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Videos are risky business

Part 1: Intro videos

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‘Everyone has a really short attention span, and you have to bombard them with content, content, content’ – RuPaul

Now, I’m 99% positive RuPaul was not talking about online training when he made this statement, but he’s pretty spot on. The average attention span is only 8 seconds. So, if we want to break through that eighth second and keep our learners attention, we have to give them content that’s engaging.

In an attempt to engage, we see video and animation being used time and time again in many different environments, and online learning is no exception. But are we using it in the right way, or are we just creating a jazzed-up version of what we’ve been doing all along?

Here at THRIVE HQ, we’ve been putting a lot of thought into this question recently. And we thought we’d share what we’ve learned in this two-part blog. For this instalment, we’ll focus on the infamous intro video.

Intro videos

THRIVE’s opening line to any piece of off-the-shelf (OTS) content is an intro video, usually an animation. Sounds straightforward enough, right? Wrong. With more years than we’d care to admit under our belts, the content team have written, designed, animated and endured their fair share of intro videos. We’ll hold our hands up and say we haven’t always got it right – we’ve been guilty of some of what I’m about to say – but we have learned a lot in the process.

Our Head of Learning Design, Meg, ran a workshop on intro videos last week, so I’ll share with you what I learned, and Meg’s handy tips for creating them.

First, what’s the purpose of an intro video?

THRIVE believe an intro video should grab our learner’s attention and make them want to learn about the topic. It’s absolutely not a general introduction to a topic, and shouldn’t actually teach any content.

I know that’s a pretty bold statement, but we looked back through our OTS content and cherry picked 5 of our best intro videos.

  • A drink driving warning in the form of a poem
  • A Lord Kitchener/WW2 propaganda-inspired sustainability campaign
  • A photographic montage of brands we see around us, every day
  • A teamwork case study on how Queen made Bohemian Rhapsody
  • A comic strip-inspired sequence of real-world slips, trips and falls

You can see that these varied widely, but there were four key things that were consistent across all of them.

1.    One key message

How many of us have sat through drawn-out intro videos which attempt to introduce a topic, tell you what you’ll do in the next 60 minutes of elearning, and explain complex navigation and gamification? Let’s face it, our learners won’t remember 90% of it and will have switched off after 8 seconds.

On the whole, the content in THRIVE’s intro videos is pretty limited and they don’t try to teach at all. They average just 43 seconds in duration, with that time being devoted to engagement rather reams of information.

So our top tip here:

  • Decide on one key message and worry less about teaching content. Focus on engaging your learners.

2. The element of surprise

One thing we see all the time in our industry is repetition. We do something great, clients tell us it’s great, so we just keep repeating that same format from project to project, client to client. And sure, it might work at first, but it soon becomes predictable. And that is not engaging.

All of THRIVE’s videos are innovative because they come from an unexpected angle. Maybe they parody something recognisable or include a seemingly unrelated story. Perhaps they’re in a novel format, there’s unexpected humour or they’re emotionally impactful. In some cases, they set the scene for a unique theme or story that runs throughout the rest of the content.

So our top tip here:

  • Grab your learners’ attention with the element of surprise and think about how you can speak to their emotions.

3. Words are expensive

How many videos have you watched and thought: “Well, that was obvious” or “Everyone knows that”? Our industry is guilty of getting too caught up in the details and underestimating our learners, resulting in long videos full of definition and over-explanation.

THRIVE’s animations are concise, keeping words to a minimum. We use visuals to portray content just as much as text or voiceover. We don’t state the obvious, showing rather than explaining, and making our learners connect the dots themselves.

So our top tip here is two-fold:

  • In the world of video, words are expensive real estate. Write, write and rewrite until you’ve eliminated every single unnecessary word.
  • On-screen action isn’t just there to decorate text or voiceover. Content should be conveyed through the visuals as much as through the words you use.

4. Conversational tone

“A good listener creates a workplace environment where everyone feels safe to express ideas, opinions and feelings. They can creatively solve problems in partnership and they can save time, avoiding conflict and misunderstanding.”

No one speaks like this. So why do so many intro videos have voiceover of this ilk? Online learning has adopted a certain “tone” and formality, yet the way learners consume information in their personal lives is rapidly moving away from that. So why aren’t our intro videos, or indeed our content, following suit?

At THRIVE, we’re making a stance. Our intro videos are all about being conversational, both with on-screen text and voiceover. Whether written or narrated, videos best come across like a person naturally talking. Sentences are short and simple, and formal wording is avoided.

So our top tip here:

  • Make sure everything sounds like natural conversation. Read it out loud at least twice to check – if you would say it differently, change it.

Other quick wins

From our experience, considering these four things will help to create impactful videos that will truly hook your learners’ attention. But there are loads of other elements, along with a whole load of creativity, that come together to create an engaging intro video. To finish off, here are some extra video tips:

  • I know I keep saying it, but the first 8 seconds are crucial. So make those opening frames exciting.
  • People love a good story. A narrative or interesting story can be an effective way to get learners invested. But remember, make it relevant and keep it snappy!
  • Humour. As well as getting learners interested, humour can also emphasise the shock value of more serious content by contrast. Use it with care and don’t offend.
  • Avoid clashes or tedious duplication. When there’s voiceover, on-screen text should only pull out a few key words or phrases. It shouldn’t repeat what’s being said or show dramatically different words.

And last but not least, make sure it adds value. If a video could be replaced with a text and graphic stepped screen, you’re probably not using it in the right way. You’re just creating a jazzed-up version of what you’ve been doing all along.

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