I'm currently taking a course in Strategic Digital Media with Professor Dawn Edmiston, aka The Marketing Prof, and I'm learning tons about my favorite part of marketing: digital! I'm also of course, learning more importantly about how to actually do things that have an impact. Anyone can write a tweet, but can you create a twitter strategy that actually turns into revenue? That's what this class is all about.
Anyway, for the class, we were asked to turn out a a video in just a week and a half! The goal? To make a video for Youtube and LinkedIn that would basically serve as an elevator pitch of ourselves. You know, the thing you say that gets people interested in working with you in 60 seconds. I was super excited but also pretty nervous about this assignment. Luckily, my lifetime as an embarrassing person has prepared me to face such challenges with boldness, fortitude, and a high level of ability to laugh at myself.
I had tons of fun making this, and I learned a lot from turning out this project, even though I had to do it really quickly. Here are 5 lessons I learned from this project: about pitching, about video editing, and about myself.
1. Figure out what story you want to tell. We're all just a bunch of stories. Some are better than others. Some stories are more exciting or funny. Some stories are sad. We all decide which story we want to tell, either in 60 seconds or something grander. This is really important lesson because it's all about the psychological concept of framing. Do you think your story is about someone struggling with their own seemingly insurmountable mediocrity or do you think it's about someone conquering their self-image issues and taking on the world with newfound strength? You really do have the power to decide which of those stories you tell to others, as well as yourself. That's the nice thing about having so many big and little stories in you. Decide what you want your story to be about and think of ways to tell (and live) it.
For me, I wanted to do something that showed off my personality. My résumé does a lot of heavy-lifting in terms of talking about my experiences, and I didn't think I would get a good response from anyone for doing a video of a laundry-list of my accomplishments. And honestly, what would be the point if I was trying to get them to look at my LinkedIn or résumé anyway? In 60 seconds, with a week and a half to put it all together, I decided that my video was going to be less about listing my accomplishments and more about establishing an emotional connection that made people want to work with me. I needed proof points that teased at my accomplishments, but still left people curious to know more so that they actually did go to my LinkedIn profile. The story is not "Harper is very experienced and here are all the things she did." It's "Harper is creative, hardworking, passionate, and fun. Also, she's worked at some cool places-- you can find out what she did there if you go to her LinkedIn."
2. Understand the value of committing. The minute Professor Edmiston announced the project the idea flew into my head. I've been a lover of entertainment media, especially TV, film, and musicals, forever, and I really like the idea of working in marketing for entertainment media. In the intersection of TV and musicals was NBC's ill-fated, high-talent, messily-written musical TV series, SMASH!, which was about people who were making a musical. It included performances of numbers in the Broadway-bound musical they were working on, as well as musical number surrounding the goings-on in the plot like a movie-musical. It's a format that I want to see tons more of, but it's really difficult, especially given that the writers did such a poor job of focusing the story that it got cancelled during Season 2 (they got to wrap up which is a blessing) boding ill for any similar ventures. Anyway, the series begins with two women competing for the role of Marilyn Monroe in a musical inspired by her life, and they do a number called Let Me Be Your Star, which takes us from their prep the day of into the audition. The song is about Marilyn leaving behind her former identity as Norma Jean and becoming Marilyn as she works to become a star! I knew I wanted to do a version of that song, rewritten to be about me, instead of Marilyn, working to become an amazing marketing professional, not a movie star. How perfect would it be? It's fun, it reflects my interests both personally and professionally, and it's totally bold.
I quickly tried to reign myself in. The speed with which my imagination works is super powerful but it really needs to be channelled properly. Growing up my parents, super practical and realistic, were often the main force keeping my whimsy from taking over my entire being. Now I'm the only person responsible for not tossing myself headlong into colorful disasters, so I quickly focused on figuring out how it could be done before imagining choreography for the non-existent dancers at my disposal. I originally told my brother, who was helping me film, that the concept for the video was basically supposed to be like the scene from 500 Days of Summer after JGL finally sleeps with Zooey Deschanel, which starts off as him just excitedly leaving the building with a spring in his step to Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True" and quickly escalates into a flash mob-esque spontaneous dance number complete with ridiculous props and even a cartoon bluebird landing on his hand to share in the merriment. That's kind of where I'm at in terms of how quickly my brain wants to go from point A to point Z when I get really excited. I forced myself to think through the other letters in the alphabet before I got too attached to the idea of that end product.
I only had a week and a half. What's doable? How much time does something need to get done? How do I avoid biting off more than I can chew?
I realized that I'd need to first rewrite the lyrics to the song. Then I'd need to get the backing track and rehearse to it-- my voice is way out of shape since I haven't really been singing since starting college. Then I'd need to record it-- multiple takes in a cold house after school were exhausting. I didn't have time to find a way to lower the pitch of the backing track into something just a bit lower, so it was a real struggle to get it right. I'd need to do tons of video takes of me lip-syncing the song. Film a bunch more footage outside of that. Then I needed to cut it all together which was a tall order given that I needed to match my mouth movements to some of the lyrics. It was intimidating to consider doing that on top of all the other schoolwork I needed to do. I threw out even the hope that I could find a way to get a couple people to dance with me on camera and not have it look completely idiotic and get left behind in the cutting. My cousin, whom I am extremely lucky to be going to school with, and who has much more extensive film editing experience than I, advised me to go small scale and do it well rather than trying to go overly complicated and fall flat.
I took the weekend to stew on everything. I considered not doing a song at all and just doing a hilarious redux of Elle Wood's Harvard Law Video Essay from Legally Blonde complete with a pan-out of the screen into a room with a bunch of important-looking people and a hard cut to a view of their bewildered and impressed faces. Then I realized that it was way too cold out to film the integral pool scenes. I thought about just talking about myself, but that seemed boring and difficult-- which sounds absurd given that I had tried to do a musical video, but I really struggle with talking about myself point blank without actually conversing with someone or just writing it. I love talking about myself but there are too many directions to go in, not enough time, and no form of feedback from my camera for me to work off of, and it made me feel ridiculous. Like I said, I wanted to create something more human, more emotional, than just a video where I talked about my accomplishments.
The original idea kept coming back to me when I cross-examined new concepts. So I took a deep breath and committed to the SMASH!-inspired video and song. I didn't waste another moment before starting to rework the lyrics. It was a really hard process, but it was one I was excited about. I was doing something that I'd never really even attempted, and it was incredibly intimidating to have that kind of pressure on myself to do something both ambitious and unfamiliar in a week from start to finish. But I couldn't keep the concept of the song from coming back to me over and over because that's what I really wanted to make. Despite my best intentions to reign myself in when I seem to get a little too out-there, I also recognized that I needed to trust my boldness and my whimsy. It has served me pretty well over the years, and I can't imagine what lame, un-fun video I might have turned out if I continued to be afraid of committing and wasted time that I instead spent conceptualizing, recording, shooting, and editing.
Our world is overflowing with choices and options and many people encounter analysis paralysis. With the whole wide world at your fingertips, how do you make a decision about what to do next? How can you possibly make any decision without regretting not doing the other awesome things? But the only thing certain is that time is wasting as you deliberate, and that's the one resource that is painfully finite in our lives. Sometimes it's best to go with your gut and commit. You'll get much farther taking a leap early and adjusting from there than wasting time fussing over what to do. It was more important to me to have lot of time and excitement for what I wanted to do than to avoid taking on something risky and ambitious.
3. Know your audience. Our professor told us in class that pitching is as much about the catcher as it is about the pitch. There is a good chance that my 60 second pitch is not going to get everyone in the world interested in working with me. The question is about which subset of people I want to reach.
I've been an embarrassing, loud, over-the-top, kooky person from day one, so for the most part I am pretty shameless about who I am. After all, not everyone is going to like me, so I might as well find out who is or isn't going to like my true self from the get-go and not waste time and energy trying to please those I have no shot at authentically connecting with. In marketing, it's all about knowing who your target segments are, and picking markets that play on your strengths to focus on. Same with managing relationships. Quality over quantity.
I decided that the person I wanted to reach was someone who values a workplace and employees that are fun, bold, creative, and unafraid to take risks and be weird and silly. After working at a very straight-laced company one summer, I learned I could love the kind of work I do and still feel unfulfilled by other aspects of work-life. It's become very important to me to work somewhere where my personality as well as my skill set are well-regarded, and that really drove my decision to be goofy, to have shots at home, to sing and be weird. I probably won't get through to someone in search of a very formal, quiet person for a similar team-- but I will totally get through to the kind of person I actually want to hit me up on LinkedIn.
4. People will gawk. I tried to do as much of the filming on my own as possible. I shot b-roll of places, books, etc. that I thought I might use and in total I came out with over an hour of footage for a 60-second video. My brother Julian was willing to help me film, but I was pretty sure I needed tons and tons of footage, so I planned to do as much of the work on my own as I could so I didn't burn anyone else's precious daylight with my nonsense. This meant busting out my handy-dandy tripod and doing a good-old-fashioned one woman show. Some of this was done in the privacy of my own room, but there was over a half hour of footage I shot (some of which immediately got deleted) out in public. Not just in public, actually, but at a popular tourist destination right where I live in Williamsburg, Virginia-- Colonial Williamsburg.
It was a chilly winter Saturday. I headed out in full makeup, including false eyelashes, with my camera and tripod, to the extremely low-tech 18th century America-faithful CW (Colonial Williamsburg, not the network). I got out in front of the massive field that is bordered by trees and leads to the Governor's Palace, set up my camera and tripod, shimmied out of my winter jacket, plugged in my earbuds to play the backing track I'd already downloaded to my iPhone, subsequently hid said earbuds by using my long hair and putting all the cords behind my body instead of down the front, and started lip syncing to a camera.
And throwing confetti (which I pretty much try to always have at home for fun events).
To put it plainly, I looked like a total weirdo. Most likely like a struggling K-pop star wannabe with over-dramatic facial expressions and no friends willing to help her out with the shoot.
People stopped to watch me from the street. Groups of tourists, from teens to the elderly stopped to gawk at me. They wanted to see what was going to happen, probably because when someone whips out a non-smartphone camera these days, much less a tripod, people assume something extra unusual is going to happen. What they got was me, silently and dramatically lip-syncing and cursing the wind for making me waste so much excellent confetti on sub-par confetti-throwing takes. I had the unusual and unwelcome feeling of self-consciousness wash over me.
Feeling self-conscious about anything other than silly things is really weird for me. I'm usually only concerned with little nagging thoughts about what I look like-- "is my zit concealed?" "Are my eyebrows in order?" "Why did I pick a necklace that gets caught in the knit of this top?"-- and I'm usually comforted by the thought that there are tons worse things to be worried about in life than whether or not my outfit or makeup is on point. Being embarrassed of what I'm doing with myself, and more so than that, worrying what other people think about it as I'm doing it, is not something I'm terribly familiar with. I stood as these onlookers with their fannypacks and their tourist visitor badges stared at me and I knew that as much as I like to laugh at the expense of tourists (I'm from the DC Area, this is how we are raised) I was definitely the one that looked more ridiculous. It unnerved me a little bit.
But then I reminded myself why I was there, what I was doing, and the vision I had for this video-- which at the time was less a coherent storyboard, and more a collection of ideas, images, and feelings I knew I wanted to have at my disposal in editing. I knew I wanted the outdoor shot in Colonial Williamsburg because it was important to express not just where I am right now, but to give a sense of light and openness that my indoor spaces would not provide. I wanted to capture a visual that had a blue sky and far-off horizon rather than just a wall behind me, because it just captured that essence of what it means to be creatively unshackled and early in a career, even on just a subconscious level. I knew I wanted the confetti shot since it just seemed so in line with my personality and brand promise-- bold, magical, vibrant. I had to do it. I couldn't lose those images. I steeled myself the way I always do: reminding myself that the opinions of these people don't matter at all, remembering the awesomeness of what I was making, and having a good laugh at myself.
5. Know which perfections are worth pursuing. This kind of goes in line with committing. In the grand scheme of things, I don't believe in the attainment or bottling of "perfection"-- reality is contextual, not absolute, making the concept of perfection one that has very little meaning on a large scale. But there are, on smaller scales, things that are pretty objectively perfect or near perfect. Test scores, symmetrical wing-tipped eyeliner, etc. There are tons of occasions when you need to compromise or make due to get the work done, to find happiness, and to stay sane, but there are also times when you really need to draw the line. It's important to continue to move forward, and sometimes being narrow-minded about what success looks like keeps us from forging ahead. At the same time, there are certain things we shouldn't compromise on in order to stay true to ourselves, our vision, and our own sense of integrity.
When I was recording the track I got really down on myself about the state my voice is in. I used to be able to successfully sing the Soprano II part of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, but not practicing for 3 and a half years definitely took its toll. So I set a time limit. I had 3 days to record the backing track and I'd just have to work with whatever came out at that point or else risk derailing filming-- and then what would even be the point of nailing the recording? I could have focused on striving for perfection on the recording-- but that wasn't going to get the job done, and it was ultimately counterproductive if my real intention for fussing over the audio was to make the video amazing. I needed a completed video in a week. It just wasn't worth it, and I really had to force myself to face it, because my brain was apparently very delighted with the notion of feeling bad about my voice and the fact that I could've been better.
On the other hand though, I was relentless in editing when trying to get the audio and lip-sync to match because I knew if I didn't get it right it'd just look incredibly stupid. There was very little margin for error on that one. The details can have a huge impact on something, and I knew that the audio-video syncing was one of those places where I really couldn't cut any corners. I ended up spending over 6 hours editing the footage.
It takes a level of perspective to figure out which perfections are and aren't worth pursuing. In the end, I was making a fun video about myself where I just happened to sing, not auditioning for a musical, so my voice was totally adequate for the purpose at hand. I couldn't, however, crank out a shoddy video with mismatched audio and visual and expect things to work out all right-- that would indicate a lack of professionalism and concern for product that I didn't want my professional identity associated with. I also thought of just not having any lip-sync involved at all, scrapping that footage, and not worrying about matching the audio and visual-- but it seemed like a cop-out and would result in the loss of certain feelings I wanted to get through the video. I wanted it to be super obvious that I was singing, in part because I wanted there to be an adequate reason for the singing to be unimpressive, and because I wanted it to have a really personal quality of me putting this whole thing together with as much of myself in it as possible. I also really wanted it to be a little hammy-- because that's just part of who I am.
This assignment was very much an exercise in negotiating with myself and figuring out where my boundaries lay, which risks were worth taking, and which challenges were worth investing time in.
This project help me create another piece of digital, searchable material to add robustness to my online professional presence, but I also learned a ton of other things from this project. I had a lot of fun, brushed up on hard and soft skills, and really pushed myself. I totally recommend doing this to pretty much anyone who has a good idea of who they want to project themself as into the wide world-- sometimes it takes a long while to figure that out. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed watching it and reading this pretty long piece on what I learned from it. Maybe you learned something from this, too!