If I say “Corporate Training Video,” what comes to mind? A nervous, unfocused lecturer? Badly scripted, badly acted scenarios that just don’t ring true? Droning instructions read by a voice actor who clearly has no earthly idea what they’re talking about?
We’ve all suffered through this. Some of us have even spent embarrassingly large sums of money creating this in the past. But increasingly, we see our clients using simple tools and techniques to create videos with their subject matter experts (SMEs) that are vivid, effective, and true to life. This shouldn’t be surprising—how-to videos are regularly among the most popular content on YouTube. Learners have grown to love short-form, informal, imperfect instructional video.
For online learning experiences, adding video from a SME can create a human connection in an online learning experience in addition to enhancing the variety of content types in a course.
So here are some tips for making the best video content for your needs when using subject matter experts, whether they are outside experts, or those inside your institution with the tacit knowledge that needs sharing.
And no, we’re not going to say that your videos have to have Oscar-worthy production values to be of value! Low-fidelity video from a subject matter expert can often be as engaging as highly polished videos – it all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Great Uses of SME videos
First, some examples of good uses for SME videos. For static digital content, you can use SME videos to:
- Explicate and expand upon a point made in the copy or earlier course materials
- Give the learner/user someone to identify with
- Show processes that are best explained visually
- Add a “human” touch to what, for things like certification courses, can often be dry content
For interactive online learning experiences, all of the above, plus you have even more opportunities to create a human connection in the learner’s mind with the potentially disembodied-feeling online experience.
Some examples of SME video use cases for interactive experiences, with coinciding learner responses:
In an intro/welcome section with a video from a top-level executive: “Our CEO cares. She’s telling me why spending my time on this course is important.”
During Q&A in a cohort-driven time-bound learning experience: “The expert is answering our questions from last week. I feel heard!” and “Others have the same question...”
Use of an expert “war story,” case study setup or debrief: “This is a great story, love the passion.”
Here are some simple principles to steer to when you design and create short form video with a SME
Learners care about passion and knowledge more than they care about production value.
The video is black and white. The speaker is poorly lit. You notice the dark window behind her and the bags under her eyes, and you realize this was shot sometime after hours, against the deadline, by someone who has much more important things to do. And then the speaker, say an international expert on risk assessment, starts talking about what she knows, and everything else melts away. She breaks down key misconceptions of those new to the field, the most common cognitive errors people make about risk, and how steering your clients past those errors can yield competitive advantages. It’s captivating. She is fluent in the topic as only a true expert could be.
The lesson here? If you’re lucky enough to have passionate, articulate experts and leaders, get them on video by hook or by crook. It’s not as slick as something with a professional voice-over, but it’s cheaper, more credible, and more immediate. Sometimes production value is just dilution.
Focus your SMEs so Your Learners Can Focus on Learning
If you just sit down and interview a SME on camera, you might wind up trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear because you don’t know what they’ll say. Pre-interview them and prepare talking points, have a reason for shooting each section. Know to what end you’re asking each question or setting up each SME to speak. Have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Or, plan plan plan, but don’t necessarily script. You can’t “post-produce” better video content. In other words, if you capture crap, you’ll end up with crap. This means you’ll need to lightly storyboard each shot if you’re doing a more formal video shoot. In that case, prepare extensively! Validate lists of the angles and shots you want to capture, presentation slides, and talking points – filming SMEs is a journey you need to know where you’re going before you start.
Production value is less important than passion and engagement (to a point).
Quickly shot video from a webcam at a decent angle can be highly powerful. Basic information might just be being transmitted, but there’s an accompanying social emotion when seeing and hearing a real human rather than reading static copy. Prime examples of this in an online learning experience are SMEs using a webcam to answers questions or surface themes raised in a discussion forum of hundreds of learners. Seeing a leader’s response to learner input goes a long way towards creating a sense of community in an online environment, and the SME can do this wherever in the world they are with just a laptop.
Practice is essential for a SME video, but you want to make sure the video feels authentic and not overly rehearsed. Remind your SME of their passion for the topic and the need to convey that passion to the audience of learners. One way to do this is to capture key phrases the SME uses during practice that evoke emotion or indicate their deep feeling on the topic and suggest they say them again on camera.
Now, the to-a-point point: if the audio or video is of such poor quality that it’s hard to watch or impossible to make out, the user will click pause faster than you can say “jack rabbit”. The camera should be reasonably steady, the angle should be reasonably flattering to the speaker, and the audio has to be clear enough to hear. Once you’ve cleared the low hurdle of those basics, you can be off and running. Or, er, filming.
The “Instructor” Video Isn’t The End of the List
There are lots of ways to shoot a SME video that go past the “talking head” type of one-to-many connection. For instance:
- Shoot a coaching session with a stand-in learner to dialogue around a concept or work through a problem.
- Learner Q&A: Set up instructor as facilitating a Q&A session
- TIP: Plant audience questions that illuminate the concept. This works best when instructor is skilled at quick responses that move the message forward.
Things to avoid
- Temporal greetings (“Welcome on this lovely spring day”) because things will get dated fast
- References to “previous” or “later” segments – you may well wind up re-ordering things later on!
- Videos that are longer than 3-5 minutes. Hordes of research say that 3-5 minutes is a learner attention span sweet spot these days. You can go longer and make it work in certain circumstances, but as a rule of thumb, 3-5 minutes max. The beauty of the modern world of video editing software means that you can “chunk up” a longer lecture or video pretty easily into bite-sized and topic-focused pieces.
The upshot is, you can get highly impactful video in your online content with anything from minimal to maximum effort and have it increase learner/user engagement.