I have always loved writing. I took every English class available in high school and college. I arrived in technical writing as a volunteer. For three years, I wrote technical directions, training materials, and software tips at The Standard before being promoted to a Systems Specialist role.
In recent years, I was fortunate to work on two large highly-skilled technical writing teams. I found it was common for writers on my teams to be a bit introverted when speaking to their peers across the organization. When I attended local DITA and Write the Docs networking events, I watched very talented and creative writers struggle to overcome their shyness, to find their voice.
I was a shy kid and teen, writing more than speaking. I broke out of it thanks to my mom and a local community theatre group. Acting roles and lessons helped me build the confidence I needed to speak in front of others. I became a receptionist immediately after high school at a local newspaper. While I was studying journalism, I learned how to use my voice to soothe agitated callers and greet anxious strangers. Later in life, I used my voice to launch quickly and naturally into my software trainer career. In recent years, I moved my voice online, switching my career focus to video and eLearning production.
Thanks to all of these experiences, I am a technical writer with a voice. It is rare to find others who understand and share my interest in both voice work and technical writing.
I was delighted this week to find a talented writer with a voice. I found Jeanne Faulkner through LinkedIn. Jeanne is a “writer, author, editor, writing coach, podcaster, voiceovers, advocate, registered nurse and then some.” I thoroughly enjoyed Jeanne’s podcast titled Raising Money-smart Kids exploring how and when children can learn financial responsibility and budgeting, a critical life skill.
There is a place in this world for writers with a voice.
Choosing a new Learning Management System (LMS) is a big task. Which features do we need? What can we do without? I had to answer this question for a software company this month.
Time to do research! What do our top eLearning leaders have to say about this topic? In this blog, I will outline three top resources I found on my research journey.
My first major resource on the LMS journey was an informative and lively podcast from Connie Malamed, the eLearning Coach. In her podcast titled The Strategic Use of Learning Management Systems, John Leh of Talented Learning speaks to the strategies he uses to help his clients through the myriad of LMS vendors. John recommends concentrating on the training needs of the LMS with stakeholders, then searching for a vendor that fits the organization’s needs. In the podcast, John speaks to LMS integration with other critical systems as well as how to measure the success of the LMS after implementation. After listening to this podcast, I was ready for more.
My second major resource was finding Capterra’s comprehensive LMS software list. Capterra is a free service that helps organizations find the best software for their needs, receiving income through vendor clickthroughs. This list clearly shows the choice is not all about price or reputation. No single LMS can fit all. We must consider the organization’s needs first, identify the desired features, and then select the appropriate software.
My curiosity drove me to take a closer look at LMS features. My third major resource was finding an eLearning Industry blog from a well known eLearning leader. Christopher Pappas writes candidly about LMS features in an insightful article Highly Overrated LMS Features and Functions You Can’t Do Without published in April 2021. Live chat? Video chat? Integration with a certification program? Christopher summarizes why organizations should or should not consider each feature.
With these three resources in hand, I felt prepared to go to the next step of analyzing the organization as a whole to determine the needs of each group of learners.
I hope you enjoyed this blog as much as I enjoyed the research and learning from these talented professionals.
This weekend marks the 20-year anniversary of 9/11. People ask where were you? It’s not so much my story that counts. It is the stories of others and what happened next.
I was on vacation at the Oregon coast sleeping in. My boyfriend was in bed next to me, and he had turned on the TV for the morning news just in time for us to watch the second tower fall. I’m glad we were together off work that day to grieve and watch the news. Shock and then concern filled my mind because I had three coworkers on my team in New York 10 blocks from ground zero that day.
I grieved for the New Yorkers. Images ran through my head of all the people I had met in person while working and living there for weeks at a time, part of my work as a technical trainer and curriculum architect. I stayed in a Marriott hotel one block from the twin towers. I walked to work, shopped locally, and became connected with the community. The little Amish market. The family-run Italian restaurant. The kind and diverse hotel staff. I knew their lives were forever changed if they had escaped to safety.
But there was nothing I could do. There was only silence for a long time. No airplanes in the sky and no news about my coworkers for days. Later I heard the stories.
The Manhattan IBM classroom was in a skyscraper 15 floors up. One set of classrooms had windows directly facing the twin towers. My coworkers and their students had a birds-eye view to witness of what happened only 10 blocks away as well as the large clouds of debris billowing through the streets. At first, everyone gathered in shock to watch. Together they made a decision to wait inside the building to be safe until some of the debris settled. Then the three instructors joined forces with their students to move to safety in small groups.
One instructor lived in New Jersey. She coordinated with her husband to drive their family van to the end of a bridge. She led a group of students on a long walk over that bridge so they could deliver everyone safely to local destinations. It was what everyone was doing to help each other that day. No questions asked. Just stepping up, reaching out, and doing the right thing.
Another instructor realized he left his wallet in the hotel that morning, so he banded together with another student and attempted to go back to the hotel. It was the Marriott where I had often stayed, only one block from ground zero. They didn’t make it all the way there because the hotel was on fire, and the debris was unpassable. Body parts visible in the street. It was traumatizing. So, they turned back. They formed a new plan. His student stayed with him, helped him, and vouched for his identity. With all this help, he was able to ride an Amtrak train to be with his family at home in Arizona.
In the days that followed, our business model changed. It became incredibly difficult to sell our core product of information technology training. Who wants to get on a plane, stay in hotel, and risk being in a big city for a class? Fortunately, I had started to design blended learning classes with a combination of in-person and remote work two years before. Now our customers only wanted remote training. This change took us a whole new direction for the coming years, just as the current pandemic has done today for the workplace.
The grief and sorrow over the loss of so many Americans cannot even be expressed in words for most of us. For the people who were there that day, the memories have changed and affected them for a lifetime.
In 2009, I was at a small local company where I met an IT administrator. He was a young New York firefighter at the time of 9/11. The subject came up because he was always playing music when he worked alone in the classrooms. He told me it was because of 9/11. He had the job of going back after the second tower fell and searching for the victims. He said there was only silence, too much silence. So, he deals with it, and fills silence with music years later.
This weekend as I sat in my backyard watching the planes pass overhead, I remembered 9/11. The day that all the planes stopped. Across the United States, we all stopped. When we started moving again, we remembered what was really important. People evaluated their relationships, divorced, had kids, or married. I did too. I split up with my boyfriend and started a completely new life within a year. Everyone’s focus turned to quality of life and what matters. Above all, we learned we could tackle adversity together. The power of good deeds and open minds following something so terrible has pulled us forward to a better future.
When we form a new team, how do we begin to trust and build respect for each other? How do leaders know they are doing the right thing? How do we know our employee’s strengths and build inclusion?
On understanding your employee’s strengths, the Clifton Strengths are an interesting personality analysis with a strong focus on what works for each individual. The results can be helpful when selecting staff for new projects or setting up collaborative teams.
I was required to take the Clifton Strengths survey when I joined my current team, and was given the book which explains each characteristic in depth. I later discussed the strengths with my manager and her team, revealing more about my personality and preferences to them. They shared their strengths and stories with me. I felt respected and included. When we gathered as a team to meet 40 other employees, we made little signs to encourage interaction.
On our diverse team, these signs helped people look deeper, beyond the outside appearances, at what each person could contribute to the team. It was okay to be different; we learned we could compliment and support each other in our projects because we were diverse.
I have seen deviant managers and employees destroy trust within their teams too often. At one large company, our leaders conducted an anonymous employee survey each year. The survey results were used to evaluate management, HR practices and culture, and create management action plans for the next year. I watched managers actively hunt down employees through their anonymous survey comments. Employees trust managers to do the right thing. When managers act in deviant ways or support deviant employees, all trust in that manager is destroyed.
I have also experienced the opposite. I have seen managers who respect their staff and encourage respect amongst their team. These managers actively and respectfully ask questions to determine people’s interests, preferences, and long-term goals. These managers treat their staff as unique individuals and celebrate each individual’s milestones, innovation, and accomplishments. They conduct team-building activities, organize breaks and lunches, and warmly welcome every new individual. They give employees time and directions to interact with each new team member. Once these managers learn what their employees want to do in their work, they use that information to introduce them to others, set up flexible work schedules, or improve their staff’s resumes by giving them challenging and interesting assignments.
I recommend this Society for Human Resource Management Building Trust as a Manager article to identify employees who lack trust in their leader. The article contains a series of steps we can take to become trust-worthy managers and supervisors.
I work in an organization with >40,000 employees, a very diverse global workforce. I am proud of our diversity. As an individual contributor, I build trust and respect often on my projects by stating my intentions, following through on my plans, communicating openly and honestly about issues, and being consistent in my communications with others regardless of the age, gender, race, religion, or other characteristics. When I see someone who is different being excluded, I actively reach out and make sure they are included. Building trust and respect is the key to creating that diverse and inclusive workforce.
I am a big fan of portfolio projects that have a purpose…do good things for others. I created this video in a collaborative volunteer project with UMACHA.org. It was a problem I have solved often in my recent work, creating a visual short educational video to replace an aged lengthy webinar.
The Training Director and I worked closely as I interpreted their two-year old webinar. Together, we validated my outline, script, new theme, and visuals were on track with her current goals for the AAP program. For visuals, I worked with the Marketing team to shop on Big Stock for graphics that fit the Midwest audience and theme using their current subscription. I used my own home sound recording studio for narration. I used Camtasia and PowerPoint plus kept the design very simple so I could turn the source files over to the Training Director at the end of the project for their own use. Files were shared via Google Drive and YouTube.
Frequent checkpoints with key stakeholders pay off. When the video reached the final stage of being reviewed by the Board, it passed with applause and no changes requested. It now sits on their website for their members, and it has served them well this year!
Start your new year right by listening to this fast-paced inspiring podcast by Clint H. Clarkson!
Last November, our Twitter #lrnchat group held a long synchronous discussion about the appropriate mix of learning and fun. In this weekly discussion, the moderators send out questions, and participants answer them based on their own experiences. Clint extracted key points from the discussion, added his own opinions, and produced this podcast.
Log into LinkedIn to learn more and access the podcast.
For a good laugh, Clint creates cartoons on instructional design topics, ones in which many of us find a very familiar mirror and story. Here is a sample on YouTube.
You can follow and find out more about Clint on Twitter at @ClintClarkson. To participate in #lrnchat, see tweets from @lrnchat to join us. Most weeks #lrnchat is live on Thursdays at 8:30-9:30pm ET/5:30-6:30pm PT.
The writing of this story was a volunteer team effort. First, I worked with Danny via email and LinkedIn to set up the tasks and timeline. I then reviewed Danny’s LinkedIn profile, and came up with all the questions about his background. He answered me in his own words. I did a round of rewriting and editorial work, and I then passed it on to the official PDXWIT.org editor for a final round. Once we agreed on the changes, the member story went to the publishing team. Once a month, the member stories are published on the PDXWIT Member Stories page. The publicity team then takes over, spreading the word.
In the last few weeks, I have been exploring podcasting for myself and others, so this blog is to share a few tips with you about the first stage.
I have been producing audio for videos for a number of years. Personally, I am interested in seeing if podcasting might be a good channel for producing fast, high-quality, cost-effective eLearning.
In my project, I am working with two teams of people who are new to audio production and podcasting. So today, I will share with you some of the things I’m sharing with them as we travel down this road.
To start, we need written content, a script, a set of interview questions, a person to interview, a theme or topic. Some people can start with an outline, and make things up as we often hear in a webinar, live radio show or live podcast. Others have a formal message to convey, so they do better with a carefully curated written script.
In all of the cases I am working with today, we have good ideas for content based off blogs, training webinars, and live events. We are simply using podcasting as another way to share our message.
For today’s example, I wrote a short speech about Dr. Pat Selinger for PDXWIT.org for their October Happy Hour. So, I simply reused that speech to create this sample podcast.
Microphone and Sound Booth
To start, a quality microphone make a big difference. I learned this lesson the hard way. You get what you pay for in microphones. A poor quality mic increases one’s editing and recording time. A few years ago I spent about $150, and I own a professional Blue Yeti mic with pop filter. I am doing a prerecorded podcast that matches my video work, so I have my sound booth (version 3) set up in my office closet complete with padded walls and ceiling. The sound booth cost very little. It was mostly a matter of gathering things around the house to make a padded space to eliminate echo and ceiling noise. Closets full of clothing are an easy way to start.
Sound Editing Software
To keep it simple, I used my familiar video editor, TechSmith’s Camtasia, to produce this file. There are other software solutions for sound editing that I will explore in later blogs.
Music helps the listener in so many ways, giving them auditory cues as well as bringing emotion to the audio. Professional podcasts often use music as cues in their show, and some may use sound effects to add additional interest.
Sometimes, I find it helpful to restrict music use in an audio track, to only use it to cue the listener, in order to leave the narration clear and crisp. This technique can be especially important if you have a wide variety of listeners from many geographic regions.
In this sample, the topic is light, and I wanted to add emotion. So, I placed the music throughout the audio.
TechSmith provides royalty-free music snips, so I listened to a number of them until I found the right match emotionally for the topic. Then I brought the music track into Camtasia, and I carefully edited it down to the right length to match the narration listening for beats and music cues.
I’m an amateur keyboard musician, and a long-time music lover. So, I’m sensitive to how the music sounds, and I want each fade and increase to happen at a time pleasing to the ear. It is a little detail, but one which increases the quality of the audio experience.
Producing the File
Once I had all those pieces in place, I rendered the file in an audio-only format M4A, a process that is much faster than producing a video file. There is some debate in the podcast world about MP3 files vs the newer M4A files. My tool, Camtasia, no longer produces MP3 files, so naturally I went with what I had, M4A format.
There are more details in producing a file I will cover later. For example, the actual file size is determine by the quality you select in production. I’ll speak to those topics in a later blog, because one’s choice of media server can help with these choices.
Publishing the File
Today, I published the audio file within my WordPress blog as a simple sample. I have recently upgraded this blog to a paid subscription that eliminates ads. Upgrading also allows me a small amount of audio and video storage.
That is not the end of the story on publishing podcasts. There is much more to say about preparing the file, publishing podcasts on a media server, and distributing them, also voice recording and audio tips. So I will return to blog more on those topics soon!
Good topic! How do we take lessons that seem dry and dull, for example, legal or compliance training, and turn them around to make it more interesting for learners? I do this work often, am always interested in learning more, and I appreciate the sharing of materials and resources from the Guild.
In this field, things change rapidly, and many of us work alone as the sole instructional designer or writer for our team or organization. I often go to their site to solve eLearning problems. So, I am definitely thinking of going from the free subscription to Pro to take a deeper dive into the content.
As members of the Guild, seasoned industry experts share resources and host webinars all around the topics of eLearning. This group provides community functions too, for example, they conduct events, survey members and publish an annual salary survey, and host a job board.
If you have not checked them out, I do highly recommend it here as well as on my Resources page.
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.
The first college course I took at Portland Community College (PCC) was karate. I had good reasons. I was a beautiful young girl walking dangerous streets every night.
This dangerous walk was not by accident. It was part of my career plans. Throughout high school I studied English, typing, stenography, bookkeeping, and participated in a work-study program to become a secretary. The week I finished high school, I moved to Oregon to be with my boyfriend. I had a place to live with him and his family, but wanted to work quickly to support myself. His parents had two teens, a daughter and son, to worry about.
Following my career plan, I started working any jobs I could land in the secretarial field to support myself. My money went to buy food, clothes, save for our own place, pay medical and dental bills, and make payments on our first car.
Within a year, I landed my dream job as a real secretary to two executives at a real estate investment firm in downtown Portland, Oregon. I wanted to work in Portland for my career, not the atmosphere. Portland was a gritty city. Portland was not the mini-Manhattan it is today with good restaurants, trendy bars, beautiful hotels, and fancy shops on every corner. We had major urban blight. Pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers lived downtown in low-rent motels, lingered on street corners, and actively worked their trade every day and night.
Like myself, plenty of business people worked in downtown Portland, but few stayed to shop or eat in the evening. In fact, there was no place to hang out in the evening as most services shut down. Each night I walked a long 15 blocks to meet up with my future father-in-law, as he was my carpool ride home to our country house in Aurora, Oregon. I was constantly being followed by pimps who called out directly “hey baby” or much scarier silent sinister types.
PCC offered a physical education class in karate after work, the perfect antidote. My future sister-in-law and I signed up together and bought the required white belt outfits. We quickly discovered this outfit wasn’t really designed for women, so we used safety pins to hold the top part together. Both of us were very fit from daily running, hiking, or playing tennis together, weighing in at around 110 pounds each. We arrived the first day to find we were the only women in the class. So naturally, the instructor made us sparring partners.
Karate was fun and challenging. It built our physical strength, and gave both of us a great aerobic workout. It taught us mental strength and agility. The 12-week class was based on defense against attacks, from behind, from the front, being punched, kicked, and so on. The instructor drilled into everyone to block, twist, defend yourself fast in one or two key blows, then run. Plus karate was credit class. It still counts on my transcript today as my physical education credit towards my degree.
Yes, that first college class in karate was life-changing. Even the first week, I walked my commute in those dangerous streets a new brave woman, knowing if I needed to, I could “block, kick, punch, and run”.
Check out these three TED talks for some interesting ideas about robots, how we interact with them, and our future.
Kate Darling tells a fascinating story about our human nature and toy or household robots. I do talk to my floor robots, named both of them, and they sometimes call for my help. I have deep empathy for other people and animals. So I do expect if I had toy robots, the bond would run deep quickly.
Social scientist Leila Takayama shares interesting ideas putting remote workers into robot bodies. She too starts with household robots. However, when her team experiments deeper with robots and remote collaboration, it becomes fascinating how people can quickly lose track of human on either side, the ones interacting with the robot or operating it. On the other hand, the robot does put a face to remote workers, giving them a place at the table or in meetings.
Marc Raibert introduces us to a very large dog or delivery robot that I find a little creepy. Happy Halloween! Spot is a very useful robot with a very sophisticated design. The size, design and scale for mobility and item delivery make this robot look and act much more like those we see in the Terminator movies. Despite feeling uneasy about this one, I had to laugh when his team pushed and pulled this robot through real-world challenges.
In this video about remote teams, Lara Owen ties together environment, emotional intelligence, remote management, and the sense of belonging.
She uses classic leadership theories at GitHub to encourage diversity, empathy, and plus to help remote employees fight impostor syndrome, start out on the right foot and stay connected. Fantastic! Watch it to the end to learn. This is Lara as a keynote speaker at a conference, showing her experience, studies in leadership, and sharing business practices, not the usual “come to work here” presentation.
I was inspired last month by a volunteer writing project, a history speech for PDXWIT.org on Dr. Pat Selinger, a true pioneer who changed the future for relational database work in her very first job at IBM over 40 years ago. Plus in recent years she has paid it forward in mentoring since that was the key to her success.
“What I think mentoring does for people is to bring a third view, an experienced practical view, and it gives people a sense that they do have choices and that they have much more control over the directions of their careers than they think they have.”
I agree. I think highly of my mentors who helped me launch my tech career and pay it forward often.
I applaud speeches and efforts like this one to encourage women to enter the tech field and stay there. This mentoring work is part of my life every day.
This TED talk struck a chord with me about my own actions in being brave and imperfect. I remember my own hesitation 21 years ago to try a difficult challenge, to move from business user training to technical training. I remember my mentor’s support and encouragement.
I took the challenge with my mentor’s help. I learned I could have good days in tech, and bad days with unresolved problems. In 1998, I worked my first overnight session and fixed a critical problem just in time for FedEx to pick up the cases of laptops. It was on time, but it wasn’t perfect. The problem popped up again a few weeks later. I remember trying on my own in troubleshooting, reaching out for help, educated guesses, reaching out again, and solving big problems with the right people and perseverance.
The big moment when I learned and taught my first MCSE course on Networking Essentials was an eye-opener. With my mentor at my side, I started to see myself as a limitless person and a nerd. I became brave and curious. I haven’t stopped since.
Today, being brave and imperfect means many things to me. Trying out new tools, creating projects, and sharing the results quickly. Imperfect means accepting you have done your best, and releasing your work when the time is right. So much better than waiting, questioning, revising, and questioning yourself until you missed the opportunity, and the things you created are no longer relevant. One can always learn and revise later!
Being brave means being true to my gut instincts about following the work I will enjoy, because that work makes me jump out of bed and eager to start my day.
I apply for jobs when I think the fit is right, and I meet most of the qualifications, not 100% of them. I know job descriptions can be incomplete or inflated to super-star levels based on past performers, or left untouched for years with tools and practices no longer in use.
In today’s world, so many people are quick to judge others based on external values and rules. I am told to hide my age, hide my valuable experiences, to write my resume a certain way, and to not be truthful in order to make it past automated screening systems, corporate recruiters, and hiring managers.
However, I disagree. It is what I think about myself, my life-long learning, my skills, my successes, my interest in nerdy work, and my passion for sharing knowledge that matters. I am the sum of many experiences over 24 years working in creative, innovative, software-oriented jobs that I wanted to do. I don’t leave my career to chance. I have worked hard, often for years, to prepare for and land each job that brought me incredible insights and experiences. I have followed my heart to do what I love to do. So, now I’m looking for my next adventure. I’m a nerd, brave, and imperfect.
A quick video that explores a creative problem solving technique I use often in my instructional design work when organizing content, writing scripts, or designing graphics.
When I learn any new tools or techniques, I always assign myself a short project. This project started with my desire to explore the challenges in upgrading to the latest Camtasia platform. With most tools being simplified or moved to unusual locations, I challenged myself to work through each road block.
This project showcases graphic techniques for learning, which I found reinforced in my recent reading of a short book by Connie Malamed, Visual Language for Designers. The graphics are designed to reduce the cognitive load and allow for faster transfer of learning from short-term to long-term memory. See The eLearning Coach for Connie Malamed’s podcasts, books, and helpful blogs.
When I work on small portfolio projects for myself, it is outside the realm of external influences and standards. With such freedom, I had fun brainstorming and designing for this topic. Still, one cannot go off the deep end. I designed each element for continuity and consistency with this video’s theme. I had to ensure the video fits with my existing video collection. Notice the use of the following elements:
fonts, music, transitions, and background choices to fit the theme
colors with meaning
the consistent hat theme for reinforcement
original simple photos, graphics, and video
reinforcement techniques in presenting labels and text graphics
use of casual tone, friendly, humorous voice work
Throughout the video, I strove to keep things very simple so the viewer could interpret and apply the theme to their own world. My own methods vary greatly. I might collect information commuting on a train, organize sources in Google Suite, visualize in PowerPoint or Visio, and wake up to capture bright ideas at 2:00 am in my phone. Those methods work for me. With this simple paper theme, the method should become less relevant. Each viewer can find their own way to apply the concepts.
What if we thought of in terms of learner’s time when designing video content or online courses? Can we increase engagement and adoption in what we produce?
In my last job, I was hired to set up a new video program for a product documentation team. A few pilot videos 20-30 minutes long had been created by the team to start the program. The pilot work included tracking production hours to show a rough relationship between length of content and production.
I decided to find out what the audience needed. The learners consisted of software developers, systems engineers, and client-facing teams (sales, implementation, and support teams). Everyone had heavy workloads, so learners had just a few minutes between meetings, production tasks, or urgent client requests to watch a video.
After learning about the audience’s time constraints, I then questioned the idea of a 20-30 minute video. Would viewers commit to a lengthy format for every video? Or was the length of the pilot videos a measure of success for our team before needs analysis?
I then set out to establish a new condensed video structure based on our audience’s time constraints with an overall goal of 10 minutes or less for new videos.
To condense content, I focused each short video on solving a core problem. I often used expert-led webinars as sources. By focusing on the core problem, it was easy to cut 30 minutes of wordy lecture to 10 minutes of video. In some cases, I restricted the video content to concepts, and then led the learner to read guides for the details. In certain cases, content proposed for one video could be moved into two or three smaller videos.
My audience was dealing with a wide variety of new information daily plus many distractions, strong barriers to retention. The learners had strong need to be able to stop and start the videos or return to the videos many weeks later for reinforcement. To increase retention, I added structures within the 10-minute videos to divide content into smaller 1 to 2-minute segments.
By reducing time commitments for the busy audience, I was building videos with concise, focused, quality content. Learners and their leaders commented with enthusiasm on the short value-packed format. In our reports, I could see how much viewers enjoyed the content. They would often watch one small video, then voluntarily watch a second or third video in a row.
I found a few side benefits on the production side. With a shorter format, I could ensure steady stream of new releases and revisions. Experts were more likely to participate in quality reviews. Plus I found locating and reusing content was faster in smaller project files.
Redesigning for the learner’s time constraints turned out to be a win-win for myself, my team, and for my audience.
Be sure to check out this excellent article from Chris Larson at TechSmith. Chris breaks down needs for those of us creating videos and compares three popular online video platforms (OVPs):
Chris starts with the basics in flow and comparison charts, for example, which platforms allow commercial content. Plus he delivers helpful background information like explaining the high definition video problem, that is, how some platforms substitute low resolution versions that may fail to preserve clarity on screencasts and PowerPoint slide graphics. Low resolution might not matter on a cat or dog video, but it can make an educational video useless.
Revisions are a natural part of managing any video library. We all want consistent content that is easy to manage and distribute, so Chris reminds us of a few key points. Can you replace videos without disturbing the URL? How about the ability to create private links or password-protected links? Many of us highly value the ability to create draft storyboard videos or to share our content in a limited manner when conducting expert or peer reviews before the final release.
Most of us choose our video platform in order to store and deliver large video files, and our content needs can escalate quickly. What level of storage works for you? Is retention length for inactive content a concern for you?
Knowing your intended audience and what they expect helps us make better choices. Do you want ads or monetization? Does your video contain copyrighted material? Do you need a platform with a large consumer audience and analytics?
Overall, I found this TechSmith article a compelling read that drew me in with the three platform comparison, and kept me engaged with the facts and figures. Many thanks to Chris Larson for writing it, plus to Wendy Hamilton at TechSmith for sharing it on LinkedIn.
This past month I was reminded by several people of the importance of an online portfolio.
How does one find the time? It’s tough. I understand. The past year for me has been spent purging my old home, looking for and buying a newer home, dealing with endless contractors and repair nightmares to fix both my old and new homes to a decent state, selling my old home, and lots of moving stuff.
I am happy to be in one home now dealing with those contractors at a slower pace. I am still surrounded by unpacked boxes as I launch my next portfolio project. On the other hand, why put it off? It’s time to put on those gloves and start again.
Today I organized my workshop into a set of easy-to-follow pages. Start here, and see where it takes you! Good luck!