Engaging Your Audience

Team Meeting

Team Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Engaging your audience is critical for designing effective documentation, videos or online training.  With needs analysis, you can build the right tools at the right time, saving hundreds of hours of rework or waste.

Here is a recent example. Not long ago, I was told by a leader in product development to build an internal training video on a new software feature in our software-as-a-service or SaaS offering. We had added the feature to stay competitive, and we were charging clients an extra fee for it.

I know video projects can easily take 50 to 75 hours. So, I set out to engage and meet the end users of the video. I found the product owner plus team leads in implementation, sales and support teams. I asked “Are you interested in a video on this topic?”

I found out there was only one client purchasing the new feature, a pilot client. A handful of people were engaged with the pilot client, including the product owner who already knew a great deal about the new feature. Within the largest teams, the implementation and support teams, the team leads told me this feature was simply too new to learn because it was not being used by the majority of clients.

I also knew from my own experience working in software companies that a new feature is subject to change, just like the first model of a car rolling off the factory line. Based on the pilot client’s feedback, the feature itself could be very different in a few months, both in workflow and appearance. Building a video too early might mean hours of redoing and adding content later.

In this case, instead of making a video, we simply made sure all product documentation was in place for our teams. The marketing team assembled a short slide deck to help our sales team explain and sell the new feature.

Then we waited for client adoption. I always keep proposal backlogs, and I kept checking back every month to gauge client interest on this feature. Once the pilot client had successfully implemented the feature plus a number of clients were starting to buy it, it was time to start making the video. I engaged the pilot team plus the product owner, and we made sure the original release documentation was updated based on what we learned in the pilot. I then produced, released, and advertised the new feature video with many successful views, because it was the right tool at the right time.

Building a piece of documentation, a video, or an online training course is often done without a direct connection to the audience. This may seem like an easy way to do the job. We just go build it, and keep our fingers crossed that someone uses it. I have seen this pattern over and over in different jobs, similar situations.

However, there is a great deal of risk in this method, and often many hours wasted. What if we spend 50-100 hours to build something too soon, and then we have to rebuild it again in a few months? What if the new feature cannot be sold for a year or is sold to only a few, reducing the value of the product documentation, video or course?

Engaging your audience and asking a few more questions before you start a large project is the smart and efficient way to go.


3 thoughts on “Engaging Your Audience

  1. Hello Holly!
    I think your point in on needs analysis is a very important aspect of engaging your audience. A little research can go a long way toward producing the type of presentation that would get your audience to participate. It shows that you understand what they may need as a team as well as individuals. That type of concern would get most clients to take interest for the sole reason that you showed interest in them. I am sure that when a client feels that they are valued they are more invested in the product.
    Your choice to start your pitch with something smaller and your view that the product was going to change in the near future probably saved your team a lot of time. With the constant change in technology, it was a good idea to create a presentation that could be updated and then build a more substantial video once you did the research and found out what would be best for your audience. Great ideas!

  2. Apologies for the incomplete comment.

    I was curious, do you think that there would be a risk of clients feeling that your team did not put together a more substantial presentation and then be put off by that? Would you also suggest putting together an introductory video to grab the clients interest? Maybe putting together a video that had the information that was provided during the slides could also draw some interest?
    I think your suggestions were still great, but I wanted to know your opinion on what you thought a blended approach might bring to the table for your clients. Thank you!!

    • Good points. Thanks for reading. I am glad you liked the blog. I will clarify the situation and what I did to reassure the leader initially.

      By the way, I don’t have to sell my work directly to clients as I do not own a business or work free lance (1099 work). I sell and manage my work from the inside as either a permanent employee or temporary employee working for a contracting agency (W2).

      In this case, I was a permanent employee with a heavy proposal backlog. I was the only one on my team making videos. I gathered enough details to write a short project plan, generate an outline of the proposed video, and capture resource links. I documented the names all of those involved in the needs analysis and my findings.

      I write short project plans often for video, e-learning or writing projects whether I’m a temporary or full-time permanent staff. It gives me a gate for project approval. If we find we want to start the project, then I’m executing against my plan. If the project is delayed, the plan gives me a strong foundation in writing to remember all the research and revisit it when the time is right. If I am a temporary or laid off, the plan gives someone else the needed foundation to continue the work.

      In this case, this leader was not put off that their proposal was too soon, and they were happy I did the research and wrote a plan for them initially. I gave them something, then checked back on a regular basis until the time was right.

      When you are coming from the outside doing a bid or one is competing for W2 work, I agree you might do other things for free because you are competing with others to land the job. In that case, what you do for work samples should match well to the job description, a mini version of it. I certainly put in 10-20 hours or more myself often to generate work samples.

      Unfortunately, it seems to be a trend at some software companies in Portland to hand you an assignment and give you a short time (a weekend and one business day) to generate a custom work sample. I’ve been asked to do this three times this year.

      Generating custom work samples under tight deadlines can be time consuming, and this is all custom work that is done for free that the company can then use for their own purposes. So to save time and ensure you control and own all the work you do for free, I do recommend generating your portfolio samples ahead of time to match up to the jobs you want. Larger, more mature companies will understand this approach, and they will appreciate you having a portfolio of work similar to their open position. I hope that helps! Thanks for reading the blog.

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