Planning and producing video based and multimedia training programs can be a confusing and perplexing activity, which if done poorly, can cost you money, time, and even your reputation. For this reason, knowing about and being able to storyboard various types of training programs is a critical skill for anyone involved in training and human resource development.

All too often people call a media production company and say they want a video or computer based training program before they know what they want. This is an open door for trouble, because neither the client or the production company knows what is expected or what should be done. Statements such as "we want a 15 minute video" or "we need an internet training program on cash register operations" are at best statements which indicate a need or problem, but do not indicate or communicate the content of the program or the final behavioral or performance outcomes required. All too often we find that many clients want to start production immediately and want an instant solution to their problem.

It is at this point you must sit back and ask yourself several question before you ever pick up the telephone and call a production company.

1. Is the performance problem you are trying to solve the result of a lack of knowledge, skills or attitudes on the part of employees? Ask yourself the famous question "could they do it if their lives depended upon it?". If the answer comes back yes, then you don't have a problem that can be solved by training. You have a problem which is being caused by something else in the work environment. If on the other hand, your answer is no, then you probably have a problem in which training can be part of the solution.

2. Do you really need a formal training program? Or, would some carefully designed job aids in the form of check lists, written directions, pocket guides, or peer coaching solve the problem?

3. If at this point you have decided that you do indeed need a formal training program or system, then you need to ask the next series of questions.

Once you feel that you have a solid understanding of who is to be trained, what they are going to learn, how you are going to teach them, and how you are going to prove that they have learned it, you must now sit down and plan your training program. If you are going to develop a media based program such as a video or computer based multimedia training program, your next step is to develop a storyboard.

What is a storyboard?
A storyboard is usually a sequence of paper pages that detail the contents of a training program by screens or frames.

How are storyboards used?
Storyboards are used as:

In short, storyboards are a very powerful planning tool that pay big dividends when it comes to producing and implementing your training program.

Let's take a closer look at storyboards as a planning tool.

As a lesson planning tool
Pages in a storyboard should be constructed to include every aspect and element of your training program. Every sentence displayed. Every word which is spoken. Every picture or graph shown. Every video sequence to be played. Every test question asked. As you build pages, you must also keep in mind the sequence and flow of your program. Break the program into "natural" sections such introduction, overview, topics 1,2,3, and final test. Building a good storyboard is like designing a house. It allows you to see where everything will be and how it will all fit together.

As a basis for projecting production costs
Let me say this once. A storyboard is a plan for spending money. And as such, it is your job to develop or carefully oversee the development of storyboards used by your organization. As you develop your storyboard, be careful not to get carried away by the fancy effects that are now possible with many advanced types of media such as video, CBT and intra/internet training systems. As you plan each element of your training, ask yourself this question - How is this media element (video segment, graphic, animation, picture, voice track) going to promote and insure that what needs to be taught is going to be learned? Be careful not to get caught up in the "theater" of training, and forget that training is a core business strategy for developing organizational competence that must return value for monies spent.

Using your storyboard, it is possible to take each media element and determine roughly what it will cost to produce. This is what we as producers do. This is how we come to a final cost projection. You should be able to do the same. Remember, it's your money. Learn what various media cost to produce.

Where do you find this information? Just ask media producers. What do you charge to ____________? They will tell you or provide you with a cost list of their services. It won't take long before your discover a reasonable range of costs. Costs that you can use to prepare your budget or the cost section of your internal proposal.

As a guide for media producers (internally or externally)
Storyboards help media producers to produce the media you want or envision. Make your requirements for media as specific as possible. If you need an over the shoulder shot of the company president, put it in your storyboard. If you need bouncy music at the opening of your program, state that is what you want. The clearer and more exact you are about what you want or envision will save you time and money when it comes to producing your program. Storyboards are used heavily during production. If you want to blow your budget, just have a video production company stand around holding lights while you try to figure out where the next scene should be shot. And always get everyone who is a stakeholder in the project to sign off on it before calling a production company. Let's face it. It is a lot cheaper to change a few sheets of paper than it is to make changes after production is underway. And, let me assure you, media production people will charge you for every change you make after you have submitted your "approved" storyboard.

As documentation
Many training programs involve a number of media elements, especially computer based training. You may have several hundred screens, each with a specific branch or branches, media elements such as photographs, illustrations and voicing. After a point, no one can remember all of the minute details that are encompassed within one program. Without clear and accurate documentation, there is no way to change or update the program in the future. For each screen, work out an easy coding system for documenting the various media elements used.

Storyboards are actually one of three critical documents you must be able to produce. Storyboards, RFPs and Internal Proposals form a trinity of documents which insure that you will be successful as a trainer.

As the basis for gaining competitive bids (constructing RFPs)
At some point, you will have to go outside of your organization to obtain media production services. Imagine if you were a contractor and someone came to you and said, "Build me a house and tell me how much will it cost?" You would be at a total loss, wouldn't you? The same applies to media producers who are asked to "bid" on a one sentence description of a project. "We want a scrap metal reduction program" or " we need sales training for chemical engineers, what's it going to cost?" To insure that you get the best possible bids, bids that are realistic and fair, submit your detailed storyboard as the basis for making the bid. It provides vendors with a much appreciated "level playing field." For more information on writing RFPs, see the article "How to Write a Request For Proposal (RFP)" in this section.

As the basis for preparing Internal Proposals
Storyboards allow you to develop detailed training plans and project costs. Cost that must be approved by upper management For more information on writing Internal Proposals, see the article "How to Write an Internal Proposal" in this section.

As an inexpensive test platform for validating that your instruction works
Start by validating the information in your storyboard by having content experts read through your program and make suggestions for improvement. Don't be offended if your storyboard comes back bleeding with red ink. Remember, your goal is to produce effective training that is technically correct, not to write the great American novel or screenplay. Once you have had your program blessed by the experts, run a series of "program run throughs" that will help you determine how well your training program will work with live learners. Ask several people who are not familiar with the material contained in your course to "take" the course by reading through the storyboard and answering all of the test questions. Then debrief your "trainee" by asking them what they liked and disliked about the program. What was confusing? Did pictures and graphics make sense? Watch the person as they read through the course. Do they ask questions? Do they hesitate? Look confused? Show signs of boredom? Then grade their tests. Do your trainees pass the test? Is there one or two questions that people miss more than others? If so, the problem isn't with them, but with your training program.

Go back and redesign those sections of your program which are related to the problem test questions, then rerun your training program with fresh trainees. In short, "pretest" your training program until people are able to score well on the final test and you hear people say, "Gee, that was easy." When you hear that comment, pat yourself on the back. You are now ready to call a media producer.

Sample Storyboard Page
To help you get started, you may want to consider the following storyboard page layout. There is nothing sacred about it. This particular storyboard page is what we use when planning computer based training programs. You are free to copy and use it or change it.

Area 1: Represents the monitor screen. This area shows how the screen will look to the trainee. All information (both text and graphics) which will appear on the screen are indicated.

Area 2: This space is for special instructions. Special instructions can include background color, color of text, comments about animation, audio or video segments, screen resolution desired or other information which describes how you want the screen to look or perform.

Area 3: This space is used to indicate which screen is to appear next. It also indicates those screens with test questions that respond to right and wrong responses.

Area 4: This area is used to write the voice script used by a narrator.

Area 5: This area is used to identify the name of the production and the number used to designate the screen.

If you would like more information on storyboarding and creating multimedia training programs, see our free "Multimedia Course Development Guide".