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Lights! Camera! Learning!

If you're very lucky, your company has a fully-equipped studio that records and edits presentations. In the real world, however, trainers often have to be hands-on throughout the process. Here are some simple editing techniques that can turn the raw footage of a presentation into a professional quality video.

Tool features

If you're using live footage, a video camera is necessary. When selecting a camera, consider the following requirements.

Video quality: The camera should be able to record video that is DVD-quality or better.

Zoom: The camera should have optical zoom capabilities, enabling to work both at medium distances (across a large room) and close ranges. If you may need to shoot a close-up of a product that highlights small details, be sure your camera is capable. Don't confuse this with digital zoom, which magnifies a part of the image after it is captured, meaning that it has less detail than a zoom done by adjusting the lens.

Recording medium: The earliest video cameras recorded to film. Somewhat newer cameras record to tape. The latest cameras on the market work with either discs or removable cards. Some digital cameras record to computer-style memory. Any of these (except actual film) will work to produce editable video files. Editors like Video Edit Magic can capture video from any camera, if it connects to the computer using standard methods. When you select a camera, consider:

  • Capacity: If a camera records to a disc that has a capacity of one hour, but you expect to record events that run for three hours between breaks, that camera might not be ideal.
  • Cost: If you plan to record for several days at a time, you probably should select a medium that has a low cost per hour of recording. (Standard DVD-RW discs are very inexpensive.) Most media are also reusable, but you may not have time during a long session to stop and copy data from a disc or card, then erase it.

Microphone: At reasonably close range, the built-in microphone of a camera may be acceptable, but I recommend using a camera that can work with external microphones. Clipping a wireless mike to the presenter's clothes can obtain better sound than most built-in microphones. With digital video editing, you can record the sound separately and combine the video and audio during the editing process. However, this does add some time and additional effort to the editing process.

Accessories: For almost any training use, you will want a tripod. The picture will be steadier, and you can avoid the fatigue of holding the camera for long periods of time. For most uses, a lighter tripod is the best choice. If you will be filming outside your office building, you may want a carrying case and at least one spare battery.

Video editing software: For training purposes, consider these features:

  • Multiple tracks: It's typical to combine clips from two different video files into one program. Software that handles multiple tracks simplifies this task.
  • Volume control: Many low-end video editors cannot control sound volume. It's possible to have audio recorded at a very low level, so the capability to raise the volume during editing is important.
  • Sound replacement: There are many situations in which you'll want to replace the sound recorded with the video with different audio. For instance, your organization may want to produce a training video in multiple languages, the presenter may have stumbled over a few words, or you may want to add a musical score to the movie. Be sure your editing program has this capability.
  • Multiple file formats: It is easier to produce video in a standard format than it is to ask everyone in a department to install a special player, and video files supplied by an outside firm or customer could use multiple formats. It's important that your editing program be able to work with and produce multiple format types. At a minimum, it should handle AVI, QuickTime, MPEG (1 and 2), MP4, and Windows Media (WMV). Be wary of proprietary formats that work only when a particular product's software is installed, this can make wide distribution of your video difficult, and upset your IT department.

Distribution methods

Distribution methods will vary, as will the tools you need to distribute your final product. Currently, many presentation and training videos are distributed over either a local network (LAN), larger corporate network (WAN), or the Internet. A substantial amount of distribution still takes place on optical computer disks, either CD-ROM or DVD-ROM. It's also possible to use standard DVDs (and their little brothers, VCDs) playable in any DVD player.

If your distribution is over a network, you'll need to coordinate with your organization's IT department. For maximum efficiency, many groups are using streaming video servers such as Windows Media Server. If you're distributing actual discs, you will need a supply of discs and at least one disc writer.


Examples and tips

The following examples and illustrations use DeskShare's Video Edit Magic.

The first step is getting the video out of the camera and into a file on your computer. Most newer cameras will have a built-in method, either by using the manufacturer's software or by moving a card or disc from the camera into the computer. Video Edit Magic can directly capture sound and video from a camera and place it in the editing program.

Step two is to remove dead time from the video. When you start filming a speaker, there's usually a pause at the beginning because you start the camera before saying "Action!" Cut that pause and others now.

With modern video editors, removing (and moving) video clips are basic cut-and-paste operations. Simply select the section you want to remove, right-click, and the use either Delete, or Cut. For example, the clip in Figure 1 doesn't need the video of the presenter standing still, so click Delete. Doing that, however, creates a gap at the beginning of the timeline, so drag the video and audio clips to the left.


Step three is to combine footage of the product being demonstrated with the presenter's image. Because Video Edit Magic has two video tracks on its timeline, it's possible to put the demonstration video in Video 2 and leave the presenter in Video 1. There are several ways to combine two video tracks:

  1. Cut from the presenter to the demo, then back to the presenter when the demonstration is over. To do that, delete the video of the presenter during the time when the demo is running. This is the simplest option.
  2. Cut from the presenter to the demo and back using a transition. Transitions are special video effects that combine two video clips. For instance, movies often "fade" from one image to the next. Adding a transition can make your final video look and feel more professional. (Overusing transitions is like using too many fonts in a printed document, it makes you look less professional. Use your judgment.)
  3. Use a special transition effect to combine the two images. An example is the picture-in-picture effect. The plan is to let the presenter continue speaking while an additional video enters the screen, reinforcing the speaker's point. A Transition appears on the Transition track, in between the two video/audio pairs. When creating a Transition, editors can adjust its properties.

Depending on the length and purpose of the video, you may want to add titles or credits. Most editors make this simple. Figure 2 includes an opening title that fades out at the end.


Step four is break down scenes and chapters. There are good reasons to break video training into relatively short chapters. One advantage of using digital video is ease-of-scheduling for the learners. If you have a two-hour-long video presentation, it's going to be difficult for a busy person to schedule that much interruption-free time. There's also the attention span factor. Each of you will have your own ideas about learner attention spans, based on your own experience as a trainer. For video segments, the recommendation is to limit chapters to fifteen minutes or less.

Lights! Camera! Learning!

Of course, these tips only scratch the surface of what you can do with a digital video editor. The point: With relatively inexpensive tools and the investment of some of your time, you can make your distributed learning more effective and more engrossing.

About the Author
Carl Fink is product development manager for DeskShare.
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