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.

Filming processes fascinates me – because on the one hand you need to let the process unravel, but on the other hand (where I like to break away from staying on the periphery in order to hunt beautiful visuals) there is a need to pause, get close, change the angle or the lens, and open up the aperture for some lovely depth of field.

Filming a process is a bit like a choreography between yourself and the person or people you’re filming, and through that dance, a relationship is built.

Quite often though, and this depends on the nature of the film, there is a great deal of silence as people simply ‘do’. I was thinking about this the other day – how many of the anthropological films that inspired me early on in my studies, used silence to bring you closer.

On the flip side, look at the majority of videos, be they marketing or L&D, and they try to cram as much information as possible (usually spoken) into that magical ‘minute and a half’. The vast majority of video these days, saturate people with pitches, agenda, and facts.

Few marketers seem willing to experiment. They may do as they blindly chase the false promise of  ‘The V-Word’ – but rarely with their website embeds.

As a slight aside, here’s a short video I did of an actual sales enquiry a few years back for a viral video…

L&D practitioners on the other hand are more ballsy, more experimental. When I see people creating their in-house L&D content, it reminds me of bricolage – pulling together different resources across digital, print, fiction, and even song to create a delightfully engaging and relevant smorgasbord of learning (a term just to step away from ‘blended’ for a second!)


But silence is powerful. 


I think we can get caught up in too much in ‘noise’ in film. Thinking specifically about L&D, there is of course that need to get the core learning facts across and indeed the only way to do that might be through spoken or written words.

However, I’ve written previously about the tendency for many videos to be ‘panicky’. “Oh-my-god-we’ve-only-got-a-tiny-window-of-opportunity-to-make-our-point-because-god-forbid-our-learners-might-find-this-boring-or-even-worse-switch-off.”



Let me tell you a secret. One of the biggest lies you’ve ever heard about film and media production, and to this day still influences producers in ridiculous ways, is the phrase “treat your audience like they are all idiots”.


Whoever your audience are, they are not idiots, they just fall into the categories of ‘gives a shit’ and ‘doesn’t give a shit’. Those categories are not limiting though. People will pass from one to the other – even when watching the same video – and that, of course, is where content, quality, and messaging comes in. BUT – I digress…

For many people, silence in film is dangerous. It’s risky. There’s a sense that you’re leaving the viewer to their own devices, and that makes people nervous – especially people who are OCD about controlling their content.


But here’s another ‘secret’: businesses are starting to chill out. Digital, social, online – the requirement for ongoing conversation, is creating a ‘video hungry’ environment across L&D and marketing.


Videos are no longer about making that one-off, flag-in-the-ground corporate statement that gets updated every 3 to 4 years; but regular, fresh, relevant content. It’s more fluid, and because of this, alongside video now being far more affordable, there is more room to experiment, to tinker, to measure, and in honesty, to not always take it so seriously.

The beauty of film/video is that there are countless ways in which you can approach any given production – even just from ‘the story’ and tone, let alone the sphere of potential camera angles etc.

This is why I think we should be braver when it comes to how we think about, and what we do with video for learning.The beautiful advantage you have when you’re creating a learning video for your organisation, is that your audience are pretty much already invested. You begin with their attention and are (hopefully!) less likely to need to wave a flag in the air and ‘panic pitch’ at them over a 90 second video.

I’ve seen this with a charity I work with, where people are so passionate and committed to their jobs, that they will happily watch a 40 minute film and come away from it feeling inspired, valued, often very deeply moved, and of course having learned something.

In that particular film, silence is used briefly, but effectively.


Silence is powerful. 


  • Silence can be used to develop an intimate understanding of a given scenario or situation.
  • Silence can give the sense of almost ‘embodying’ knowledge
  • Silence may inspire reflection, evaluation, empathy.
  • Silence draws attention to itself and therefore increases focus and brings you closer.
  • Silence can be used to add intense drama (or indeed bring in some comedy – and there really should be more comedy in L&D).


Silence in film (and I am making sweeping generalisations here because silence will not fit with any production) can really have a strong impact on a production, but it has to be treated carefully and with respect.

I’m genuinely interested if people have used silence in their L&D video content, how it was received, if it benefited the content, or indeed your thoughts on this blog entry. Feel free to comment below!




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