How To Win Video Contests (Even If You're Not a Pro!)

How to Blow the Competition Away When You Enter Video Contests

Mother filming her family for a video contest
••• Image (c) Simon McComb / Getty Images

Video contests have many benefits for the companies that run them. They generate content that can make their customers laugh, cry, and get emotionally involved, all at a very low cost compared to hiring a professional agency.

Companies can use those videos to spice up their blog posts, add interest to their websites, and even as television advertisements.

Even better, people love sharing great videos on social media, which can drive more followers for the sponsoring company — and hopefully, new customers as well.

For entrants, video contests offer a great opportunity as well. Why? Because the prizes can be stunningly large, but few people take the time to enter.

Where a randomly-drawn giveaway with a large prize will receive hundreds of thousands of entries, a video contest might receive only a few hundred. Those are amazing odds, making it worthwhile to take your shot at winning video contests.

How to Win Video Contests, Even If You're an Amateur

So why don't more people enter video contests? Many are worried that their video skills aren't great enough.

But you don't have to let those worries hold you back. Many winners aren't pros, but they are able to capture exactly what the sponsor is looking for.

Here are some tips that will help you to increase your odds of winning video contests and receiving amazing prizes.

Read the Rules Carefully

Before you start planning your contest-winning video, read through the rules. You don't want to get your heart set on a video idea, only to realize after you've invested a lot of time in it that it can't win because it doesn't fit the rules.

Here are some things to look for before entering a contest:

The Contest Theme

What is the sponsor trying to convey in the video? Are they looking for a particular angle or trying to promote healthy living, a new product, or something else? The contest's theme in the rules should answer this question.

End Date

How long do you have to put the video together before the contest ends? Making the perfect video won't help you if you submit it too late to be considered.

Movie Length

How much time will you have to convince the judges/voting public that your movie is the greatest? The allowed length of your film will influence the kind of story you can tell.

Format

Do you have to submit a tape, post your entry on YouTube, or upload it to the sponsor's site? You want to be well-prepared for how to submit your entry.

File Size

Are there restrictions regarding how large the file can be? If so, this could influence how you film your movie and how long it can be.

Other Considerations

Do you have to add music? Include a certain product? Avoid copyrighted material? Can others participate, or are you the only one allowed in the video? You need to know the answers to these questions before you can start coming up with a script.

Once you've read the rules, there are a few more important steps you should take before starting to write down your filming ideas.

Review the Judging Criteria

The next important thing to know is how the videos will be judged. Knowing what the judges are looking for can help you tailor your video to meet those expectations.

Here's an example of the judging criteria used in a 1-800-Flowers Contest:

  • Emotion: How moving and dramatic a story is told in the Video Submission.
  • How well does the Video Submission illustrate love and romance?
  • How universal is the appeal of the love story being told?
  • Relevance: How well does the Video Submission reflect the theme of the Contest "Video Valentine"

You can see how important it is to keep these criteria in mind before you start planning your video. If your first thought for a 1-800-Flowers video entry was showing how delighted your mom would be to receive a bouquet in the mail, then you'd need to scrap — or at least, greatly modify — your plan to fit these criteria.

Determine How the Winner Will Be Selected

One last thing to consider before starting to write your script is: Who will be doing the actual judging? Will it be a panel of judges hired by the sponsor? Will the video contest winners be determined by a public vote?

Knowing this ahead of time can help you create the most appealing video that you can.

Come Up with a Moving Story

Now, it's time to start thinking about your script. Brainstorm to come up with a short but powerful story that fits in with the theme of the contest and really connects with the viewer.

Humor is a good bet, since people love to laugh, and a video that makes them feel good will have an advantage. But you could also try to tug on the heartstrings with a sad story, or to appeal to the audience's sense of fairness, injustice, courage, or patriotism, to give just a few ideas.

Most important is to have a story that people will want to watch from beginning to end.

Start With a Strong Hook

Once you have your basic storyline, think about a gripping way to start your video entry.

If you can really captivate your audience with a strong hook in the first few seconds, you're well on your way to winning your video contest.

Don't be tempted to save your most moving shots for later in the video.

When Possible, Flatter Sponsors

If it's appropriate, mention the video contest's sponsor in your story, use one of their products as a prop, or even just have it in the background

Especially when the video will be judged by the sponsor, this can be an excellent and easy way to earn some goodwill.

Write Your Script

Now that you have a basic outline, it's time to write a script. A script will keep your story moving as you planned and prevent you from stumbling over your words when you film your video.

If you could use some tips about how to do this well, check out Biteable's tutorial on how to write a video script.

Practice reading the script in front of a mirror until you have it down pat — you don't want to read directly from your paper while you're filming your video contest entry or you'll sound stiff and wooden.

Test Your Script

After you've run through your script often enough to be familiar with it, test how long it takes you to read through it. Will your script fit into the maximum length of the movie?

It's a good idea to practice your script in front of friends or family members, to see if they have the reaction you were hoping for. Did it hit the emotional notes you planned?

Rewrite as Necessary

At this point, you'll tinker with your script. You might need to rework it if your test audience didn't react as you'd hoped.

You might also need to remove awkward phrases, cut it down to the right length, or perform other work on it.

Consider Your Setting

No matter how great your video is, you'll hurt your chances of winning contests if your background is messy, unattractive, or otherwise distracting.

Choose a plain backdrop like a white wall or a solid-colored door, or consider filming in an attractive location outdoors.

Film Your Video

After your script is polished and perfect and you've practiced it to the point where you can say your lines in a natural and animated way, it's time to actually do the filming.

It's best if you can enlist the help of a friend or family member to do the camera work for you.

Make sure you have good lighting so that people can see you clearly, but without glare.

You might want to try filming several different "takes" and selecting the one you like best to submit to the video contest.

Edit Your Video

You can do a lot of magic in post-production to make a great video fantastic. You can add music clips, change the coloring, speed up or slow down parts of a clip, add text overlays, and much more.

For some tips on getting started with this, check out Techsmith's free How to Edit Video class.

Submit Your Video to the Contest

Once you've filmed a video that you're happy with, double-checked that you've followed all of the contest guidelines, and are ready to go — upload your video to the contest and hope for the best. 

Then move on to the next video contest to enter!

Quick Tips:

  1. You don't need an expensive video camera to participate in video contests. Many digital cameras and cell phones have the ability to record perfectly acceptable video.
  2. If you have no way of filming your video, you might still be able to enter the contest by using photographs. Use a video program to make a slideshow of relevant photos and set them to music, or use a voice-over to tell your story.
  3. Do some research. See if the sponsor has run other video contests in the past, and if so, check out the winners' videos. Also, check out the commercials that the sponsors have made to get a feel for their audience and their preferences.
  4. Want some inspiration to help you come up with great stories that are short enough to submit to video contests? Visit YouTube and do a search for "best commercials." Ad agencies are paid big bucks to create short, moving stories, and you can learn a lot by watching the best of the best.