26 February 2014

Talking to users

This week I’ve been preparing Captivate videos with voiceovers for a client. It’s a task I particularly enjoy, and wish that more clients would request this kind of service. I think adding sound to training materials is brilliant for accessibility reasons, as well as improving the customer engagement with what can otherwise be very dry texts. You may be thinking of producing something similar in your organisation, so here are a few tips:

Learn the tools
Preparing a good software simulation or e-learning experience is a very different task to writing a manual or online help file. I see a lot of adverts out there for technical communication roles where Captivate is thrown in on the same list as Word. Captivate is excellent software, but in terms of complexity it sits somewhere between PowerPoint and the high end production software used to make movies. It’s relatively easy to learn, but tricky to master, and the difference will show in your final products. Help is at hand with some very nice on-demand training from Adobe, but nothing beats a bit of practice.
Choose a voice - watch the Simpsons!
If you don’t know the show, listen to a few episodes of the Simpsons before voicing training material... it’s an excellent guide to the non-verbal qualities we hear when people speak. When doing voiceovers, I’m always tempted to channel Troy McClure; the character famous for introducing himself at the start of his segments with comments like “Hi, I'm Troy McClure, you may remember me from such instructional videos as Mothballing Your Battleship and Dig Your Own Grave and Save”. I’m not talking about dropping in my own name, or having some other semi-comedic catch phrase. However, choosing Troy’s confident, paced timbre over Crusty’s manic laugh, Homer’s grunts, or any of the accent-heavy, metaphor-rich, and confusing dialogue we find from Willie, Apu, Mo or Bart pays off. Accents are a wonderful sign of the breadth of the English language, but if you’re constantly frustrated by automated telephone systems failing to understand you, then you might want to consider finding a colleague to read your script. Back up your planned voice with a nice microphone and Audacity and you’re good to go.
Have a conversation, with pauses
If users were able to cope with a deluge of information, they wouldn’t have started the training video in the first place. The last thing they want is more self-loathing because they can’t execute the steps fast enough to keep up with you. The lazy solution to this is to put a loop into the video so that they see and hear everything twice, in the hope that you’ll catch them the second time round. What I prefer is to have a more natural conversation with the user that includes details from the user case I’ve generated... so when documenting a course management platform, I’ll include information that may not make it into the manual, like the reasons an experienced teacher would choose to set certain genres of reading assignments, to give the user time to catch up with the on-screen steps.

A good tutorial video has many uses, it becomes business-wide content that can be streamed to the TV in the reception area, used by the marketing team at client presentations and trade fairs... most importantly it gives a real alternative to the written manual for users with accessibility issues or a paucity of time. If you’ve had any experiences (good or bad) with training videos and e-learning content, feel free to share in the comments below.


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