I recently attended a meeting with several scientists who need to make some training videos. Their company has a nice library of training videos that all follow the same general format: an expert from within the company talking about his or her subject, along with a few basic visuals. I was surprised at how animated these scientists became when we discussed their video library. They really don’t like the talking expert format. Though their company’s products are incredibly technical, what they want is very simple: they want their training videos to look like videos from America’s Test Kitchen.
Why the talking expert?
There are many reasons companies make talking expert training videos. First, they’re easy, fast, and inexpensive. There’s minimal planning, and all your video production company has to do is bring in a camera, film the talking expert, and add a few PowerPoint slides or b-roll shots.
Second, the talking expert is how companies know how to do training. Get a room, bring in an expert and put him or her at the front, have a projector for slides, and start the talking. Wouldn’t it make sense to assume that your viewers wanted the same thing in training videos that they get in training sessions?
Third, companies want to promote their experts’ expertise. Letting their experts talk seems like a good way to position them as knowledgeable.
A couple years ago, this format worked. People were used to sitting and listening to experts talk. But not anymore.
As my roomful of scientists was quick to point out, everything has changed.
America’s Test Kitchen, along with a plethora of other online video makers, has driven the change in people’s expectations for online training and how-to videos.
As a result, today’s viewer:
- doesn’t like to watch videos that only show a person talking
- doesn’t like videos that only have a few visuals
- doesn’t like static PowerPoint slides
- wants the person presenting to be friendly and natural, not stiff and uncomfortable
- wants their training in short videos that they can watch in their own order, not in one long video
- wants good production values. That means high-quality video and clean audio
In case you’ve never seen America’s Test Kitchen videos, here’s one on making your own marshmallows.
As you can see, this video is very different from older-style training videos.
Here are the elements that have changed:
Many times, corporate training videos place the speaker so that the background is neutral. They put the person in front of a whiteboard or a curtain, or next to a projector screen. The result is a dead composition, in which nothing is interesting and nothing is moving.
Or, if the training is occurring on a machine, they film the person standing next to the machine, which is sitting in a lab or factory. The lighting isn’t great, and there’s nothing interesting about the background . Again – boring composition.
The above America's Test Kitchen (ATK) video is the exact opposite. It’s filmed in the actual test kitchen, with people preparing actual food. One person is slicing potatoes, and snacking on them as she slices. It’s fun to look at, it’s visually interesting, and it’s real.
In this video, the visuals are NOT wide, static shots with nothing much happening. They are all close-ups on the process. They are well-lit and the look is gorgeous.
What if your visuals are PowerPoint slides?
The above video had no visuals other than live action. But many training videos use PowerPoint slides. What do you do about these?
Take a look at this Science of Good Cooking video, again from ATK. It has several visuals that, in an older video, might have been PowerPoint slides.
As you can see, the video is so high-quality that plain old PowerPoint slides would have looked awful. So ATK created a look for their visuals, to go with the rest of the video. The visuals are colorful and well-designed, with basic animations that add to the look – and allow the visuals to stay onscreen without feeling flat and dull.
My scientists were divided about the opening for training videos. A few of them liked it when the expert introduced himself or herself, like this: “Hi. I’m Dr. Smith, and today I’m going to show you…”
But most of them did not. It’s awkward and boring, they said. “I don’t care who the speaker is,” one scientist said. “I just want them to show me what it is they’re going to show me.”
In both of the above videos, the speakers don’t introduce themselves. Instead they jump right into talking about the topic of the video. But note: each had an opening graphic or else an onscreen title to identify the speaker.
One very important element that’s often overlooked is the quality of the audio. Did you notice the audio quality in the above videos? Probably not – because audio is something you don’t notice if it’s good. It only calls attention to itself when it’s poor.
So many training videos have lousy audio, because of background noise or a poor room or failure to use a good, dedicated microphone (not the camera mic). And nothing says low quality like lousy audio.
The takeaway: what do scientists know?
The scientists that were in my meeting are experts at complex science. They’re also quite opinionated about what they like and what they don’t. And remember - they may be scientists, but they’re also human beings like your audience. Their attention spans have decreased and their expectations have changed, thanks to the increased quality of online videos like ATK’s videos.
They want to make interesting, engaging, nice-to-look-at training videos. And your company probably should too.
If you'd like help finding the right video production company, this is the resource for you: