A woman in our department has been researching video for our help systems. People have been excited, but until yesterday, I must admit I wasn’t sure why. I attended a webinar about screencasts and read about how video might be a watershed skill for our industry, but the only reason I had gleaned was that YouTube is really, really popular.
I rarely watch video online. Unless it’s a funny meme I have deliberately searched for, or a show that I missed, or Netflix, I won’t press play. If a blog post is all video, I skip it. I rarely appreciate video instructions, either–they take too long, because I’m pausing, following the step, playing, pausing again. I was having trouble imagining how videos were going to improve our help systems or fit into our schedules.
Then came the product presentations. Our manager assigned us each a presentation about one of the products we document. The idea was we would learn more about our systems and how they integrated with each other. This assignment, and the results (if our training survey
is an indicator) were not joy and enlightenment. More like dread and boredom.
The writer who is researching video for us, Stacey Fiedler, does not do public speaking, or attention, or presentations. I gave her the option of leaving her name out of this post, which I’m glad she didn’t take me up on, because what she did to get around the public speaking part of the assignment was so good that she deserves major credit. She made a screencast. A badass, totally well-done screencast that I’m pretty sure everyone wished they had thought of. I wish I could show it to you here but the content is proprietary. Plus Stacey would not appreciate it.
We arrived for the presentation and Stacey pressed play. The video explained all the functionality of her product to us, at a high level, without her having to talk. And we liked it. I would have watched it again. I can’t say that about any of the other presentations, and I don’t think anyone would say it of mine. I’m embarrassed to say that my standard of watchability for my presentation was, “I don’t think anyone will lose their mind from boredom. I hope.” Like, at the most.
Another great thing: this product has historically had a bit of an image problem about being hard to use, and Stacey’s video made the product look easy. I laughed, I oohed and aahed at the graphics. I was enjoying the music and the smooth mousework, and I swear to God, I pictured myself clicking around competently in the product experiencing the same feelings I had while watching the video. What I mean is, the video evoked the feeling I get when I’m getting good work done to good music. I wanted to use the product. Hello? Major tech comm goal.
Another achievement: if I opened a help system and it had that video, I would immediately open every other help system in every other product I owned by that company. When I hear all the time, “ha, well no one is going to read this, anyway,” that is a big deal. That is key.
Okay, so obviously Stacey worked very hard on the video, and put a ton of thought into it, and the process was time consuming. She ended up with a video that–if the audio was redone with songs we had permission for– our sales manager should be proud to show prospective clients. I’m not kidding. If that video only lives in our training archives, it will be a damn shame.
So I have hope for screencasts. Not to replace our hundreds of procedures, but to do something new that we are missing entirely right now. And, I hope we are going to think about what that is and do it right. Because so far, my impression is that screencasts may be like newsletters–if the first one I open is packed with good content, I’ll probably open the next one, too. If not, I probably won’t.
I showed this post to Stacey at work today, and this is what she said:
I guess my Public Speaking professor was wrong when she said that I would need to become more comfortable when giving presentations because otherwise, I may miss an opportunity to get my message across. Ha!
In all seriousness, I think video is an incredibly effective tool for conveying a lot of information without overwhelming the user/audience. It’s stealth rather than gorilla. That really appeals to me.