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Secrets of A Successful Tribute Video
By Bob Pomerantz
A lot is riding on your tribute video. Whether it’s for a CEO’s retirement party or a couple’s 40th wedding-anniversary bash, the video is often the main entertainment event.
You don’t want to get it wrong. Employees have been demoted, family feuds launched and, ampoule yes, event planners dismissed when the all-important video goes over like a lead balloon.
The good news is, when the video’s a big hit  the responsible parties are showered with praise and, in the case of suppliers, repeat business.
Whether you are producing it in-house or hiring an outside supplier, here are some tips to help ensure the video tribute gets “Two-Thumbs Way Up!”
1/ Know Your Mission:
What are you trying to accomplish? A reverential salute or a rollicking roast? Usually, a tribute video should be somewhere in-between: patting the honouree(s) on the back and also poking fun.
To execute your mission properly, be really clear on the key messages you want to convey (She was a great business visionary but a picky eater) and the tone (upbeat, but not syrupy sweet).
 Helpful is to ask: “What would be appropriate for this honouree? What would be appropriate for this audience?”
2/ Who Do You Put In The Video:
One of the first issues that comes up in the planning: Who should appear in the video OR: How many people can be in the show?
The following question should be posed early on: “Who absolutely, positively must appear in the show?” — be it for political or emotional reasons. You don’t want the honouree leaving the party, shaking their head and muttering: “why the heck did they leave out Johnny Baird?!” (or Aunt Sally). Likewise, you don’t want Johnny or Sally complaining.
In determining who to feature, do your research. Ask the honouree’s closest friends/relatives/colleagues who they think NEEDS to be in the video, then compare notes. If the same 5 or 10 names keep coming up, you are fairly safe. Naturally the really important people get more screen time.
3/ How Long Do You Make The Video:
The age old question: should it be 7 minutes or 17? Generally, less is more. But specific factors help determine the running time:
·        The bigger the crowd, the shorter the video;
·        If the video is the party’s main entertainment, go longer: if there’s also a stand-up comic and 7 live speeches, go shorter.
·        If there are multiple tribute videos, like at an employee recognition event, each video should be short (2.5 – 4 minutes).
·        No tribute video should run longer than 20 minutes.
4/ Scripted Or Un-Scripted:
The good news is, either kind can be extremely effective. Just to be clear: “scripted” features a live host and/or voiceover narration; “un-scripted” (or “pure-documentary” style) tells the story by inter-cutting interview sound bites using clever editing and structuring.
The bad news is, it’s easy to screw up both types. Pick your poison: A lame, flabby scripted video full of inaccuracies, or an endless series of boring “talking heads”. How many golf anecdotes can an audience stomach?
Every tribute video is important. Best advice? Use people who really know what they are doing. If the client company has its own, well-equipped  A/V department, by all means use an able in-house camera-person and able in-house editor. But make sure the producer (or writer/producer) is an ace.  
5/  Traditional Or ‘Outside The Box’:
Traditional doesn’t necessarily mean boring. An old chestnut–“The Evening News” or “Special News Report” (scripted) is still a format that can work like a charm. In the “un-scripted” department; cutting together a series of pithy soundbites into cleverly-named sections, with great music and great photos, can make for a great video.
But there are so many other good ways to go: a person-on-the-street sequence; a phoney “Q and A” (Question and Answer vehicle), featuring real soundbites from the honouree juxtaposed with fake questions from an interviewer; a game show or TV specialty-channel based on the life, career and personality of the honouree. A mockumentary; a mock info-mercial. Creatively, the sky’s the limit.
6/ Blast From The Past or Celebrity Appearance
If the particular family or company has the “reach”, lend the video some cache by featuring a cameo appearance from a celebrity the honouree really likes: be it a favourite singer, actor, politician…
As for a “blast from the past”; try to locate a person the honouree hasn’t seen in a long time. It could be a favourite high school teacher or first boss or mentor; an ex-boyfriend or long-lost boyhood pal.
It’s also fun to introduce some other unexpected characters: the honouree’s barber or hairdresser, or dentist; the cafeteria lady; the security guard in the building.
All of these help make the video special; a video people will marvel at and talk about for a long time to come.
 (Bob Pomerantz is founder and president of Your Life Productions, a Toronto-based company specializing in highly creative, meticulously crafted tribute videos).