What’s Behind a Showreel?

I was just hit by a rush of inspiration.

Ahead of World of Learning #WOLCE2014 where I’ll be both talking and exhibiting, I’m in the process of pulling together a selection of longer-form video clips to play during the exhibition on our stand.

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Shut up for a moment: using silence in your L&D video

“Truth is the silence that exists between words”, Derrida.

That’s one of my favourite all time quotes. Like the words themselves, I think Derrida says so much with so little.

Having trained as a visual anthropologist in observational cinema, I have come to love filming processes. In a nutshell, observational cinema is about filming reality and truth (well, as much as is possible through film), with minimal influence from the filmmaker(s); and it fits in very nicely with anthropological methodology.

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What’s behind the curtain? Storytelling in L&D

One of the buzzwords at the moment is ‘story’. It makes sense really. I believe that over the last three years or so, as more and more organisations move towards, and appropriate, the highly personalised and crafted space of social media to build relationships; they’ve had to change.

They’ve had to change by creating an illusion (or not as the case may be) of cracking the veneer of the brand image and showing what’s behind it. It’s all a little bit ‘Wizard of Oz’ in reverse. The pre-social media approach of “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” and just buy our shit, has become “hey! look at us! We’re authentic and want to be your friend”

[Note: the web gremlins are out today, if you can’t see a video below, hit refresh and it should appear]

The truth is of course, that organisations of all sizes have always told stories about themselves that are completely true, total crap, or somewhere in between.

The importance of story

Of course, the reason why organisations have always told their stories, is because behind that starchy logo, there be humans – and in front of it, humans too.

One of the things that makes us human, one of the things that lights up our cerebral cortex, one of the things that created the glue for community formation way back when, our rules, our cultures, our incredible capacity to invent, create, and strive-for; and that minor thing regarding the overall development (or some might argue, fall) of humanity…is the story.

And by that I mean telling stories about ourselves, to ourselves, and about others.

In many ways I think organisations are being re-presented with the opportunity for storytelling – and remember telling stories doesn’t mean telling lies (which is how I think some people might define it).

To tell stories through film, photography, and even words, used to be in the realms of the larger organisations until the internet came along. This is because they had the resources, but also the networks across which to distribute (be that internal comms, print, broadcast, or radio).

And then digital happened and created the most incredible opportunities for self-representation we have ever seen. Production resources got cheaper, and the means of distribution flooded offices, homes, trains, park benches, the street, and into the laps of L&D professionals.

L&D professionals are suddenly able to think twice about off-the-shelf video learning, and create bespoke content relevant to their own organisations. That’s a huge deal.

So anyway, what does this mean for L&D?

What stories can we actually tell? What if you feel your  organisation isn’t ‘story friendly’?

I think this is ultimately about video for blended learning and learner engagement. It is also about how we think about using video – because video in learning is not just about creating the learning content, but can actually be extremely useful for simply signposting learning content – to let people know the content is there, and how they can benefit from it.

Think about a learning initiative you’ve got on the horizon.

Do you present ‘the facts’ in a very listed, bulleted, conventional approach that may or may not  be woven with corporate rhetoric; or do you reframe all of that within the context of a story that might be fact or fiction, but actually takes us on an emotional journey, told with energy and passion, that weaves us through the same themes but at a deeper level.

This does not mean that you should not present ‘the hard facts’ – and indeed most learning initiatives will demand it. But if it’s about engagement, if it’s about taking people to a different place where the relevance remains, if it is about ‘exploring the blend’ and engaging learners, and actually the rather important exercise of looking at what you do through different eyes; then do it – by pen, by photograph, by drawing, by video – or even (to hell with it) by song!

Whilst I’m tempted to argue that every learning initiative could incorporate story in some way, I’m holding back. That’s probably another blog post.

But for now, I’ll say that the beauty of story telling is that you can let your imagination fly. Sometimes you might need to pull it in, but if you don’t let it go crazy for a bit, you might not find the paths where the best stories lie. Either way, I can guarantee that it will impact the learning content you are producing in lovely ways.



Why your L&D video content might be completely pointless, and how to do it right. 

I’m going to pop my head above the parapet for a moment, and say that many organisations are using video in completely the wrong way – not just in L&D, in but for online videos too.

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How to avoid using an autocue or script for your video

If you’re thinking about using an autocue, or feel like you need a script to read from directly, then the chances are you’re feeling nervous about being on camera.

Many people will try and reach for the autocue or script to help prop them up, but the reality is it can actually make the experience even harder, because to read naturally from an autocue takes a great deal of practice.

Here are my thoughts – and of course it all boils down to confidence and preparation:

  • The chances are, if you’re going to be on camera, then you’re an expert. You’re there because you are the go-to person – which means you already know everything. It’s all in the preparation.
  • People always ask about bringing scripts to the shoot. My advice is write the script out as far ahead as possible so you can work out the structure of the content.
  • When writing your script, keep the words as close as possible to how you actually speak.
  • Never get someone else to write the script for you. It has to come from the person who is presenting.
  • Next stage is to drill that script down to bullet points and keywords. Write these down on a separate piece of paper.
  • Read through the script until you feel you’ve ‘got it’, and then put it away and then bounce off the bullet points. This will help you break away from the ‘wordiness’ of the script, but retain the facts and core messages you want to get across.
  • When it’s time to film your piece to camera, take the script and the bullet points with you and give them to the producer – but don’t keep them in view. You know what you need to say, but you might need the occasional prompt

I am a firm believer that the only time you need an autocue is if you’ve got a ton of information-rich content to cover in as few takes as possible.

If you go through the above steps to prepare, and recognise that you are the expert, you will deliver a much more compelling and natural presentation than rolling off an autocue.

When to use an autocue for your video presentation

Every now and then a client will ask me if I can provide an autocue for their shoot. I have mixed feelings about them because on the one hand they are great if you know how to use them properly, but on the other, they can really hinder a production.

Using an autocue tends to mean that the presentation is happening directly to camera – which for many people is much harder than talking to an interviewer.

If you’ve got a video project coming up and you’re thinking about using one, here’s some things to consider before you invest the time and money into hiring or buying one.

Autocues take time to master. 

It’s rare for someone to be able to ace it on camera using one for the first time. Typically, people come across as more wooden, and (if I’m honest) slightly stoned and confused, as they try to  read the script as it rolls on the screen.

Don’t underestimate the learning curve you need to go through to deliver a natural presentation using an autocue. Think about how much newsreaders practice!


It’s all about practice

If you’re an ‘autocue virgin’ then I would really recommend making sure that the scripts are finalised way before the shoot, and then download one of the autocue apps that work with an iPad (there are a number of autocue systems where you connect the iPad to use for the screen which makes them more affordable). Load the script up onto the iPad and then use that for your practice run.

Many of the apps will allow you to sync up your iPhone via wifi with the autocue so you can adjust the scrolling speed on the fly which will help you find your comfortable reading pace – a great feature.


Autocues  generally suit specific types of videos. 

If you’re creating lengthy, information-rich videos where the presenter will be on camera for long periods of time, and no b-roll to cutaway to, then autocues can be great for keeping the content ‘on message’ and not deviating from the script. In terms of producing video content for L&D then, there are some clear advantages.

However – there is more focus these days on shorter ‘bite-sized’ videos – so it’s worth thinking about whether or not the presenter can get through the video without an autocue. Worth bearing in mind if they’ve not had time to practice.


Use experts to present. 

If you’ve looked at my website, you would have picked up that I’m quite vocal about the importance of using experts to deliver core learning content in videos. Experts know their stuff – it’s what they do day in and day out. If you’ve got the right person in front of the camera, then with good preparation and encouragement, they will be able to deliver a presentation that is more authentic and nuanced than working from a teleprompter


If I’ve managed to deter you from going for the ‘safety net’ of a teleprompter, then you might want to read this blog post ‘how to avoid using an autocue for your video’.


The See Learning Video Manifesto for L&D

We believe that video in L&D needs to change. This is our video manifesto outlining how and why.

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Video can be short and illustrative

I’m as big a fan of photography as I am film; in fact my PhD research was all about photography and so it’s ironic that 90% of myworking life is focused on film (okay ‘video’ – but other than coffee I’m not snobby about many things!).

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Diary of an L&D filmmaker: The greatest kind of feedback

Over the last few months I have been working on a variety of projects with a fantastic organisation called Brandon Trust, a charity supporting people with learning disabilities to live their lives to the full – and to live the lives they choose.
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7 epic fails people make when filming interviews on a smartphone

Video provides fantastic opportunities for L&D practitioners to create bespoke, relevant, and accessible content for many different outputs. Pick up your smartphone, get your hands dirty (but not the lens), and get filming – but bear in mind these 7 epic fails that can grind the shoot or the edit to a very frustrating halt.

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