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Lindsay Oden recently graduated with an MA in History from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. You can listen to his podcast and read his website, or follow him on Twitter.

You no longer need a video editing suite to make professional videos.

Bad presentations can alienate an audience and undermine your credibility. I’ve written before about some of the mistakes grad students make when giving conference presentations, and one of them is not utilizing audiovisual materials to enhance presentations. Whether it’s teaching, presenting at a conference, presenting in the classroom, or sharing research online, audiovisual tools can bring an extra dimension of excitement and intrigue to your work. Fellow GradHackers Heather VanMouwerik and Natascha Chtena have both written about using videos, audio recordings, and music in the classroom to augment lectures, so I’m going to show you some tools to improve conference and classroom presentations.

As the summer gets underway, you have an opportunity to learn a new skill or familiarize yourself with new software. Many computers come equipped with some audio and video editing software already installed, but there are many free and cheap options available to download as well. The technology available to us allows us to bring a vibrancy to presentations. As a historian of the 20th century, I’d argue that there are so many primary sources available that it is negligent to exclude them from presentations. And many disciplines—including history, sociology, journalism, musicology, and cultural studies—rely on audio and visual resources as evidence, so they should be fundamental elements in research presentations.

In total, I love letting my subjects speak for themselves, either in audio clips or video segments. These people often have moving and emotional narratives, and the audience for your presentation may be deeply affected by the materials you include. Make your presentation memorable and exciting, and ditch the PowerPoint slides that are walls of text.

Video editing software

Videos are the most striking medium because they combine the potency of seeing actual people on screen with the filmmaking techniques that keep people emotionally engaged, like editing, background music, and visual effects. You don’t have to be the next Michael Bay to realize the power of film. And better yet, many of the available video editing programs are simple and intuitive, so you don’t need to go to film school to learn how to use them.

Most computers—either Mac or PC—come with some video editing software pre-installed, like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. These are basic programs that provide minimal functionality, but they are easy to use and free. They allow you to splice together film clips and add music or narration, all at minimal cost.

I prefer to use a program called Sony Vegas. Previous versions of the program are available for purchase, so it can be relatively cheap (I got my 2014 version for only $15.00). Sony Vegas is more robust and gives you more features, like multiple video tracks, a large effects suite, plugins, and export options. Other programs like Apple’s Final Cut or Adobe’s Premiere are also available.

More importantly, you can find thousands of online tutorials for each of these programs. They can quickly show you how to make your videos look professional and they can teach you how to use the thousands of features. Free tutorials make these programs easy to learn.

Audio editing software

If you want to give your presentation a soundtrack, then you’ll need audio editing software to piece together the various bits of music or sounds you want to use. Software like Audacity (free!), GarageBand, and Reaper allow you to import audio clips, trim them to the length you want, and export full, edited tracks. Rather than playing an entire song or manually skipping to a specific place in an audio track, editing the sounds you want can help you present the best possible or most representative audio clips to your audience. You might find this helpful if you want to play great lines from an oral history, interview, video, or song.

There are also programs online that allow you to download audio clips from videos online if you don’t want to use the video portion. Using a site like lets you download the audio files from videos, edit them as you want, and use them in your presentations.

If you are feeling very creative, you can use audio editing software to combine audio clips, such as adding emotional music to a powerful speech, like filmmakers do in movies. You can also use audio editing software to record your own music to be used as background filler for your presentation. Make those years of piano lessons pay off.

That’s a wrap!

Audio and video editing software offer export options, meaning you can choose which file type you want to export when you’re finished. Sony Vegas has numerous high-definition formats to choose from, and Reaper lets you determine the sound quality of the files you export. Then you can upload your files to YouTube, Dropbox, Google Drive, SoundCloud, or other sharing sites so that they are easily accessible during your presentations.

Then, use the embed function in PowerPoint, Google Slides, Prezi, or Keynote to put your audiovisual files directly into your presentation. One of the reasons why Google Slides has become so popular is that you can embed videos from YouTube straight into Google Slides, and then set the video to play automatically at a specific time or with a click. By placing your videos or sounds directly into your presentation program, you can seamlessly integrate them into your speech.

Your audiovisual elements should come naturally in your presentation. They can serve as attention-grabbers, evidence, examples, or memorable takeaways for the audience. Let them enhance your research and keep the audience engaged.

How have you used audiovisual materials in presentations? What other programs might be helpful for researchers to present these kinds of materials? Let us know in the comments.

[Image from Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons license]

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