How I filmed my first-ever TikTok (and it wasn’t horrible)
Updated: Feb 23, 2022
“I have absolutely NO idea what I’m doing,” I said to no one in particular, as squawking bright green parrots circled above me.
It was mid-October, and I was alone on our rooftop. At sunset. Surrounded by tall buildings and verdant hills in the distance.
The scene was perfect.
No, I was not enjoying a cocktail. Instead, mild concern grew from the pit of my stomach. As the minutes ticked by, I knew there was precious little daylight left. And natural lighting is ideal if you’re taking video of anything…including filming yourself, for a large potential audience.
So I took a deep breath and hit record.
This is not the story of a TikTok star. (Lol.) Nowhere close! But I’ve been asked about how and why I filmed this, and thought I’d share how I attempted my first TikTok for anyone who’d like to give the platform a try.
The reason I was bothering in the first place had to do with the smart and gracious Kelsey Alpaio, senior associate editor at Harvard Business Publishing. In a recent discussion, one of us had said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to do a ghosting-themed TikTok around Halloween?”
It would be recorded for HBR Ascend, Harvard Business Review’s column aimed at “helping young professionals find their place in the working world and realize their personal and career goals.”
1.3m followers. A slew of clever TikToks by their staff and guest creators.
What did I do, and what do I recommend?
1) Consult someone who uses the platform. That’d be my 17-year-old stepdaughter, Ronnie. She was a good sport about coaching me through some ideas and helping me to eliminate anything too ‘cringe.’ I definitely didn’t want that.
2) Divide your video into segments. Once I realized that this didn’t have to be a single piece of footage, my shoulders finally relaxed. I could film each one individually in different spots and didn’t have to memorize the whole thing. Phew!
2) Film multiple takes. I hit record and each segment was flawless? Nope…each section with a scene change (outdoors and indoors) was filmed at least a couple of times. Maybe other folks nail it the first time, but not me!
3) Decide each scene in advance. Hold the cat? Point over here? Look up or down? You want to have a set game plan re: gestures and ‘props’ (even adorable fuzzy living ones) to keep things visually interesting.
4) Practice every part at least once. Before filming, you should aim to do least one dry run, if not two. It helps you to come across more naturally, and you can remove any extraneous words that don’t seem to flow.
5) Leave the editing up to the pros. If it wasn’t for HBR, this might’ve meant enlisting the help of Ronnie, our TikTok aficionado. I am not a video editor and can’t pretend to know how to make little icons and text overlay look awesome or at least intentional.
Was it HBR Ascend’s best-performing video of all time? No.
Was it even in their top 25? Also no.
Most importantly, do I mind? Not at all. I experimented, learned, and lived to write the blog about it. No new dance moves were created (or botched) and no parrots were harmed in the filming of the video.
If you're wondering what you'd discuss, look to a recent blog post or Twitter thread of yours. You might tease out highlights from a LinkedIn post of your own or your company's that has performed particularly well. There are truly endless content ideas out there...if only we pause a moment and look for them.
For your viewing pleasure
Check out my TikTok debut and the article that inspired it: “So You Got Ghosted—at Work”.
Here are three TikToks the talented HBR team created from a few of my past articles:
· Three tips for getting a virtual internship featuring Kelsey Alpaio
· 10 things to consider negotiating when you get a job offer featuring Paige Cohen
· How to build a new habit featuring Christine Liu
This part is for the skeptics…
Why bother with TikTok at all? Some notable stats from the folks at Buffer:
· 1 billion active users
· Most downloaded app of 2021
· 40% growth last year
Even if you’re not into the fast-moving nature of the platform, consider whether your prospective students, clients or partners might be.
Know this: you don’t have to be immersed in a platform to try it out. There’s no rule that says you have to lurk for three months before creating. Go ahead and give it a try—for yourself or your organization.
Note: I joined TikTok because of this video, so I had little experience with the platform other than the occasional amusing links my friends would ‘curate’ on my behalf. (If you have such friends, thank them for their service.)
Follow HBRAscend and follow me, too! Feel free to reach out and AMA.