Technique – Effectively Using Video


Research is proving that video is becoming more and more popular as a training tool. We are also seeing evidence that content retention is stronger from video than it is from just audio or text on the screen. With the newer rapid eLearning tools, such as Captivate 6, and camcorders on our devices and in tablets, it becomes very simple for any of us to create video.

However, as with any technique, just because something is easy to do doesn’t mean something is actually easy to do. Remember all the crazy transitions and animations in PowerPoint? Just because you have access to them doesn’t mean you should use them without a real purpose behind why you are using them.

Hollywood has been creating film and video for many decades and they know how to create effective productions (generally speaking). Let’s look to them as a model. The big key is to plan ahead and not just rush to shoot the video.


Before you even shoot a frame of video, unless you are testing a theory, you should put your ideas to paper. You or your talents don’t need to use the script verbatim. But, it should provide you with a path to go down and keep you from veering into the “brain dump” territory that comes from a lack of direction or outline.

A basic script is simple to construct. It is two columns – audio (what you hear or what is spoken) on the left and video (what you see) is on the right. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just functional. If you use PowerPoint as your base development tool, you have this built in. You can use the Notes pages for this. I use the slide image as my visual and the notes area for my script. If I have special instructions for the slide, I use the symbols around the information and use all Caps for the text to cause it to stand out when I read my script.

I have found that typically scripting an opening, a closing, along with an outline of the content is good enough for my voice talent, since they are usually Subject Matter Experts (SME). I am not a SME, so I find that a full script is more effective for me.

I do my own voice work, but if you are bringing in a SME or a paid actor, it will be much more costly and time consuming if you don’t have some sort of script from which they can work. The less your talent or actors know about the content the more tightly you need to script.


With training videos, we are not creating epic masterpieces. We live with two generations of learners that have been trained by MTV, YouTube, and America’s Funniest Videos. That means most of your learners will probably have an attention span of about 5-7 minutes. The goal here is not plot or storyline. The goal is give the learner something they can use immediately and make the company a little bit better with each engagement. Get in and get out.

Think about how you use YouTube on your mobile device. When I use it, here’s what I do. I end up in a store looking for some product. I find that product and immediately want to learn more about it. I first scan the barcode to see what Amazon has to say about it – product reviews and pricing. Then, I immediately go to YouTube and look for demonstrations of the product use, ideas of how others have used it, tutorials (if appropriate), and so forth. All this will happen as I am standing in front of the product, at the store – or I will take the base information home and do this research on my own time on my laptop. Think of this environment as you create videos for your learners. How can you fit your content into this model?

When I created software demonstration videos, it became apparent that after about five minutes, viewers lost interest and sometimes even forgot information that was presented at the beginning. I also found that a brief introduction that framed the scenario or demonstration seemed to work really well and keep SME’s on track.


Your viewers are watching your videos for one reason – to learn something. Videos are not the place to inform them of all the reasons why what they are learning is important. Leave that for supplemental information – maybe an information sheet or training guide. If you need to include the details, make them bit players in your story – not the story itself. The goal here is ACTION! Give me something to DO. Here’s a suggestion for this type of content for new learners: Make a single video that covers just the minutia they need so they can understand the value of what you are offering. That way they can watch it once and then not have to deal with it again, if they return to the content later, where it becomes a distracting waste of their time.


Take a look at most TV shows (Tim Allen’s Home Improvement does not count) or movies and watch how they move from shot to shot and scene to scene. Typically it is a cut, a dissolve, or a fade to black/white. THAT’S IT! Yes, PowerPoint, Flash, Captivate, or most video editing software provides you with hundreds of options to move images and text around on the screen. That doesn’t mean you should use them. Outside of the example of Home Improvement, there is only one other example I can point to that moved from scene to scene effectively with something other than a cut or a dissolve. That example is Star Wars. So, unless you plan to actually be a novelty presentation (and you do so with the intention of creating that) or you are an epic space opera, stick to the convention.

If you are not familiar with the novelty transitions from Tim Allen’s show Home Improvement, here is a video that collects a bunch of them in a music video.

Here is a sampling of the wipes from the Star Wars Prequels. For some reason, in this environment, they work and are iconic. But many view these transitions, in other situations, to be cheap and unprofessional. As you can see here, they become their own show, which is exactly what you don’t want in training. My suggestion…don’t use them if you don’t have to.

Along with those words of wisdom, be predicable in what you do. If you fade text onto the screen, then you should ALWAYS fade text onto the screen. If you wipe arrows onto the screen, ALWAYS wipe arrows onto the screen. If you set a pattern and then break that pattern, it draws attention and creates a distraction. It makes the viewer ask “why did they choose to do that?” and they focus on that element, rather than on what you want them to focus on – the content they are learning.


Make sure your learners know what they watched and why they watched it. The goal is for there to be knowledge transfer or content remembrance. That’s why they are watching your videos in the first place. Videos still represent content – just in a different delivery mechanism. Therefore, you should still offer a quiz, ask an opinion, or review the content in some manner that is not a video, but rather a different delivery method. The fact that it is a different delivery method changes the way they interact with the content and causes the brain to “work” the content in a different way, assisting in processing the content and thus retention.


The end goal is preparation and awareness. It takes time and skill to create something that people like and are willing to watch. Just like eLearning, you need to know what you are creating before you start creating. You may create 5-7 minute videos, but if you make ten of them, you have about an hour’s worth of content which you are asking your learners to view. Your preparation will increase the odds that they will want to watch an hour of your content. Imagine having to watch an hour of someone else’s unscripted video that rambled in all different directions, provided you with a brain dump of data about why you needed to watch these videos, and moved from shot to shot or scene to scene with random effects that did not drive the content. How long would it take you to stop watching these videos? If you would not appreciate these types of videos, your learners probably won’t either.


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