How Far Can You Push A Talking Head?

By Jerry Bader

Let’s talk about talking heads, and why adding one to your website might just be the smartness thing you’ve done since dumping the SUV and fast-food, and opting for hybrids and salads. Okay – perhaps that’s asking too much, but you get the point.

Talking heads, as we all know, is a reference to presentations, originally on television, where a host would sit or stand in front of a camera, usually shot from the waist up, for example, most evening news broadcasts. The term has taken on a negative connotation due to the common deadpan, lackluster delivery style often associated with this type of presentation. This is unfortunate, as the format is both economical and effective; and with a little creative writing, proper casting and direction, you can have a powerful, cost-effective, marketing and branding vehicle.

Real Talking Heads Versus Avatars

When we refer to talking heads we are referring to real people, not avatars or animations. Now I really like animation, and our company has done some real neat stuff using the technique, but in order to instill real human personality into a cartoon, even one that almost looks real, requires enormous time and cost; that is, if you want it to be effective.

For the most part, avatars and animations lack the human quirks and eccentricities that turn presentation into performance. I recently watched the big budget movie Beowulf, and sure I recognized Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, and Angelina Jolie, but trust me when I tell you, despite their distinctive voices, the real people are far more effective on-screen than their animated imitations.

Even with the high tech performance capture techniques used; the result resembles more of a stilted video game than an actual engaging performance. Talk about technique without purpose, let’s hire world famous actors, hook them up to wires and stuff, record all their performance movements, then hire a whole bunch of world renown animators and engineers, and turn the result into second-rate imitations of real people that lack the fluidity, expression, and the non verbal communication subtleties that make these actors effective. What a waste of money and effort. I mean at least they could have turned them into penguins or something, but I digress. The point is, using an avatar or cartoon on your site to deliver your marketing message instead of a real human being, is in most cases, a mistake.

6 Reasons For Using Talking Heads


So I’ve convinced you that animated avatars are not the way to go if you’re looking to inject some branding personality into your website. But why use a talking head at all? I mean, if you’re going to do video, why not some really neat dolly shots, mixed with a little handheld action, multiple set changes, and heck, why not a car chase, or even better, let’s blow something up? Yeah I know, you’re selling toupees, but what the hell, it would be viral! Don’t get me wrong, I like big budget projects as much as the next guy, but do you really want to pay for that kind of production, and more importantly, does it serve your purpose?

There are at least six sound practical reasons why a real-person, talking head makes good Web-marketing sense.

1. Technical Justification For Talking Heads

Let’s start with why video talking heads work well on the Web. Even with high speed broadband, you want your video to load as quickly as possible. When compressing video for the Web, the codec looks to see what pixels have changed from frame-to-frame. The less each frame changes the more the codec can compress the file without appreciable loss of quality. This is another reason why you want to use a real person; a professional actor, who can employ all his or her performance skills to communicate, using all the verbal and non-verbal techniques they’ve been trained to use.

2. Aesthetic Justification For Talking Heads

Websites are getting more and more cluttered as companies add links, advertisements, banners, notices, and whatever else they can think of. The result is a hard to read mess without any focused message or presentation. Businesses are obsessed with download times for fear of losing impatient visitors, but at the same time, they will throw everything but the kitchen sink at them, creating even more frustration than a slow download. A properly written and performed talking head video presentation cuts through all the clutter with a clear presentation of the singular focused message you want every visitor to receive. If every visitor stays long enough to view a two-minute, focused, entertaining, compelling video message, your website has done it’s job, and your sales should climb.

3. Branding Justification For Talking Heads

Conventional wisdom is the killer of effective sales and marketing. Whether it’s website design rules, or SEO tactics, or copycat competition, all websites are starting to look and feel alike. If you look and sound like everyone else, how do you expect to be remembered by your Web-visitors? Web-business is a process; it takes time to attract, develop, and close a sale by building a relationship. And that is not the easiest thing to do on a website that lacks any humanity or confidence-engendering communication.

Picking the right actor, giving him or her the right words to say, and adding the right memory and personality inducing mnemonic-digital enhancement gives your site a distinctive flavor and a brand personality.

4. Communication Justification For Talking Heads

The whole point of putting content on your website is that people are going to understand it. If they don’t comprehend what you’re saying, then you have failed. Communication is more than words; human beings are the only creatures that can communicate with infinite variation of meaning, nuance, and subtlety, using just a tilt of the head, or the raise of an eyebrow. If you want to connect on a human level with your audience, if you want to build a lasting relationship, and if you want to establish a distinctive image and barrier to competition, the easiest way to do it is with an entertaining, informative Web-host.

5. Sales Justification For Talking Heads

Ask yourself what’s the purpose of your website? If your answer is simply to sell more stuff, you’re in trouble before you start. It’s like counting by starting with the number three; you will never get it right because you started off wrong. Before you can sell more stuff, you have to set realistic customer expectations, inspire confidence in your ability to deliver, connect with your audience on a human level, open lines of communication to establish a relationship, and finally make a distinctive lasting impression. And what’s the easiest, quickest, and most successful method of accomplishing those objectives? Well if you haven’t got a talking head Web-host, perhaps it’s time to get one.

6. Cost Justification For Talking Heads

Everything has a cost; and effective, entertaining talking head video presentations that are created with a distinctive character and style, are no exception. Professional actors, quality scripts, stylish editing, and visual enhancements are a far more cost effective use of budgets than elaborate production scenarios, but in order to get your money’s worth, you must start with a clever concept, great creative, and professional implementation.

Talking Heads Don’t Have To Be Boring

Creating effective Web-video is about more than technical reasons and technology. It’s about effectively communicating your message in a distinctive, memorable manner, and that means great concept development, creative writing, and professional delivery. So how far can you push a talking head? Visit to find out.

About the Author: Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit,, and Contact at or telephone (905) 764-1246.


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