Lights! Camera! Action!

Training video

Do you remember your first job?

I remember mine. I was seventeen years old and life was good until my parents told me one terrible day that I’d have to earn my own keep. Had there been such a thing in those days I’d have taken to Instagram and Twitter to denounce my evil mum and dad and shame them publicly for their cruelty.

I protested but clearly a decisive action had been taken by my parents during a meeting to which I hadn’t been invited and a stack of non-negotiable terms had been ratified in my absence. Like it or not my revenue stream had been discontinued and if I wanted money for shoes and beer I’d have to earn it.

Grudgingly I went out and got a job at the supermarket.

I remember my first day – sort of.

Day one was an induction day and boy was it dull.

I was dropped into the care of a very important lady with a clipboard who seemed almost as bored as I was. She talked gibberish for a few hours and showed me where the fire extinguishers were in case I fancied having a go at letting one of them off (I think…). Later she took me to a room plastered with peeling, faded employment notice With some effort, on her part, she wheeled over a TV and a VHS* video recorder on a trolley.

*VHS = early version of Netflix where content was stored on heat-damaged magnetic tape housed in slabs of plastic and then streamed to the TV through a cheap copper wire.

The important lady chose some videos, loaded the first one up and then told me she’d return in an hour or so when I’d finished watching it.

An hour!

I remember the first three minutes of the training video. After that it was all pure hallucination: a fugue state during which a D-list celebrity rattled off a list of do’s and don’ts while a bunch of unconvincing ‘actors’, dressed in the previous version of the supermarket’s uniforms, tried to simultaneously remember their movements and not look at the camera as they re-enacted everyday conversations with equally wooden ‘customers’.

I remember I awoke violently when the door was bashed open an hour later and the important lady walked in asking if I had any questions.

“No,” I answered, trying not to yawn. “It’s all … um … pretty straight forward.”

She smiled and ticked a box on whatever was stuck to her important clipboard. Job done and, as far as she was concerned, I was ‘inducted’.

There and then I made a promise to myself that if ever I was in a position to produce training videos, they would be a darn sight better than this rubbish.

Fast-forward thirty years and by an extraordinary twist of fate I’m doing exactly that.

At the end of the month my lovely video crew will be shooting four sales-training films scripted by yours truly for a retailer client based in Norwich. We’ll be filming in store whilst it’s open to the public, and while staff are going about their business. No mock-ups, no faking. It’s the real deal: Life in a modern retail environment.

And why not?

For me a good induction/ training video can only be truly effective if it hits the following marks:

1.    It respects your employees

If your training video talks down or preaches to your employees, you’ve lost them straight away. No matter how great the rest of the content might be, if the tone isn’t right it’ll be ignored and will lose its credibility.

2.    It’s relevant to your trainee’s shop floor experience

Plenty of training videos like to present an idealised version of ‘the shop floor’, with customers who say all the right things in the right way, even when they raise objections. But how many customers do you know who stick to the script? Presenting staged, scripted encounters that don’t resemble the real world experience of life on your busy shopfloor is frankly pointless because your staff won’t be able to apply anything the video shows them.

3.    It’s an engaging training video

Quite simply if your training film is boring no one will pay attention to it. We find that a touch of comedy helps but it’s a tricky one to get right. Developing good characters that your employees can identify with quickly, and a strong narrative is the best way to engage them, we’ve found. If the comedy flows from the characters and their situation, then it won’t seem forced and unnatural. This is why we write most of our training films as though each was an episode from a sit-com.

4.    It makes a strong point

There has to be a point to your training video. Your employees need to watch it and come away from it having learnt something. It sounds obvious, but a simple trap is that too many messages often get thrown into a single training film. Sure you want to get your money’s worth, but you don’t want an incoherent mess. Likewise, if you labour the point too much you’ll lose the interest of your viewer.

5.    It’s over quickly

Most of our training films are between two and four minutes in length, and arguably that’s still too long. More of our content now is aiming to deliver between thirty and sixty seconds because that’s the optimum limit of most peoples’ attention spans. It’s certainly the limit of mine. Yet, even now I still find myself having to sit through training videos upwards of thirty minutes or even, God forbid, an hour. Why? My despair kicks in when I look at the end of the ‘time remaining’ bar and see it stretching towards infinity…

Take a look at some of the training videos we filmed last year for our client RETRA here.


Training video


We won an award for them. Not the Oscars, but even better: The Innovative Retailing Award 2016 for Best Industry Training and we think they’re pretty good.

Let me know what you think.