Retention is Everything
As your expert eLearning narrator, it’s my job to correctly interpret the text of your lesson and present it in a manner that is appropriate to both the subject matter and the learners so they feel confident that what they are hearing is accurate. Only when they have that trust will they be more apt to retain what they learn.
“You sound as though you were one of
our own technicians!”
— A Project Manager for a Global Telecommunications Company —
eLearning (instruction of any kind, really) shares the same goal as TV and radio commercials. To engage participants to the degree that they are motivated to take action. The desired action for advertising is that the audience remembers the commercial and buys what was offered. For instruction, the desired goal is that the learner remembers what they were taught so that they can later apply the knowledge and improve their performance.
The best advertising example in this context is the now legendary Apple Computer “1984” TV spot that aired during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII. Despite airing nationally only that one time, it made an impression on the audience that is remembered still today. By the time those 60 seconds were up, viewers were made aware of a truly life-changing product.
Surreal visuals grabbed and held viewers’ attention for 48 of those 60 seconds, and then a very succinct 10-second voice-over script (the text of which also appeared on-screen) nailed the message down: those who had been chained to the tedium of text-based computer commands (pretty much every computer user who was watching) would now be set free by a refreshing new way to work that was far more user-friendly, thereby allowing greater creativity and productivity. It was, simply, earth-shattering.
Feature films, video/computer games, TV shows and even commercials that cause office workers to gather around the water cooler to discuss are prime examples of engaging the audience. Making them part of what they are experiencing.
But unlike advertising, games, TV shows and movies, education has an additional hurdle. Many people consider learning to be a chore; something many would perhaps not do at all if they had a choice. So engaging a reluctant audience requires considerably more thought.
The success of Sesame Street is the best example of reaching an audience with a short attention span. Brightly colored characters, with voices very different from most humans, speaking, singing and dancing their way through lessons that kids would not only remember, but would have fun in the process. Since its debut, pre-schoolers have been enthusiastically repeating at the dinner table what they’d learned earlier in the day on Sesame Street.
Choosing the Words:
I think you can see why the first step in creating effective eLearning (especially that which will include spoken word) is knowing who the audience is and gearing everything toward them.
Engaging employees must begin with the writing of the content. It must speak to them on their level. Words written for the ear; the way the intended audience members speak – not taken from printed material or written in that style. Informally written, but not overly so. Favoring smaller words and shorter sentences. Direct. Cutting out all unnecessary words and getting to the point. When the goal is having people remember, give them only what’s important.
Speaking the Words:
When considering who will provide your elearning voice-over or narration, there are more important qualifications than the sound of his or her voice. First and foremost, do NOT make the mistake of simply choosing a voice you “like.” Whether you decide a male or a female will be most appropriate for your subject matter and relate best with your employees, you want a narrator with the most important qualification: the ability to correctly interpret the words of the writer and speak them as if they were their own; like they know what they are talking about. Complete believability.
Watching actors work, we become absorbed by a character because of the actor’s commitment to the character. They become so totally believable that we forget we are watching a performance. We want that same credibility in eLearning voice-over or narration so that the employee focuses on the content and NOT the narrator. Credibility, believability, whatever you want to call it; that’s the key to engaging your employees. And better engagement results in higher retention.
Once you’ve narrowed your choices to only credible speakers, the next consideration is choosing a voice that can be listened to for extended periods. We’ve all had boring school teachers. It doesn’t matter how well they might know the subject matter; if we can’t stand to listen to them for any length of time, we begin to tune out and become more easily distracted.
The Bottom Line:
Scripts written the way we speak – concisely – for your target audience and spoken by those who are expert at sounding believable is how to maximize engagement and retention. And the more an employee remembers of their training, the greater the payoff.