How To Turn A Traditional Executive Summary Into A Video In Just A Few Hours

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Guest Post, Susan Parker, Clear Thinking Communications

Executive summaries are meant to make it easy for audiences to learn about a new report or study, especially if they don’t have time to read the full document. But for people faced with ever-growing reading lists, it’s often hard to make time even for digests of larger reports. In that spirit, the Atlantic Philanthropies has begun experimenting with producing executive summaries as short videos. And the good news for time-pressed communicators: these videos–which can help bring more attention to an important report–can be completed in a matter of hours.

The original 60-page case study, “Out of the Box: Queer Youth in South Africa,” presented a nuanced picture of a group of people whose voices are rarely heard. Because of the valuable insights in the report, Atlantic wanted not only to disseminate it as far and wide as possible — but to make sure it got notice.

According to Elizabeth Cahill, senior web strategist, Atlantic had initially considered producing a short slide show or video that would grab the attention of Atlantic’s audiences. Even though the foundation has the technical ability to create that kind of presentation, it can sometimes be a complicated and time consuming task.

“As we thought about ways to present this report, I happened to log onto our video channel at YouTube one day and lo and behold I saw a free trial for a program called Stupeflix,” Cahill said.

The beauty of Stupeflix and other, similar programs is that they have built-in templates that make it simple for people to quickly pull together a video, Cahill said.

All one needs to create a video is compelling text, photos or other images. In Stupeflix, for example, users choose from a drop down menu of several templates, plug in their text, photos or video clips and add music from a list of options provided by the program. The program also handles transitions and other tasks that normally take hours to complete.

After testing out the free trial of Stupeflix and comparing it with other programs, Cahill signed up for the $299 a year service.

Using the ready-made program, Cahill and her colleague Tricia Rosensohn created a 3 minute video that the foundation posted to YouTube that gives viewers a captivating summary of the key findings in the case study.

“We know that not everyone is going to sit down and read the report,” Cahill said. “We wanted to distill the key lessons so that people could walk away with what they needed and dive in deeper if they want. It’s a great way to get a larger audience.”

Cahill said she was impressed by this type of video program.

“It allowed us to pull together a video much faster than traditional video tools,” she said. “It’s really easy if you know how to edit text and crop images.”

Cahill said it took them about 4 to 6 hours to create the video executive summary, including the time to learn to use the program.

From her experience, Cahill learned several lessons that she is applying to future videos:

  • Choose reports that have easy-to-distill findings and strong images available. Not every report is a good candidate for a video executive summary. Atlantic’s “Out of the Box” case study lent itself to this approach in part because it had stunning photographs. Reports without easily accessible images or clear findings can still be turned into a video but they will be more time-consuming to complete. Cahill is working on another video where the images are not easily available. She estimates it will take her about 15 hours to complete. For some reports, a podcast with an interview of the author might be a better approach to add a multi-media component, Cahill said.
  • Release the video executive summary at the same time as the larger report for maximum impact. Because of timing issues, Atlantic did not release the video executive summary until about two weeks after the announcement of the longer report. While the longer report has garnered more than 6000 downloads, the video executive summary has had 150 views on YouTube. That figure isn’t bad, but Cahill said she’s sure it would have been much higher if Atlantic had released it simultaneously with the longer report.
  • Take advantage of YouTube’s call to action feature. Non-profit organizations with a YouTube channel can add a “call to action,” which allows them to add a hyperlink that will bring viewers to the full report that the video summarizes.

Cahill is happy with Atlantic’s experiment with this tool and says she will continue to use it on reports that lend themselves to video executive summaries.

“If you look at the ‘Out of the Box’ video it seems like it took a lot of work, but it really didn’t,” she said. “Most of the work is in getting the story right. The program lets you focus on the story rather than the technology, which is what good technology does.”


Susan Parker, a Communications Network member, is the owner of Clear Thinking Communications. This post was adapted from a version published in her e-zine.

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