Information Technology is one area of your company that requires consistent and ongoing training. As an MSP, clients rely on your expertise to guide them through the myriad of choices in both hardware and software. While some contracts end at the installation, I’ll bet your most valuable clients rely on your ability to help train employees in ways that make them more productive.
But what type of training works best?
In the past, MSPs have used in-person or in-house training sessions when a hands-on approach is required. I worked for a company that moved their wireless routers to new Cisco models. A team of trainers descended upon our office for a week to provide in-depth training to our team of technicians. This is an effective and expensive way to train a group of people in a short period of time. But what about my technicians who were on the road supporting ongoing events or those who were on vacation?
In cases like this, video-based training makes a lot of sense. This week I’d like to take a look at where video training can be utilized as well as include a few tips for making your training videos as effective as possible.
These are a set of starter tips for creating training videos. For an advanced course, you can checkout Ferry Vermeulen’s blog post and video on instrktiv.com. He covers syncing action and voice, respecting software interface sequence and a few other tricks to stimulate active processing and reduce cognitive load.
Some of you will turn your training over to professionals who create training videos for a living. If you’re in a position go this route, it’s a worthwhile option. But many MSPs will desire to create their own videos. This allows them to fully customize the video for their clients as well as insert their own personality into the video. I’m not saying this can’t be done at the professional level, but there’s a unique personal touch that comes through when creating your own training that’s difficult to duplicate elsewhere.
The first thing you will need is the right software. There are many options ranging from free to costing hundreds of dollars. You might come across software used for screencasting or video tutorial creation. In general terms, both can be used to create training videos.
I’ve tried a number of free or very lost cost options (under $30) and came away disappointed with each product. After a fair amount of trial and error, I’ve settled on a product called Camtasia Studio from TechSmith. It costs $299 for a single-user license and has a good balance of advanced features and usability. Adobe Captivate is another option, but I found it a lot more difficult to use compared to Camtasia. But it’s worth checking out if you’re familiar with other Adobe products such as Photoshop or Premiere.
I recommend starting with Camtasia Studio. This is a product that has a large user base and has been around for a while. As you might guess, Camtasia provides a ton of great tutorials for their products to help beginners. The tutorials also give you a good idea of the types of videos you can easily create.
Tips for Making Great Training Videos
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the software, it’s time to get filming. As excited as you might be about sharing your knowledge, training videos don’t exactly have the best reputation. Most training videos are dry and boring which means the concepts taught, as important as they might be, won’t be remembered. I’ve created a number of videos myself, so here are a few tips I’ve learned:
Keep it Brief. As you start recording you will like realize your video turned out a lot longer than you had planned on. One way to combat this is to script your training. But even then, you’ll probably find that your 10-minute training video is actually 20 minutes long. You might feel pressure to include one long training video that includes topic after topic, but resist this urge. I’ve found that creating a tight, compelling 3-minute video teaching a single concept is more valuable than a 20-minute video covering five concepts. Keep your presentation as brief as possible while still covering the concepts. I’m reminded of Stephen King, who wrote one of my favorite books about writing called On Writing. King said, “Leave out all the boring parts” and that’s good advice when creating a video. Include what you must say, and then get out.
Avoid Humor. It’s natural to be nervous initially, and you may have the urge to use humor to lighten the mood. I’m not going to say that you should never use humor, but use it sparingly. When it doesn’t work, it creates an awkward moment, and even when it does work, it can be a distraction. Go ahead and let your personality come through in the video, but intentionally inserting jokes into the video is unlikely to add anything of value.
Edit, Edit, Edit. If it takes you an hour to shoot your training video, plan to spend three to four times as long editing that same video. If you’ve created a script that will guide you through the training, have someone read it aloud, looking for areas to cut. Editing two hours of video takes a lot less time than editing four hours worth. This is the least exciting part of the video creation process, but it’s the most important.
Camera Quality. You don’t need to drop tens of thousands of dollars on a RED camera, but you will want to invest in a quality camera if you’re going to capture more than your screen. I’ve used $100 webcams that capture 1080p video that have worked well for some types of training. Of course, you’ll want a higher quality camera if you’ll be panning around a room or focusing on a specific item in less than ideal lighting conditions. The less light you have, the better quality camera you’ll need.
Audio Quality. While some people will prefer to use a headset with boom mic, I prefer to use a USB mic like those from Blue. You may have created the most compelling training on the planet, but viewers will tune out quickly if the audio quality is poor. Dropping even fifty bucks on a USB mic will drastically enhance the audio quality of your training.
Hire Talent. Nothing says “we had to slice the budget” like having Ron from accounting demo your new software while looking at the floor. There are times when it makes sense to hire on-screen or voice talent. On-screen talent can be expensive and requires a lot more preparation. Hiring voice talent tends to be less expensive and simple to integrate into your schedule. It might be as easy as sending a script to the voice talent. She records what’s needed and sends you the file to add to the video. But before you go this route, check around the office to see if anyone has done voice work before.
Do a Dry Run. If this is your first time recording or editing video and audio, you may want to consider doing a quick test. Take just a few minutes of footage and see what happens when you put it all together. It can be difficult to determine whether the lighting is acceptable or if the audio has too much background noise until you get to the editing phase, and you don’t want to be in a position where you either start again from scratch or end up with a poor result.
When I was learning about computers in the early 90s, I spent my evenings sitting on the floor of the University of Washington bookstore, devouring everything I could learn about the internet. Back then, you could find knowledge in books for the most part. Contrast that with today, where my son can solve a Rubik’s cube in under 20 seconds thanks to videos he watched on YouTube (he wants to break 15 seconds). As this generation moves into the workforce, video training will matter more than ever before.
Sending employees home with a manual on how to learn their way around the new CRM solution sounds absurd. But what if you, as an MSP, created five short videos showing employees their way around the software? I know which option I’d choose.