From years both working in and visiting radio and television stations and newspaper companies, I’ve discovered that success stories come not from people fueled by adrenaline, but from those who follow a disciplined approach to production. Here is a workflow that I follow when creating didactic video.
Start With a Learning Objective
Before you start doodling a storyboard on the back of a napkin, clarify your learning objective. What will the learner learn from your video? Most learning professionals have been taught Mager’s principles of writing learning objectives. Follow Mager’s principles and start the video production process with an objective just as you would if you were planning a training session. The more explicit your learning objective is, the easier it will be to evaluate every element of your video, to ensure that it works at achieving the objective.
Another point to consider: Don’t cram your video with loads of objectives. Set one objective and keep your video as short as it needs to be to achieve that objective. It’s more effective to spend five minutes reinforcing the same point so viewers remember it than cramming in five objectives that they will forget.
Define Your Audience
Who is your learner? Teaching CPR to a medical professional will be different from teaching it to a member of the public. What is your viewer’s level of expertise? This will help you work out what analogies to use and what assumptions you can make about their prior knowledge and expertise. Under what conditions are they learning? A medical professional may be watching the video in a break room, whereas a member of the public may be watching at home.
Ask If Video Is the Best Method When you are clear about your learning objective and who the learner is, ask yourself if video is the best tool to facilitate learning. Remember, video must be visual and it can’t handle complex or abstract theories. CPR works because it is visual. Legal policy or accounting rules probably will not work well in video. Be ruthless, because video takes time and money to create. If video is not the best option, save yourself the bother and save your viewer the time.
Do Your Research
Now that you have determined that video will indeed create an effective learning experience, it’s time to do the research. We’re talking here about classic instructional design work. Do a work and task analysis and get to know your topic inside out. Read up on it and interview some subject matter experts. Make sure you are up to speed on the latest techniques.
Brainstorm Story Ideas
Sit down and start thinking through how you may convey the learning objective visually. What stories can you use? What existing mental structures will your viewer have that you can tap into? What’s the best way to convey the information? Role plays, demonstrations, interviews, graphics? For a video on CPR, for example, you might choose a demo, a series of text graphics to reinforce your objective, and an interview or two: perhaps with a survivor about their CPR experience, or with an expert who performs CPR regularly.
If you plan a demo or role play, go and visit the location where you will film it to think about camera position and angles. It’s a good idea not to act solo at this stage—talk to colleagues or get them involved in the brainstorming. Keep notes of your thoughts and conversations. Start thinking about any music you plan to use, and what it would achieve narratively.
Draw a Storyboard
Now that you have a general idea about your video, it’s time to create a storyboard. Remember, a storyboard is not art, but is a visual sketch of what the viewer should see. It forces you to think about where you will place the camera (which saves time when shooting on location), what shot size to use, what camera angle, and what to have in shot or out of shot. You may find yourself doing several drafts and playing around with it until you are happy. When you are close to finishing, share it with your subject matter expert to be sure you’re on track.
If someone else will be editing the video, get their comments. They’ll have ideas you may not have considered, and it will get their minds ready for your project. When you review your storyboard, ask yourself how each shot helps achieve your learning objective. If there is any shot or effect in the storyboard that you can’t show achieves the learning objective, take it out.
Write the Script
You have the storyboard; now it’s time to write the script. Remember, the picture tells the story so any commentary, dialogue, or monologue must add new information to the picture. When you have this, you should have a two-columned script that you can circulate to people involved in the production. Make sure your subject matter expert signs off.
Plan Your Shoot
You’ve got your script and location primed— now it’s time to plan your shoot. This means: checking with facility management offices for permission to film; making sure you have parking permits if it involves driving to a location; booking equipment; lining up actors for demos and role plays; and lining up experts for interviews. It means buying or checking that you have licenses for any music you plan to use, and conducting a risk assessment so you’re ready for anything that may go wrong. You might also start work on any graphics you need to insert into the video.
Shoot Your Video
Now you’re ready: Head out and shoot the video. Follow your script and keep your storyboard handy for any last-minute reminders about how a shot should look. When you’re on location, look out for any visual element that is not in your storyboard that you can shoot and take back to edit as a backup cutaway. It’s a good idea to have the subject matter expert with you to sign off that each shot is accurate.
Ingest and Log Your Footage
After the shoot, come back to the office and ingest your video footage. Give each shot a filename that follows your standard convention. Write any notes you need for each individual shot and add any metadata such as “CU of CPR sign,” in case the footage can be used for other projects. Check that each clip’s quality is good enough. If not, perform the correction now and save it so it’s ready for editing. Disciplined operators will ingest and take care of these disciplines as soon as they return the camera. Even if they’re not going to edit the footage right away, good operators won’t leave it to the last minute and ingest the footage just before they start editing.
Conduct the Edit
When you’re ready, it’s time to edit everything together. That means positioning your video and graphics along the storyboard or timeline in your editing software, trimming each shot, adding effects, and then exporting. You may find that you need to go back and reshoot some footage. If you have planned well, this will not be necessary. When you have edited the video, create a low-resolution copy to circulate to whoever signs off on the video and also to the subject matter expert. Make sure the subject matter expert gives her approval. When you’re ready, export the master copy.
Have a Glass of Champagne
I know we’re talking about web video and not television. But a few years back, there was a time-honored tradition of celebrating the success of a television production with a glass of wine and some snacks. Celebrate your success! After all, it beats work.
This article is excerpted from Rapid Video Development for Trainers: How to Create Learning Videos Fast and Affordably (ASTD 2012). Rapid Video Development for Trainers meets the needs of companies and individuals who are thinking about or have dabbled in video production. Although producing focused, high quality video is well within the capability of nearly every development professional, the skill sets required to do so have not traditionally fallen within most trainers’ job descriptions.