Learning Soft Skills the Hard Way

This guest blog post comes to us from Susan Hutton at Colorado State University. While completing her undergraduate degree in animal sciences, she realized her true calling was to help people tell their stories through compelling video. Susan was a newcomer to the world of multimedia. After completing several small projects in Extension communications, she was given her first major project. It stretched her camera, directing, and editing skills with tight scripts, multiple cameras, props, costumes, and the responsibility for directing a group of actors. She grouped the lessons learned over the course of this project into this blog post by soft and technical skills. Susan has learned that “letting the client know what’s realistic and telling your boss the issues that you’re having (as they arise) are the most important aspects.” In addition she emphasizes the importance of, “always checking equipment and its capabilities, and creating an organizational system that works for you.” This blog post is designed to help Extension professionals who are stretching into other roles know what to expect, and to elicit feedback from more seasoned professionals.

Lessons I learned about Professionalism in Video Production

When I came to work for Colorado State University Extension in May of 2014 to follow my passion for video production, I felt confident in the soft skills that I had acquired in my previous positions in the animal science industry. Little did I know I still had a lot of growth left to do, not only in my technical skills as a videographer, but also in my soft skills as a professional in a new work environment.

Researching new technologies and practical equipment is crucial to a successful project. Yet identifying some of the key soft skills needed for creating a quality video production is just as essential for anyone eager to venture into the communication field or venture into video from another communication field such as writing or graphic design. Based on my video projects during my first year with Extension, I outlined the three major soft skills that required personal development, as well as how they become important in video production.

These soft skills are:

  1. Organization
  2. Collaboration and Communication
  3. Adaptability

1. Organization

At every stage of production, organization is essential. Staying organized is the single most important thing you can do to make sure that you’re not wasting time.

Check the credits of any film-there are many people involved, and your work will be close to a ‘band of one’.

During Pre-Production: In the first few stages of my first large project, we generated many drafts of scripts, and storyboards. This was part of a PhD student’s dissertation research, and she needed a rigorous paper trail. This fooled me into thinking that because we were churning out so much paper that we were prepared for the upcoming video shoot. However, I learned that without a thoughtful way to organize the hundreds of scenes we wrote out, the sheer size of a script and corresponding storyboards can become overwhelming.

We ended up filming the scenes chronologically in an attempt to ensure that we didn’t skip anything. I would caution anyone new to video production to think about organizing your scenes in a way that will help you be more efficient during the shoot by minimizing the setup time needed between shots. This can be done by:

  • Organizing your shots into a list of categories of b-roll, long shots, medium shots and close ups.
  • Take the time to meet with the clients beforehand, to talk over the organization of the shoot to identify specific props needed for certain scenes.

During Production: Even with a checklist of the equipment, I didn’t designate a place/compartment for all of my equipment, especially for smaller items. I had a mess inside the equipment bags. There were wires, batteries, battery chargers, and notes everywhere. On site the participants brought in backpacks, other production team members brought in snacks, carts, and props, and suddenly the room was a lot more crowded with not much room to put anything. I had to struggle to hold space for my needed equipment.

Having a place for everything helps you set up faster; people don’t end up waiting around, and it’s a lot more professional. Even small items such as microphone batteries (which are the size of a dime) that are used for clip-on microphones need to be accounted for, because without fresh batteries, a video shoot will come to a halt.

Post-Production: This is when staying organized is going to save you the most time.

And this is when you need a system that works best for you. For some of the smaller video projects I’ve done the notes I made on the video were mostly in and out points and a note about what was going on in the shot. Once I was assigned to more complex projects I needed more detailed notes. I began transcribing what people were saying to keep track of the differences in takes. This helped me immensely when communicating back to a client.

2. Collaboration and Communication

It’s ok to say “I don’t know” but follow it with “I’ll find out”.

For me this is where I had to grow the most; not just as a new videographer but also as someone new to professional project management.

How much do you share?

I learned to be okay with admitting when you made a mistake and explaining to everyone what the options are for moving forward. In the beginning, I felt very protective of this project. It was the first project I had that really felt like ‘mine’. So when problems arose I felt obligated to solving them myself. But this was the complete wrong approach because it wasn’t ‘my project’, it was ‘our project’. Because of this mindset I ended up unknowingly taking on edits way above my skill set. I was stressed, I missed deadlines, and felt like a failure. And I went through that alone. When I finally asked for help from my supervisor some of the issues that I had been dealing with for weeks we were able to fix in one meeting. Being able to talk about the problems your having will not only relieves stress, its key for time management, as a team will come up with viable solutions faster than an individual. Communicating personal obligations should also be part of the discussion. In my case, because of my looming graduation date, there were some aspects of the project that could have been handled better by someone else on the team. So don’t give yourself the impossible task of coming up with all of the answers yourself, which will be set yourself up for failure. Remember that it’s okay not to have all of the answers, but before you start your first project make sure that you identify who and where your resources are that will help you find all the answers. Like any other creative endeavour, video production is a process that requires continual critique and fresh perspectives for the best possible outcome.

3. Adaptability

It’s good to be prepared and it’s good to be organized. But something will always not quite work out the way you thought when you were going over the shoot in your head.

Deadlines change, people become unavailable, sometimes it rains, and sometimes there will be disrupting background noise, a plane overhead, dogs barking etc. Be ready to think on your feet, and work closely with the people on your team when you have to improvise.

Diving into video production can be overwhelming and scary, but it’s also a lot of fun and once you get started you won’t want to stop making videos. There are lots of great resources out there to guide you, but experience is the best teacher. So don’t be afraid to start. Producing video is an art that takes years to master, so don’t get so caught up in the result that you forget the process.

For more information on producing video for Extension, visit:






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