All online training videos are not created equally. Right?
April 10, 2007 10:05 PM   Subscribe

What makes a good online training video? Besides decent software and production value.

I'm going to be doing both the voicework and screen capturing elements of a training video my company is doing for an insurance rating application we develop and maintain, which would then be supplied to our agents via the web.

And actually, the only part I really have to be concerned about is what I'm going to say, as I won't be in front of the camera, and we've hired a third party to handle all the actual production work (recording equipment, screen capturing software, conversion into some sort of downloadable Flash file and such, etc.).

But I found myself wondering, as I haven't had to watch many, or any, training videos, even less so online - what would you say separates the good from the bad?

While I certainly don't consider myself to have any sort of radio voice, I would imagine *not* speaking in monotone the entire time would be one thing.

The video will be broken up into meaningful chunks, so it won't have to be viewed as one big/long affair. It will most likely be an hour or so in total length.

If anyone has any experience in this area, do you find that it's best to work off a word-for-word script? Maybe just bullet points of things to cover? I suppose it's a YMMV type thing depending on how good you are at ad-libbing (me, not so much), but I'm simply wondering what the standard operating procedure for these things is, if there is one.

Also, any examples of what the hive mind out there considers to be exceptionally good, or bad, online training videos would be helpful as well.
posted by mrhaydel to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you really know your topic, then I would strongly suggest not reading from a script. Nothing makes people tune out and doze off more than a training video where the VO talent sounds like he/she is reading from a script.

I probably watch 4-6 hours of training videos per week for my job, and it's fair to say that the ones where the speaker is passionate and knowledgeable about the topic, and just "ad libbing" the presentation, are the ones from which I retain the most information.

That said, unless you're also a professional software demo person, don't literally ad-lib the entire presentation. You should definitely have a prepared outline with key points that you might forget about when you're in the thick of the actual recording. Even Steve Jobs does it, so don't hesitate to do the same.

For what it's worth, I recently posted about my experience with my very first software demo ever. (demo'ing Apple's Shake compositing software) .
posted by melorama at 10:18 PM on April 10, 2007

There is no standard procedure and I think you've answered your own question about scripting - write it word for word. If you want people to learn from what you are saying there is no reason why something you make up on the spot will be better than something you have prepared and thought about properly.

As far as your voice-over: read it standing up and over-exaggerate your intonation. Make sure you have plenty of time and the ability to edit your voiceover. It would also help to have someone over-see your read - someone in a director type role.

In general making it good tips: avoid humour unless you are 100% positive you are a comic genius.
posted by meech at 10:24 PM on April 10, 2007

I was going to link to a couple of good examples, but Youtube appears to be down...
posted by phaedon at 12:45 AM on April 11, 2007

Best answer: As for representative "good" examples of training videos, I recommend these (sorry these are all video/post-production specific, but since that's what I do for a living, I have pretty in-depth experience with video training products): I really, REALLY despise his intro music (and I mean, REALLLY despise it!), but he does a good job balancing the "scripted" and ad-libbing style of video training. is really hit-and-miss, but there are a few excellent presenters there, the Final Cut Pro training with Larry Jordan immediately comes to mind. He has a good off the cuff style.

• Check out some of Merlin Mann's Quicksilver tutorials on his video podcast, The Merlin Show. He's a good example of another aspect of video training which you should strive for, which is: be excited about the thing you are demonstrating, and try to impart to the viewer the impression that they should be excited about it too, because it will help with thier productivity or whatever your software is supposed to help them with.

• Aahron Rabinowitz has a video podcast dedicated to learning Adobe After Effects. His attempts at being funny sound a bit forced at times, but overall, I like his passionate style of teaching. It's so much easier to learn from someone who is so clearly passionate and knowledgeable about the topic

Total Training pretty much set the standard for in-depth software training videos 10 or so years ago with it's 14 VHS tape After Effects training series. Since then they've expanded to DVDs, as well as the entire Adobe line, as well as non video/graphics apps like MS Visual Studio. Quality has kinda gone downhill since theyve expanded their focus, but their Photoshop training and After Effects training videos are still good representative examples of why their presentation style has been the inspiration for so many other training video companies.
posted by melorama at 1:15 AM on April 11, 2007

Here's the number one thing that, for me, differentiates a good training video from a bad one:

One word:


Do not use something like your built-in mic on your laptop. Or the mic that comes with your $40 webcam. Or the built-in mic on your handheld digital video camera.

You're going to have to spend a little money on the microphone. I would guess it would be over $250.
posted by gregvr at 4:51 AM on April 11, 2007

Best answer: I'm "producing" a series of training videos that sound similar to what you're doing only for design software. I'd agree with some of the points above, although I don't think a script is necessary, but to meloramos point i do think having a list of key points is good.

But really it's familiarity with the material. It's all about confidence and as noted above, excitement. I don't think you have to be standing up unless it's comfortable for you.

Here are some things I highly recommend:
-It's mostly voiceover but there is a screen element and the one piece of advice I have is don't move your mouse unnecessarily . First time demo folks usually are excited or nervous and they move their mouse around in circles or back and forth.That cursor becomes visually distracting for the viewer. Force yourself to use deliberate movements and let the mouse rest when you're talking.

- You will flub up occasionally or the software won't do what it's supposed to. Don't get flustered. Take a deep breath and count to three. Then repeat the step or your words. You don't have to do the demo perfectly from beginning to end. The editor can put the pieces together. But it helps if you follow the above step and the cursor is in the same place.

For a 5 minute demo expect it to take 30-40 minutes of "producing" time. Preparation , rehearsal, second and third takes are all normal.

It's a cliche but try to have fun with it. At the same time, if your gut instinct tells you you're forcing humor,you probably are.

Good luck!
posted by jeremias at 6:25 AM on April 11, 2007

As a 3D game artist and vision science student, I am constantly consuming tons of video software training.

There are some things that make the experience highly unpleasant.

Long intros, bad music, and especially music that continues into the training. Leave the music out of it.

Mouth noises/swallowing/gulps/smacking (remember, most people will be listening with headphones and this is highly unpleasant stuff). Minimize it by going in short takes, drinking water, and editing it in post.

Reading from a script/monotony. I will just turn off.

Having the windows sounds enabled on your machine (though some people use the mouseclick sound; use your judgement).

Worst of all is your whining computer in the background. Use a high-quality microphone or headset microphone, with an outboard USB soundcard (to prevent picking up electrical noise). Put the tower under the desk, or, better, in the next room. A number of the best tutorials out there for Alias Maya (from Gnomon) have this f*cking whining computer in the background the whole time, and it ends up being really tiring.

Good luck with your project!
posted by fake at 6:37 AM on April 11, 2007

Couple of other points that occurred to me.

- Be direct in your instructions and descriptions, not wishy washy. Remember that this is training so people want clear, concise instructions. So the example not to follow is something like:" Press the button at the bottom of the screen and this window should open".

Well, the window either opens or it doesn't, so in your instruction be clear: "Click on the Submit button and the Print Window opens."

- Speak out the menu commands like so: "Choose File (pause), Print (pause) then click on the Landscape button".

A way to get yourself in the right frame of mind, perhaps read and go through a step by step tutorial. The Adobe Classroom in A Book samples are good because the language is usually consistent. Here's a random one for Photoshop. Notice how most of the steps begin with verbs: Choose, Select, Drag, Double-click. It's easier to write that way than it is to speak, but it's worth it to be clear.
posted by jeremias at 7:17 AM on April 11, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, I appreciate your input.

From the sound of it, it seems that one key thing is to most definitely have a good knowledge of the product (which I do), and be enthusiastic/excited about it, which I will be.

In going back and looking at the proposal from the third party company, it looks like we'll be using Adobe Captivate for capturing screen activity.

Anyone have any experience with it?

Also, as best I can tell, the equipment should be very decent, as apparently this is exactly what this third party does, and we're paying them about $15k for this, so I would certainly hope it's of decent quality.

Keep it coming.
posted by mrhaydel at 7:42 AM on April 11, 2007

I just signed up for video training, and while the vocal quality of the instructors is a bit hit or miss, I'm very pleased with the quality of the instruction. Finding people who know their subject cold, have the ability to teach and possess a golden throat

Another series I really like is Bert Monroy's Pixel Perfect. He's an amazing Photoshop artist, but what really gets me is his stage presence. The contrast between his voice (blue-collar inflection) and the topic (computer graphics) seals the deal for me. Seems like a nice guy you'd meet at a neighborhood bar.
posted by Scoo at 9:16 AM on April 11, 2007

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