Training videos and nervous experts

A well-programmed and efficiently-used training video is a resource which makes learning easier. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s an irreplaceable and unbeatable resource for learning; especially when it comes to encouraging tacit knowledge, which is the result of experience and/or observation.

So what exactly do we mean by “well-programmed and efficiently-used”? Basically, that it should respond to learning objectives in which video is the most appropriate tool. It is not about showing videos just because they look good or because it’s a trend, but showing them because they’re actually really interesting and add value.

So, the first question you should be asking yourself before including a video in a training resource has to be: is it more effective for students to see or to read about this?

If you want to explain costodiaphragmatic breathing as a relaxation technique, your best bet will be to show the process rather than have the student read about it; yet if you want to teach constitutional law, text will be required and, therefore, unavoidable. We could also discuss what the text should be like and what its benefits are, but that’s another story and it might well come up in a future post in this blog. For the time being, let’s just focus on this: some types of content require resources which make it easier to take in information slowly, or to help structure different levels or different materials, depending on the students’ learning styles. For other types of contents, a video is worth a thousand words.

Once you’ve decided that video is the most appropriate resource, the second question you should be asking is what type of video you’re going to use: which will be the most useful for the student to learn.

Training videos can be classified as follows:

  • Simulations.
  • Documentary or storytelling videos.
  • Video-recorded practices or experiments.
  • Motivational video.
  • Explanation or lesson by an expert.

Which one should you choose? Imagine you’re training medical staff in an emergency service. You want them to learn how to do the most common stitching. It is obvious that a practice video in which we see how the stitching is done will be much more useful than listening to someone talking about, say, diamond stitching, without seeing it, as if they were talking about sewing a tiara! Similarly, you can show a simulation video, if you want to teach the use of a corporate computer application, or a documentary or storytelling video, if you want to show students the Earth’s rotation and translation. As we have seen, there are numerous possibilities and you’ll have to choose the one which suits your didactical objectives best.

And then, what do you need to consider? Basically, absolutely everything related to production, scripting and postproduction of the video: from the location, to the music and the speaking itself. However, the choice and direction of the person who is going to speak in the video, should it be required, tends to be rather a sensitive and delicate issue.

Cameras are strange elements which are always around (except in Big Brother, so they say!), and yet most people simply are not comfortable in front of them. The paraphernalia associated to a camera makes the most competent speaker feel like a molecule being examined through a microscope, by a group of chemists interested in its slightest movement.

Doing a recording is not just about having a camera and a tripod (fortunately, we have to admit they’re becoming smaller and smaller). Firstly, you’re likely to need more than one. Then, you need to place a microphone on the person who is going to speak. You also need big, powerful spotlights to illuminate the room; maybe a video output with a monitor, and almost certainly many metres of long cables with an exceptionally thick plug at the end. And then, there’s the team crowding the room with suitcases, battery chargers and all kinds of replacement material;, speaking in their own particular lingo and, just before the expert starts to speak, they’ll place a white paper in front of the expert’s face. All very natural, of course.

You also need to take into account that some people are basically very camera shy. Quite apart from having to stare at a cold and impersonal lens, and the obsession of many experts who feel compelled to say exactly what they’ve memorised, word by word, or even read it, in spite of having no experience in using a teleprompter…

Can anything be done about it? Yes, after 18 years of professional experience, 11 of them recording many interviews on a daily basis, I can safely say that there’s a lot that can be done.

First of all, you have to choose your speakers well. You want an expert, ok. It’s not about hiring professional actors or actresses with perfect diction, or experts, even if they might be endorsing the product with their credibility, if they have a pronunciation defect which makes them difficult to understand.

Secondly, speakers need to understand the recording process. It’s advisable to be meticulous and explain all the details, even relevant suggestions about clothes, hairstyle… You might have an expert with the best speaking skills, calmly speaking in front of the camera, but the recording will be a disaster if she wears a necklace which hits the microphone or if she wears a checked sweater which creates a moiré effect. Not to mention if she turns up dressed in green when you’re going to record her with a green screen background!

Similarly, we have to ask them to prepare their speech and to have everything ready for the day and time scheduled. But, above all, you have to answer all their doubts, make them feel you are taking care of them and that it’s your job to make theirs a little bit easier. That’s why it’s a good idea to contact them several times during the production phase. This will contribute towards creating a comfortable and relaxed environment.

Thirdly, it is a good idea to give the speaker someone to look at. It’s no good if they recite something they’ve learnt by heart. No matter how well they do it, the audience will notice. As we’ve already mentioned, reading from a teleprompter doesn’t work well either if they are not used to doing so, as the spectator will notice the movement in their eyes. It is not advisable to ask them to look directly at the camera when giving a speech, even if you don’t mind spending time repeating or editing the recording as many times as it takes. The best thing to do is to place a person near the lens so that the speaker can look into his or her eyes when they speak.

And lastly, give the speaker someone to talk to. In my opinion, the best way to record an expert for a training video is by using an interview technique. The presence of an interviewer and the question-answer format are useful for calming speakers down, directing and focusing their speech, obtaining more specific explanations, asking them to repeat things in a friendlier way, reducing tiredness… You can also obtain results which are easier to edit and which you can surely make the most of. And above all, your ultimate objective: it allows you to create a video which is more consistent with the learning objectives you have set out.

All these rules may be summarised with one basic idea: show empathy at all times.

There are no more secrets. The key factor is to put yourself in the place of the people you’re going to record and treat them, as Kant said, as you would like to be treated. And that’s all, from me, for the moment. The following line of this post is reserved for your comments.

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