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How context and reader behaviour influence the style of online and museum texts

Posted 7/11/2015

By Deborah

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Communicators - get on, not under, the digital bus

Posted 30/10/2015

By Deborah

As museums have been radically changing the way they tell stories and engage with their audiences, so too have museum staff had to radically change the way they work. I’ve been investigating the ways that communicators can increase their digital skills to be more integral to their museum’s digital engagement strategy. As the apparently mythological quote of Darwin says, ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.’ So, be a survivor!

I’m going to give you a quick run down on how communication skills can be applied to the digital medium and what skills a communicator can develop. What I’d like to focus on here is the creation of short films as this job shares many similarities with image and text storytelling. So if you’re a ‘professional communicator’ and you’re interested in trying your hand at film editing, the job isn’t so different to what you’re used to.

Similarities

As communicators, our job is to:

  • tell a story
  • be succinct and compelling
  • use language creatively
  • often put the main idea first
  • collaborate with curators or content experts
  • ensure images and text are strategically juxtaposed and working well together.

The digital communicator has to do all of these things too. It’s just the mode of delivery that’s different.

 

Differences

  • As the visuals drive the narrative, films show rather than tell. You can let the images tell the story instead of relying on the text. You can play on the fact that images have much more pulling power than text.
  • You can evoke an emotional response with music
  • You have to be even more succinct than ever before as reading is more difficult on screen and the visuals need to move frequently. You will find yourself stripping text back to its very bare bones.
  • Stories can be linear, which does make things quite a bit easier than editing flexible text for other mediums.

With interviews, you don’t always have the luxury of just using nice, high res images and clear music. You have to: 

  • create the necessary digital assets yourself. And this has its own challenges – technically as well as in terms of a storyline. 
  • work without a tight story as you don’t know what an interviewee is going to say or how they are going to say it. Are they going to be good on camera? Do they speak well? Most content experts are not good ‘talent’. In fact, most of us aren’t great speakers. And especially when you’re speaking off the cuff.
  • roughly storyboard the film. Let the interviewee know the questions and the concept ahead of time so they can practice.
  • script the intro and conclusion so they’re at least succinct and using appropriate intonation in these parts. Then the middle can fall apart a little and it’s not so noticeable!
  • cover over errors or continuity problems in sound or video.

 

What extra skills do you need?

Apart from getting your head around the challenges listed above, you will need to invest and be trained in some editing software such as Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro. The interfaces of these programs are very intuitive and they’re easy to use. It’s also a good idea to learn some very basic aspects of Adobe Photoshop. Both of these programs are easy to learn. While they are professional programs, they are not beyond the amateur.

Cameras are becoming more and more foolproof and getting usable footage isn’t that hard. HD video cameras can give anyone broadcast quality – even though you don’t really need it! Most have automatic functions and are ‘point-and-shoot’ capable. Most people have used a camera in the past and are fairly familiar with the ways they're used. And there are plenty of websites and books on how to frame a shot or footage.

 

Conclusion

Museums are getting more and more digitally focused so, as a museum professional, you will have to get on the bandwagon to keep your skills current. And engagement is not necessarily about the medium, it’s about a good story. Storytellers are in a unique position to make some technical adjustments to their skillset and get on, not under, the digital bus.

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