Tips and Tools for Science Storytellers at AGU Fall Meeting

voting video workshop
Would you keep watching after 30 seconds? Voting at the Science Storytelling Video Workshop with colored cards. / Photo by Laura Nielsen for FrontierScientists

Liz O’Connell for Frontier Scientists

“Story, Story, Story,”  said Nancy Linde, NOVA producer, when asked what were the three important elements in creating the perfect NOVA.  This is good advice for journalists, videographers, and scientists who want to write an article or create a video about science. But what is STORY?

A Science Storytelling Workshop: Video-making Tips and Tools workshop convened at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting (December 2013) in San Francisco, and began to deconstruct some elements of story.  The workshop was organized by the AGU film group, an international coalition of video makers, scientists, and educators focused on making and delivering science through videos.

About 75 scientists, educators, and administrators heard tips and tools from the expertise of these presenters:

Google Earth Team: Christiaan Adams, from the Google Earth team, emphasized location and place dynamics in Storytelling.  A link to his presentation: Storytelling with Google Earth

GoPro: Kris ‘Jaymo’ Jamieson, the Global Education Manager at GoPro, dazzled us with GoPro’s camera angles and possibilities.

Hoff Productions: Andres Alegria, San Francisco Bay Area Editor/Producer at Hoff Productions, highlighted good practices for any video story editor.

Geoscientist: Dr. Ryan W. Vachon, University of Colorado, shared his enthusiasm in science communication.

Storytelling in video is no different than oral or written storytelling.  Alegria said: “At the videos’ beginning there needs to be a hook or the viewer will leave.”  To demonstrate the hook, workshop attendees watched the first 30 seconds of different videos.  The viewers voted with colored cards on the effectiveness of those 30 seconds.  They held up a red card if they would stop watching, a green card if they would continue watching, and a yellow card if they were undecided.  Here’s a short video showing the first 30 seconds of 4 videos, and how the viewers voted. “30 second beginnings”  The “low tech” colored cards, visible to all, gave the workshop participants immediate feedback about the videos.

For some attendees, the workshop rekindled enthusiasm to start videotaping.  The presenters encouraged scientists to document their work because oftentimes scientists are in places where no one else goes.  For other attendees, the workshop stimulated many questions such as:  How to make videos with limited time and money?, What are the roles of a video making team?, What are techniques of a good interviewer?, How to make motion graphics?, How to light?, How to write a script?, How to write narration?, How to plan for a video?, How to make closed captions?, How to approach, organize and tell a captivating story?

Admittedly in two hours it is difficult to convey all the details needed to create a professional storied video.  But it is our hope the enthusiasm conveyed will lead to a future workshop to answer some of the detailed questions.  And more field scientists will document and share their work.

For more info. on the 2013 Video Workshop: Video submission invitation — Science Storytelling Workshop: Video-making Tips and Tools

Frontier Scientists: presenting scientific discovery in the Arctic and beyond


  • Linde, N., D Chittenden, G. Farmelo, and B.V. Lewenstein. 2004. Creating Connections: Museums and the Public Understanding of Current Research. Alta Mira Press. Walnut Creek, CA.
  • Google Earth Team Presentation Storytelling with Google Earth