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Yesterday I had coffee with a fellow instructional designer. She spoke about how videos are perfect for some of the things she’s tasked with teaching before adding “… of course I don’t have the budget to do that”. It was the second time I’d heard exactly that line in the last week alone.

My company started life as a TV production crew. We hold many awards for video and while it was certainly true once that with video you could have quality or economy – not both – it equally surely is not true now. When GVM started life we bought three massive editing computers and spent half a million dollars; today we do far more on low end laptops.

We used to spend tens of thousands on fancy cameras and a great deal on tapes. It would cost a few thousand for an autocue complete with a specialist to drive it. Many videos now are shot on a smartphone on a tripod. There are no tapes required and the autocue has become an onld iPad with a free app.  Video production has become so easy for our clients to do that our role now is often simply to point them in the right direction and let them go.

So long as you have the basics right – your camera’s mounted (please! no queezycam!), your scene’s well lit and the audio is crisp (and no…  that doesn’t have to be expensive either) – a few basic tips is all you’ll need for a DIY video that passes the watercooler test, so I thought I’d share a few…

Know what you want

We’ve all seen those painful internally-produced videos that just seem to try hard for authenticity but fail. They look amateurish with overacting, poor editing and ultimately the message is lost.

I’ll let you into a little secret – the difference between that and a professional job is often pretty small.

More often than not, the amateur director simply forgets what they are trying to achieve. Once we get a camera in our hands we forget everything we know about messaging and about why we’re filming and are led by the medium.

A professional is simply clearer about what they are doing, why they are doing it and above all what they are not doing… and they adhere to it.

My advice is to do what you know – in fact an instructional designer is not unlike a scriptwriter in many ways – start with what you know. Before you do anything else, complete the following:

My audience is comprised of members of the  _____________ (single) persona. I need them to know ___________ so that they can __________ (single goal). I will do this by showing them ___________ because our analysis shows that other approaches don’t work well due to __________.

Use a minimalist approach from there. Nothing you shoot should be unscripted and nothing you script should not be germaine to the goal you have set above.

Know the medium

In the last section I suggested restrictingg video to situations where “other approaches don’t work well”. That might sound like I am advocating video only as a last resort. In fact my point is different. If you have a good solution, use it. Like any medium, video should be used where it is the best approach. Those cringeworthy efforts we sometimes see are typically produced for their own sake – “Have camera, will shoot”.

A professional director would never commence work before knowing your alternative approaches. They go far beyond “what are we saying” to understand “and why do you want me to be the one to say it?” Armed with that, they add nuance. They study YouTube to find others who have grappled with the same issues. They think about how to deliver those messages that have proved challenging to convey through casting and setting decisions. They remain focussed on the challenges, not the decoration.

Never forget that you do have options. Just because your teaching point has not done well in a classroom, an animation or an eLearning course, does not mean video is your only option. The options available to us are expanding all the time. (I’d like to offer a shout out to Jennifer Gallegos and Matt Sparks here – they recently wrote a terrific article on the use of immersive audio – a form of VR – and talk about its capacity to draw the listener’s attention to key points using sound alone.)

Less is More

Your viewer has a superpower – the “scrub forward” slider.

You have a single defence – relevance. Never attempt to make more than a single significant point in a video before allowing the person to stop and reflect. You have reserved a space in a conversation – don’t get greedy. For the same reason, the moment your video runs over 90 seconds it’s doomed to be fast forwarded.

Beyond adding carefully considered dot points, I would never use effects in a training video – for something that will take a lot of effort you are almost certainly going to add something that you will love and others will smirk at. Again, the issue is relevance. Remember a director has a budget too – they add effects because they need them and only then. Your audience has been brought up expecting that an effect is there for a particularly important reason. If it’s purely aesthetic is simply cuts against our intuitive grain.

Don’t tell, show

If you have chosen video as your medium, presumably your message isn’t well conveyed through telling. You chose video because you want to show something, so do that.

In film and TV, the term used to describe a situation where characters explain something to us is “exposition”. Writing these scenes is one of the most challenging tasks for any scriptwriter.

You know the one… the scene at the end of every B-grade detective show where the hero responds to that question “there’s just one thing I don’t get…”. I’m cringing just thinking about it!  Unfortunately, unless you are a gifted screenwriter, your expositions will always look forced. In you need exposition, you probably shouln’t have chosen this medium.

Show us! The best videos work with the sound off. That’s a great test and in fact, you may find that’s how they are played at times. After all, in an office setting it’s often impractical to turn sound on.

Finally, always ensure your scenes have motion in them – people are moving naturally and providing an example of the poit you’re making (rather than glued to a spot talking about it).