Producing video training curriculum

One of the Big Projects (okay, the only Big Project) I am working on right now for PixelMill involves designing, writing, and producing training videos as part of a curriculum for an Unnamed Company. Anyone following me on Twitter is probably tired of my same ol’ tweets — “storyboarding video curriculum,” “writing training video script,” “producing video training.”

I’ve made several little training video segments in the past for PixelMill, but this particular Big Project had several parameters that forced me to work differently.

  • I had to help plan an overall curriculum, in contrast to the one-time discrete training videos I’ve created in the past.
  • Each “session” had to be from one hour to two hours long, in contrast to the 3-5 minute training videos I’m used to creating.
  • I was personally unfamiliar with part of the curriculum and had to be brought up to speed by others, so I had to also learn as I was planning things out.
  • With my other videos, I’m the sole author, editor, and producer. For this project, at least two other people had to review and approve the videos, so I had to be prepared for changes.
  • We had to be prepared for the eventuality of updating portions of the videos as the Unnamed Company updated things on their end.

For this kind of large-scale training where portions of the video training would be updated in the future and content would be approved, I had to approach the project with scalability in mind and develop strategies for minimizing the stuff that takes the longest — i.e., actually creating the videos and rendering them. Here are some of the strategies I used:

  • Chapters. I split up the larger sessions into smaller “chapters.” The chapters ended up being in the 10-20 minute range. As the chapters covered specific, discrete topics, it will be easy to add on new chapters if necessary in the future. This also makes the rendering process a little easier, as you can produce smaller segments instead of one huge movie.
  • Storyboard. I created an Illustrator template to use as a “storyboard” with spaces for diagrams/screenshots and text. In hindsight, this was not the most efficient way of doing it; a PowerPoint presentation would have been much faster and just as effective and probably would have saved time in the long run because I had to recreate some of the diagrams in PowerPoint anyway. (At least it looked pretty.) Creating a storyboard allowed the reviewers to get my visuals as well as the gist of what I would say in the video, so that they could provide edits or point me in a different direction.
  • Scripting. Initially, I tried just going off the notes in my storyboard and taking a more informal approach to creating the video by “talking through it.” This did not work very well. I’d find myself stuttering or saying “um” a lot as I tried to find the right words to explain something, and then I’d have to re-record. Then, as feedback came back and I had to actually edit the video itself, I found myself having to play segments of the video back again and again so that I could recall what I needed to re-say. After doing a few segments this way, I ended up taking an extra hour or two per chapter to actually script out everything that I would say. The presentation isn’t as “natural,” although I try my best to keep my tone and phrasing natural, but it sure saves me a lot of time in the long run, particularly when I need to go back and re-record a segment.
  • Segmenting. Instead of recording a video in one shot (which works if the video is five minutes long, but not so well if it’s 20 minutes long), I began recording very small segments. Some were as little as 1 minute long; others were up to 3 or 4 minutes depending on when a natural break could come in. Even with the extra time to click “record” and “stop” and “save” for each segment, I think this saved time in the long run because I didn’t have the pressure to “not mess up” that I would have had in a longer segment. It was then easy enough to piece these segments together in Camtasia. This also made it very easy to replace those segments with new versions when changes needed to be made.

Some technical details — I’m using Camtasia to record and edit the video segments. I have a Plantronics DSP 500 headset which makes me look a bit like Princess Leia but is comfortable to wear. I switch between recording a PowerPoint presentation and “live” computer-task capture; Camtasia captures mouse movement (and can highlight clicks, add sound effects for mouse-clicking or typing, etc.). During the editing process, I also like Camtasia’s “zoom and pan” feature, where you can select a specific area of the screen to show. Camtasia also allows you to add “callouts” with many different built-in shapes (arrows, rounded boxes, etc.) if you need to add text or notes to the screen.

Branding the videos was going to be important; Camtasia has a way to add a “watermark” of a logo graphic to really, any part of the video window (the part where the video is playing, not the external interface). You can choose what location to place the graphic (I’m displaying the logo in the lower-right corner) and what level of transparency, or allow Camtasia to create a “bevel” effect. I choose to keep the logo at 100% opacity, and make a conscious effort to leave the bottom right corner relatively free of visual stuff so that it doesn’t overlap anything important. Putting the logo directly into the video this way allows the branding to stay consistent even if we produce the video in multiple formats, such as for Quicktime or Windows Media.

I’ve got quite a ways to go on this Big Project — and not very much time left — but I’ve already gained some valuable lessons by working on it. I hope this has helped those of you who are thinking of creating video training — and if you have your own tips, please share them in the comments.

5 thoughts on “Producing video training curriculum

  1. Thanks for this post. I’ve been thinking of creating a general training video for clients for their websites as opposed to just talking them through on the phone or some other way. This helps figure things out. Are you using Camtasia on PC or Mac?

  2. We will be using Camtasia at our office too. We have an old, old, old version, but I’m headed to a conference in a few weeks, and will see if I can get the latest. Did you teach yourself? Use online info? Any tutorials that came with the software?

  3. Doodah – I was self-taught. There is a pretty thorough “help” section (your typical software help, not video help), and TechSmith has a learning center with written and video tutorials.

    The hardest part for me, starting out, was realizing that I had to plug in my headset BEFORE starting Camtasia. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why my voice wasn’t recording!🙂

  4. LOL! That’s like the old IT adage: “Is your computer/printer/fax/etc. plugged in/turned on?” Thanks for the info on the headset. I need one for home and was going to start researching this week.

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