Lights dim. Ten, nine, eight ... the projector whirs to life. There's an air of expectancy in the room. Crackle, crackle ... 20 minutes later, lights on, yawn, a quick rub of the eyes
and the transfer begins. Could that happen in our company? Where have you encountered a customer like that? What could that manager have done differently?
I have a soft spot for the training film. Particularly "reel" training films, the 16mm variety that all but disappeared in the mid-'80s. Back then, the know-how to splice together a broken film was indispensable to a trainer. This and the dexterous ability to feed film along a complex path of rollers and guides. Risk, for a trainer, meant entering a room without a spare projector bulb!
For more than half a century, from those early tin canisters to their modern-day video and dvd descendents, the training film has been a staple of corporate training. Any trainer worth his or her salt possessed a clutch of them—attitude shifters, skill builders, procedure explainers and at least one "I'll be back in 20 minuters."
If you've ever been involved in the making of a training film (and I've produced a few in my time), you'll know it requires a bundle of cash. Correction. Making good training films is not cheap. Bad training films can be made for a nickel. But the good ones—a well-crafted script, scenery that doesn't move, actors who make you forget that they're acting—cost. It's one reason why a five cent plastic video cassette can run to $700 or more when you load a training film onto it. How, though, does the acquisition of a film these days stack up against the five-courses-for-a-buck mentality that has crept into the new "learning space?" And if we move people out of classrooms by the thousands to learn at their desks, as some analysts predict, is there even a future for this genre of training?
In its heyday, the training film industry was awash with talented and passionate people who helped spawn some of the most astonishing titles. I have my personal favorites. "Remember Me," a 10-minute, '80s gem that put customer service in its proper place like no other film before or since. As the script reads: "When we don't get good service we leave. We don't say much, we don't complain, we just don't come back. Ever!" Then there's "The Sid Story," in which I first encountered the motivational concept of planned spontaneous recognition, a technique I still call on. And finally "The Time of Your Life," produced by the late Cally Curtis. The film, a guided tour through Alan Lakein's '70s classic, How to Get Control Of Your Time and Your Life (Signet Books), still governs how I organize my day. Handle each piece of paper only once, advises presenter James Whitmore, and ask frequently, "What's the best use of my time, right now?" Powerful stuff.
All three films capture the very essence of the topic; all three educate, through imagery, in ways even the very best trainer would find near impossible to emulate. What's more, the shelf-life of the knowledge these films impart can be measured not in days, weeks or months, but in lifetimes. Make no mistake, the training film is an art form to rival anything carved in Beverly Hills.
Oscar Wilde defined a cynic as one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. In our quick-fix world, it's something to bear in mind. Even more so if you're tempted to travel down the rfp road to buy your training by the yard, the pound or the number of courses you can get for a buck.