Production expert Claire Sutton explains how to get the best out of
customised training videos
Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living and I reply that I work for
a corporate video production company it generally provokes the same response.
"Oh you mean those ones with comedians?"
When I say "no, we produce tailor-made videos for all kinds of clients
on subjects as diverse as recruitment, training, sales, PR and induction",
their eyes glaze over. "Training videos! Training videos are boring aren’t
they?" Well, no, not if they’re well researched, written and produced.
So what makes a good training video? Stephanie Blackshaw is a training
officer with a leading mobile phone company. She leads sessions for call centre
staff in customer service and management skills.
"A good training video has got to have clear, concise learning and
clarification of learning points", she says. "It’s also got to be
interesting and sometimes humorous."
So we’re back to well-known comedians again? Well not necessarily. According
to one insurance head of training, too much humour can detract from the
training message. He says he uses the highly successful Video Arts programmes
only as a light-hearted, relaxing end to a training session. Getting the right
balance of information and interest requires a skillful blend of the right
script, the right director, and the right cast and crew.
Ronald Dunkley has been a scriptwriter of corporate films for many years and
estimates that he has written more than 60 training videos. He says the most
important thing about a training programme is its tone of voice. "It must
be on level terms with the audience, and not talk down to them."
Director Mike Kidd agrees: "If the audience feels the film is plodding
and they’re back at school then that’s not really what you want. You’ve got to
address them as adults." His philosophy is to keep it simple. "Don’t
try and get too clever or arty farty, which may not sit comfortably with the
subject", he says.
This is borne out by Blackshaw’s choice of favourite training video. It’s
called Lessons from Geese and is only three minutes long. It consists entirely
of shots of geese flying in formation with an imaginative music soundtrack.
Training points appear on screen throughout explaining why the geese fly as
they do. For instance, the lead goose honks to give directions and every so
often they change leaders. Blackshaw says "It looks at the whole idea of
teamwork, but makes you think about it in a different way."
Producer Barry Palin acknowledges that the development of new technology has
made the modern audio-visual industry a very different animal but maintains
that the underlying values remain true.
"Times change, but imaginative and cost-effective videos continue to be
an important component of internal communications, even if delivery systems
include CD-Roms and DVDs."
As far as training is concerned, the medium can often be the key to
successfully presenting the message. According to an NOP survey, video improves
the recall of information by 50 per cent when compared to print-based
Dunkley believes that the strength of video as a training tool lies in the fact
that "everybody loves a movie". He asserts that even people who’ve
never read a book are likely to be turned on by something on screen.
It is also more likely that an audience will remain interested if they feel
the programme has direct relevance to them. This is where the tailor-made video
has a distinct advantage over the generic variety. Blackshaw says all the
videos she works with are off-the-shelf which can have its downside. "We
use a lot of call-centre videos, but they don’t usually include scenarios to do
with the mobile phone industry."
Allister Langlois’s Guernsey-based company, Organisation Development,
designs and produces corporate training packages. He agrees that each one
should be "customer-focused" and "needs-led". And he points
out that these needs come from two separate quarters, the candidate and the
"The candidate must find it fun, interesting and most of all relevant
to their ‘real world’ and the company must feel that the correct messages are
being presented. This means that you have to do some very close listening to
find out what the different criteria are. Once you know that, the trick is to
create scenarios that both will recognise and believe."
For the director, to turn the words of the script into an interesting programme
is all about the choice of cast members and getting the right performances from
Mike Kidd acknowledges that "training videos are difficult for actors
because they know that, basically, they’re just giving out information. But
they have to be able to do it in an engaging way and inject it with realism so
that it looks like they understand the job".
One approach is to mingle the performers with genuine employees. A good
actor will be able to build a rapport with the workers which in turn will add
believability to the scene. And, as Kidd points out, it may also save your
client money: "It doesn’t cost any more to get a good actor than a bad
one" he says, "and it’s usually cheaper in the long run because they
get the job done quicker so you save on overtime."
One of the questions most frequently asked by clients, and initially the
most difficult to answer, is: ‘How much is it going to cost?’ Before the
creative concept has been agreed this can only be broadly discussed. Barry
Palin’s solution is to offer a no-obligation proposal document in which a
number of ideas are suggested and indications of budget given.
But it’s not always true that the bigger the budget the better the film.
Kidd says: "If you’ve got a tight budget you tend to work your way out of
it, whereas if you’ve got a big budget you just spend it and it won’t
necessarily show up on screen." He warns, however, that: "It should
never look like a tight budget."
Corporate programmes may range from two minutes of edited vox pops to modular
training packages involving international shooting and numerous language
versions. But whatever the type and whatever the budget, a training video must
attract as well as instruct and, above all, be relevant.
How a management development video was put together
When we were commissioned by Organisation Development to
produce a management development film
for the Meat Training Council little did we realise that within weeks the whole
project would be in jeopardy due to the disastrous outbreak of Foot & Mouth
disease. Trying to obtain filming
access to abattoirs, livestock markets and cutting plants could hardly have
been worse timing and in some cases proved impossible. However the chosen
locations were extremely helpful and provided the programme with an interesting
and realistic backdrop to our training scenarios.
The script called for actors in the main roles but with genuine
employees acting alongside. At the
casting session it was stressed to the actors that they should not be at all
squeamish and similarly the crew were warned that this may not be the right
project for vegetarians! It was
important that the actors were able to engage and interact with the employees
and the calibre and personality of both performers and workers meant that the
technique worked very well. In fact the
workers we featured turned out to be perfect. At Safeway in Northampton Ryan
played his role of errant meat-counter assistant with just the right amount of
insolent indifference to his manager, played by actor Alan Stocks. And on the boning line at Dawn Meats cutting
worker Sarah nobly agreed to become a rather confused ‘Doris’, much to the
amusement of her colleagues.
Attention to detail is fundamental in corporate video because
the programmes are seen by people who know and understand their industry. That
means that as producers it is important for us to work within the client’s
routines and procedures (causing as little disruption as possible!). When shooting an interview scene at Saxby’s
for example the question arose as to whether a manager would actually interview
a potential employee whilst still wearing his head cover and boots. After discussion with the Saxby’s team it
was agreed this was normal practice.
Believability is the key.
But if the shoot was interesting for us, our activities were
probably equally interesting for the staff at our locations. We received brilliant co-operation from
the management and workers and we think
the end result definitely reflects the team effort.
Screen dreams: Tip
tips for video success
Before commissioning a tailor-made video, you need to consider
the following points
– What is the message and its desired effect?
– Who will the audience be and how will they view the
production-group seminars or one-to-one tuition? Do you envisage it being used
with support material such as workbooks?
– Is there a target budget?
– Is there an ideal length for the video?
– Is there a production date by which it should be ready?
– On what format will it be distributed?
– What is the expected useful lifespan of the video – five
years or six months?
– Will any foreign or alternative versions be required?
– Is there any existing research material which may be useful
to guide the script writer?
– Is there a corporate or house style that you want to stick to
or get away from?
Claire Sutton is production
co-ordinator for Barry Palin Associates
Tel 020 8394 5660