Animated videos bring corporate training (back) to life

With live events and in-person training seminars still largely absent from the calendar, the need for employee training and ongoing education hasn’t disappeared. In fact, with so many changes internally and in the wider world due to restrictions on movement, gatherings, and other protective measures mandated by governments world wide, there is even greater need for regular and engaging communication tools to keep staff updated, informed and prepared.

Creative services agencies are adapting to these new realities our corporate clients are facing. Covid has upturned many long-standing assumptions about how and where people work which has in turn, impacted suppliers like us who have had to adapt to new business practices and different demands.

One of the biggest changes we’ve seen in our creative services business is a big increase in demand for custom animations to help our clients provide e-learning and training materials for their audiences.

Clients face a fairly steep learning curve in developing a visually engaging, useful and timely purpose built animation if they’ve never done one before, so we thought we’d put together a few pointers and share some of what we’ve learned during the past year as we’ve produced multiple projects helping clients communicate better, primarily with animations (and podcasts which we’ll discuss in a future post).

Step 0 (to do BEFORE you start): Determine the desired outcome

How does this project fit with your larger communications or training plan? When scoping out an animation project it’s important to clearly articulate in advance the purpose of the final product. This may seem an obvious and simple step in some organizations (“We need a training video for our sales people on how to sell our products”) but even so, taking it one step further can yield productivity gains. How will users access it? Could it also work (or work better) as a podcast (saving you time and $$$)? Will you need it in more than one language? Is this part of a larger series of training modules? Does the look and feel of this video need to match others? Thinking through the end result gives you a boost throughout the whole process and keeps you and the creative team focussed on the goal line. Sharing this thinking with your suppliers once you’ve hashed things out internally also helps bring them into alignment with your goals and gives them a better sense of the broader context and impact of their work.

Step 1: Provide the script

The first thing you need is a script. (And if you need help writing one just ask – many creative agencies like ours will also be able to draft a script for you that you can then circulate internally for the necessary approvals). We’ve found that a script formatted in a table with one column dedicated to the actual spoken audio track (usually a voice over), a column for on-screen text and another column for the client to communicate their ideas for visual elements or looks they would like to see is helpful. Something like this below:

Step 2: Give examples

What can be very useful at this stage is to share links to videos you’ve seen online representing images and the visual language you like or want to incorporate in your own project. It’s good to provide a few examples, and to use them as suggestions rather than prescriptive demands as this gives your designer more flexibility to respond by providing you with something that could work, but that also takes into account your corporate branding guidelines (and budget and time constraints).

Step 3: Describe the look and feel you are after in words and with examples

If you’ve never done an animation before you may struggle to communicate what it is exactly you are looking for. In the beginning especially you may not have a common language of terminology or you may not know how to express what you mean when you say something like “make the words on screen engaging so it’s not static and boring”.

Because animation is an infinitely flexible medium allowing for really anything that can be imagined, the sheer breadth of possibility can be daunting. Take a step back and just use your own words to describe what kind of look, feeling or vibe you want in the video. You can say things like:

“I’d like the colours to be fresh and really pop”

“We want the tone to be serious, but not boring.”

“We’d like a female narrator and would like to showcase the diversity of our workforce.”

“We like videos that use a mix of animations and stock photos.”

The more detail you can provide in terms of what you like and what you think will be appropriate for the animation you are hiring for, the more ideas you will help the designer generate. Part of the creativity involved in this kind of service is listening to a client and interpreting what is being requested through a lens of applied design skill and knowledge. For example, “not boring” might be met with a suggestion for a lively and engaging musical track, or a more abstract animation style. With your description to build from, a good designer and producer will be able to feed back to you workable animation elements that you can pick from.

Step 4: Plan for a quick check-in early on before full production begins

One very important step that sometimes gets skipped when deadlines are tight is the “first look”. Usually a quick check of 30-45 seconds of animation, this is an incredibly important part of the process and time should be baked in to allow for it. It is essentially a window into the studio, a puling back of the curtain to allow you to do a quick check to see if the choices you’ve made visually in terms of look, character, colours and music are all what you’ve asked for – and if you still like them once they’re in production.

It can happen that even if your designer does everything you’ve asked for, when you see the finished look of it, you may decide you don’t like it anymore. Or someone else on your team provides some last minute input that changes things and you want to go in a new direction. Building in a quick check before the video has gone through a full production process saves both you and your design team, time, frustration and money. Most of the time it is a positive, even fun part of the project that builds excitement and anticipation, but if it happens that this is one of those projects that needs a new look or re-thinking, it is better for everyone to stop the process early on and re-trench than to let it go too far and have to undo and re-do a lot more work.

Step 5: Manage the review process

Change requests are a natural part of the creative process. No matter how creative your design team, and how smoothly the development process has gone, once you – the client – have a final product in your hand that you can share and pass around to your internal teams, some change requests and revisions are almost inevitable.

That’s ok and it’s a normal part of the process. But there is a way to manage revisions to ensure that you don’t fall into an endless cycle of versions and you arrive at your final destination faster. Using built in review tools like the ones we use with Vimeo, you can view a video and stamp a correction or a comment right where you want it. This saves time and words describing exactly what you mean when you say things like, “move that blobby thing up a little higher and to the left after the woman mentions the HR process”. It also automatically timestamps the edits, and gives your designer a checklist to follow so comments don’t get skipped or lost.

Review Tool screenshot

Also helpful, particularly if there is more than one reviewer, is to consolidate feedback rounds internally before giving your comments to the design team to work through. (You can find a few more notes on manage the change process in an earlier blog post here.)

Whether you do everything in-house or work with outside agencies, all animation projects follow the same basic structure. Determine the outcome you’re after, make a plan for how you’re going to get there (script), choose the look and feel (use look boards, link to examples), ensure it is on brand and in line with expectations (quick check-in), and tweak it until the final product is exactly what you need (review and revise).

Get help with your next animation video project

Communications managers and in-house content creation teams have an ever-expanding load of creative work to manage. Formats for communication have multiplied and bloomed from text-based communiques to video messaging, audio, infographics, photography and more. Networked platforms of connection (from in-house tools like Yammer to external facing platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter) have a constant need for new content, each with their own optimal format, tone of voice and style. It’s a lot to handle and keep abreast of. Sometimes even the most top-performing team needs a little outside help. Working with an outsourced creative team has many benefits, especially once you’ve established a relationship and they’ve learned how your brand thinks. If you think your team could use a hand, please book a call with us to discuss your upcoming projects.