Creating Training Videos

A classical problem is that you launch your BI initiative and do lots of hands on training and send your analysts out into the world.  They’ll retain some small fraction of what you’ve shown them (more than likely where the Export to Excel button is) and call you if they get stuck.  Eventually, everyone finds their place in BI and business moves along.

The problem is when new users inevitably show up.  The common case is that another end user shows them the 3 things they know, and the person just tries to figure out the rest.  If there is any custom made documentation that you provided in the beginning, it’s almost certainly been lost, outdated, or no one has time to read it.  Personally, I perform a quick 1 on 1 (usually via Web Meeting) with each new user, which takes about 20 minutes to give them the overview of what exactly BI is, how to use it, where to go, and send them on their way.  This is pretty boring for me as it’s incredibly repetitive, not to mention not very efficient.

The solution to those problems is to create some Training Videos!

The output of something colorful and tangible is fantastic.  No new user wants to be handed a stack of papers and told, “read these 50 pages”.  But hand them a link to stream 30 minutes worth of Training Videos, and they think it’s pretty cool that they get paid to watch TV.  You also have the advantage of being able to provide these training resources tailored to your environment.  Users will see a familiar interface, familiar projects and reports, and you can exclude features you don’t use or have enabled.

My Tools
Software

  • There are lots of screen recorders on the market, but I personally prefer TechSmith Camtasia.  It’s incredibly easy to use and very powerful.  It’s reasonably priced, and I’ve never had any trouble with it after using many different versions for the last 4yrs or so.
  • You’ll need a place to host the training videos.  I prefer exporting them as streaming Flash videos, and hosting them on a simple website on my MicroStrategy Web Server.  I personally create a /training folder under the root of that web server, so that if the normal URL is bi.company.com, then this will be bi.company.com/training.

Hardware

  • You’ll of course need a microphone.  If you don’t have good annunciation, you may want to recruit someone in your organization that does. 
  • You’ll need a quiet place to record.  I personally either take a laptop to a conference room or empty office, or have IT setup a dedicated machine in a back room for me to use.  You don’t want the noise of day to day business in the background of your videos, and you don’t want to drive your co-workers crazy by saying the same things over and over (because trust me, videos take multiple tries to get right).
  • You’ll need some headphones so that you can play back your recordings and do the editing.

My Process
I tried a few different methods, and here’s what works for me.

  1. I first write out every word I plan to say in a Word document, and format it into short sections.  This gives me something to read while I record so that I know what I’m going to say, and it also gives me a transcript that I can post along side the video so that if someone chooses to read instead of watch, they have that option.
  2. Next, I practice the tutorial on my computer while reading my script in my head.  This gets me comfortable with the flow and allows me to make sure what I’m going to show is actually working.  It’s also a good time to pick out some examples, such as reports that illustrate your point as well as good prompt answers to pick.
  3. When I’m ready to record, I go to the quiet room and start recording.  I do one continuous recording, and if I mess up, I just pause for a moment and do it over again.  I usually end up with a recording that is 2x-3x longer than what it’ll actually be in the end.  It’s also important to record at a native resolution that’s as small as you can take.  Don’t record at some gigantic screen size, because on a user’s machine they won’t be able to read it.  I like to do 1024×768 if I can, or 1 resolution step up from there if I have wide reports in my video.
  4. Once recording is complete, I go back to my desk, put on my headphones, and start editing.  I’ll splice in a splash image in the front and back accompanied by some intro/outro music from the Camtasia library.  I then go through the entire video chopping out bits and pieces.  Mistakes are obviously removed, but also any periods of “dead air”.  If a report took 15 seconds to run, I don’t need 15 seconds of video to show that.  Speeding up the video can be disorienting to the user, so it’s best to just cut the video.  I’ll show one cycle of the “Executing Report” progress bar, and then the report “magically” finishes.  This is also especially true for Web Rendering.  If the report takes 3 seconds to actually draw on the screen, I’ll cut about 2.5 seconds of that.  Every little bit here and there is important, because you don’t want to bore the user.  You want to keep the video fast and on the point.  In fact, I’ll sometimes even cut out prompts if they’re irrelevant to what I’m trying to show.  If I’m making a video on managing the History List, I don’t need 2 minutes of answering prompts, because it’s irrelevant.
  5. Once everything is complete, I export to Web format, which is a Flash video with HTML container.  I then have a full package that I can copy to my Web Server and users can start watching. 
Tips
  1. Keep the videos as short as possible, and always on target.  If the video is about using the History List, don’t spend half of it navigating for Reports and answering Prompts.  Providing a library of module videos will allow users to quickly find the content they’re interested in, instead of confusing or boring them with irrelevant details.
  2. Trim as much “fat” from the video as you can.  You don’t need to show 1.5 seconds of typing or 4 layers of folder navigation.  Use a little “movie magic” to make your project zip around instantly.  It may only save about 30 seconds or so on the final video, but that’s 30 seconds of waiting around and thought breaking.
  3. Shoot at as low of a resolution as possible, because most business users probably won’t have as large of a monitor or resolution as you do.  The video will scale, but it’ll be hard to read.  Lots of business users have small laptop screens.
  4. Speak as clearly as possible, and if you have an accent that you think others may struggle with, recruit a colleague to read your script.
Examples
Unfortunately, I can’t share any of my examples since they’re branded with my company’s information, but MicroStrategy has employed nearly identical training videos to those I’ve described for free.  You can check them out at http://www.microstrategy.com/freereportingsoftware/demovideos/ which is a great example of what a training site could look like for your environment.  These videos were also shot in Camtasia, they’re quick and to the point, and they “cut the fat”.

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