, and cut to different zooms and offsets of your own talking heads.
Whatever you do…
Pans and zooms add motion and momentum to what could easily become a stale, static video.
And your viewers aren’t out there reading books or starting at static photos, they’re watching your video because they’re hungry for as much visuals in motion as they can get at the time.
Use pans and zooms to give them exactly what they want.
And there’s another great way to a sense of movement that doesn’t involve panning, zooming, or even cutting.
When viewers are watching videos, assuming they haven’t put you on in the background, they’ve invested a high degree of attention in what’s happening on screen.
So even in this internet age where people often skim text online…
…if you display short, punchy text on your video, it’ll often be fully read and absorbed by viewers.
In fact, viewers will often go back and pause a video to read text they may have not fully processed.
So whether you use title cards, lower-thirds, transitions, impact text, or something else…
This tendency of video-watchers makes any text in your videos extra powerful.
You can start just by adding the names of your talking heads, or adding ‘chapter transitions’, or you can dig deep into how to use film titles creatively in your videos.
However far you take your text, give serious thought to the size, font, color, length, and ‘negative space’ of any letters or numbers you place on screen.
It all matters, and a lot of it can be sorted out just by intuitive experiments or trying out different text on beta viewers and test audiences.
You’re almost ready to render your video, but first…
It’s time to polish your video using color grading, test audiences, and credits.
Color grading is an artform in itself, and can go pretty deep.
The main point is that you do what you can in post-production to improve the look, palette, and colors of your different parts of your video until they’re top notch.
If you’re reading this guide, the farthest you’re likely to go with color grading is slapping a LUT (Look-Up Table) across some or all of your footage.
And actually, this can sometimes be more than enough for talking head videos.
So let’s get into why LUTs are an amazing finishing touch on your video.
There are a few reasons for this:
Speedy styling — LUTs give you an efficient color grading by applying an overall “look” or “style” to all your footage, instead of manually tweaking each bit.
Consistency — They help you maintain an aligned, purposeful, coherent look and feel through your whole video, whether talking head footage or b-roll.
Mood — You can use LUTs to get specific moods, aesthetics, or certain film styles, giving you greater artistic control over your visuals.
Using a LUT can make your footage look so much more professional and polished.
Just make sure to lower the mix, blend, or opacity of your LUT, as they tend to be too strong for most talking head videos.
They’re also not a one-size-fits-all solution or a replacement for proper, talented color grading.
I’ve mentioned ‘test audiences’ and ‘beta viewers’ a number of times in the sections above, but it really does deserve it’s own section.
Publishing your videos without testing them on audiences first is like serving food without taste-testing it first.
If you’re not a pro chef who effortlessly creates michelin-star meals…
…you should be taste-testing what you make. Because even if you do an above average job, making your dish even a bit too salty can have diners dashing away.
The same goes for video creation.
Having an intro that’s a bit too slow, or sound that’s a bit too hard to hear, can cause days of your work to be wasted.
If you’ve ever had a video fail and you don’t know why…
There’s a strong chance a test audience could’ve saved it.
Stop killing your videos before they’ve even had a chance. Let them flex their wings in front of test audiences first…
…even if it’s just your mom.
This is a hugely neglected step by countless youtube creators, and they lose hard because of it.
Crediting people who helped your video come to life isn’t just good karma that comes back to you in many ways…
…giving credit is a wise, strategic, brand decision.
Any way you have of getting more eyeballs on your video is worth considering.
And you can get about 50 potential new viewers on average from every person you tag or credit.
Because as soon as their name is on your video, they’ll want to share it and promote it to their networks.
If you don’t let the composer know you used their music, how are they ever going to spread the word about your video?
If you don’t thank the staging director who helps you set the scene, how are they going to know what video to retweet?
Credits are a pro move. Hollywood knows this and makes sure they fit as many names into the credits as they can.
You can do the same and win big.
And if you don’t want to do it in your actual video, at least do it in your video description.
You’ve gone from purposeful video idea to polished rendered video. But you’re not done until you promote it.
What’s more important…
Making something great, or getting attention on what you’ve made?
Many creators think it’s the first.
They swear that “making something great” is the most important thing.
But they’re wrong. The second example is actually more important.
Imagine you made a meal.
Maybe it’s not the greatest food ever made, but if you actually get it into diner’s bellies, and they benefit from it’s nourishment, that’s a huge win for everyone involved.
Now, imagine you made a michelin-star meal, but you didn’t feel like inviting guests over and coaxing them to try it, so it rotted away on your counter top.
This is actually a huge loss for everyone involved. You rob diners of a great experience, and you rob yourself of praise and further motivation to cook more in the future.
The lesson here is that…
Passionately promoting an average creation is better (for you & the world) than refusing to promote even a premiere creation.
So make sure you pour your heart into promoting your work, either on your own, or by attracting others to promote it for you.
I’ve written two deep dives on promotion in the following posts:
Your epic videos deserve attention, but that attention doesn’t magically arrive from the attention-fairy… it’s on you to create it or attract it.
Did you put creativity into your video?
Did you try using text, sound, messaging, or visuals that stand out and impress people?
Did you create something you truly proud of?
Now do similar for your marketing and promotion.
Don’t just do the same thing everyone else does to promote their videos, instead, be creative and stand out.
Now, this is often “scary” for creators who aren’t practiced at standing out and getting attention.
But you’ve gotta beat that fear, one way or another.
We live in an attention-economy, so you either get attention, or languish in ignored obscurity.
How do you stand out? Do something different.
Do something, anything, creative with your promo.
If you’re having any trouble getting results from your promotions, I highly suggest you follow the instructions, framwork, and principles outlined in his book.
SEO used to be king.
For a while YouTubers were focused on SEO, keyword stuffing titles, spamming tags, and other stuff like that.
These days, that stuff is weighted less heavily by YouTube’s algorithm… though it can still help you rank.
(And it’s possible YouTube also now even scans the “early lines” of your video for keywords that match your tags and headline.)
The ‘human-focused’ stuff we covered in the first three sections of this guide are much more important though, because YouTube’s modern-day algorithm is basically “summoned by humans.”
When people click on your compelling headlines, or when they’re gripped and engaged through your entire video, or when they feel inspired to express themselves in the comments…
…these are the key things YouTube’s algorithm looks for, and when it sees them, it signal boosts your video in the ‘browse features’, ‘suggested videos’, and ‘home page’ feed.
Which is why we spent so much time on these parts of video creation, and prioritized them first.
Yes, you can complement these pillars with good SEO, or accent your ‘hub’ and ‘hero’ content with SEO-friendly, hyper-specific ‘niche’ videos here and there, but this type of SEO has become less important the more YouTube’s algorithms have evolved.
Promoting your video successfully is much more about human psychology than it is about algorithms, because the oh-so-powerful algorithms we look up to…
…are really just a programmer’s attempt to measure and game-ify human behavior.
The algorithm is doing it’s best to serve up whatever excites or interests viewers.
So make videos that make your viewers excited and interested, and let the algorithm do its thing.
And hey, if the algorithm isn’t helping you, chances are your videos are failing on some key part of your video creation or promotion that was supposed to excite and interest viewers.
If you’ve really got the hang of this stuff, then you can focus more on SEO.
(Though adding “Chapters” in your video is usually received quite well by viewers, and adds a big SEO boost for the algorithm if you use good keywords.)
How do you respond when you receive a hand-made card, a hand-mailed letter, or a hand-delivered gift?
If you’re like most people, you feel massively more engaged, touched, and impacted by the gesture than you do an email list, new social post, or PDF download.
And most businesses know this.
Since the beginning of commerce, even back in caveman times, anything hand-delivered had the power to create instant fans.
It created experiential touchstones that stayed in people’s memory, and that they were eager to share and buzz about with others.
Hand-delivering anything is an insanely effective way to promote something…
…but these days it’s slept on by most YouTubers.
And it kills me to see it.
You made a valuable talking head video about feminism?
But why don’t you have a list of 100 feminists, big and small, to hand-deliver it to with a personalized email or DM?
But why don’t you have cards with a QR Code on it that will link guests at your next party to it?
You made a valuable talking head video about League Of Legends Tilt?
But why aren’t you messaging every receptive gamer you play with a personal message about their game play and asking them if they wouldn’t mind watching your video?
Surely you can see these strategies would create fans. Super-fans even.
The most common reasons I see that stops creators from using hand-delivery as promotion are:
a) fear of rejection – This can be gotten over through ‘trial by fire’, visualization, or practicing tactful conversation / selling.
b) laziness and lack of commitment – This can be beaten through belief-wheels, focus, and commitment practice.
c) disbelief their creation’s value – This one, well, if you don’t see your creation as a valuable gift that will benefit people’s lives, and that is totally worth promoting to anyone even possibly receptive…
Why did you even make it?
Even ‘big’ and ‘successful’ channels use this technique.
When they launch a video, if they know it will be valuable to a particular influencer, celeb, or news outlet, they’ll reach out and hand-deliver it to them, often getting shared because of it.
Sleep on the ‘hand-delivery’ method of promotion at your own risk.
Whew. You now have a high-performing, well-promoted, audience-riveting, talking head video. Congrats!
There’s no such thing as a perfect video…
…but you can absolutely get close.
And if you follow the tips in this guide with passion and commitment, you’re well on your way.
And once you’ve got the hang of them, follow through by doing your best to build on them using your own creativity, because that’s where true video mastery starts to shine…
…and that mastery is guaranteed to be reflected in your view counts, retention numbers, and channel growth.
And if I missed something, or if you have any further questions, please email Cyn and she’ll let me know.
Thanks so much or reading, and I’m looking forward to seeing you make an even bigger splash with talking head videos on YouTube.
You got this!
Are you a generous person?
Do you want happier friends?
Then share the wealth!