Audio in online training is usually served up in one of two forms: (1) poor-quality, amateurish, or (2) high-quality and professional. No one wants to be responsible for producing great-looking training that sounds awful, but with training budgets being what they are these days it’s hard to justify the expense of high-quality, professionally recorded audio. But leaving audio out of the training mix isn’t a great option, either. Audio serves a vital function — particularly in online training — by breathing life into your material, setting the tone, and grabbing your trainee’s attention.
So we need audio, but more importantly, we need to know when to use it for the greatest impact – and how to do so in a way that’s low-cost and high-quality. If it seems like using audio is too complicated or technical, let me assure that it’s not. I’m no audio Jedi Master, but through years of experience and lots of experimentation I’m getting the hang of it — and you can too!
When to Use Audio
Audio in all its various forms is most helpful when you need to make an impression. Audio narration, for instance, is much more powerful than silent text when you need to communicate a complex process. Some other areas where audio helps make an impact include:
- Course introduction or transition screens: Using music can give high-visibility training (e.g. annual compliance training) a sense of formality and professionalism.
- “Hear-from-a-Peer” segments or “Customer Testimonials”: People like to be pursuaded. Use audio outtakes from peers or customers to reach reluctant or skeptical audiences.
- Scenario-based training: Scenario-based learning in an online environment can be challenging. Use audio to immerse the trainee in the exercise and bring it to life.
- Online Training Games: Sound effects can build a sense of urgency or simply enhance the excitement of games.
- Looping presentations (e.g. tradeshow kiosks or conference booths): Grab and keep your audience’s attention by combining music and narration to drive home your message.
Using audio in online training is a big topic with lots of people for and against, or somewhere in between. Judge for yourself: check out this excellent post and accompanying interview from Karl Kapp's blog.
How to Work with Audio
Audacity is free, open-source software for recording and editing audio. There are plenty of other free and low-cost audio editing tools out there, but I use Audacity because it’s easy (the controls remind me of my 80’s era boom box), it’s powerful (I only use a small fraction of its capabilities), and because there’s a HUGE community of fellow users offering free tutorials and special effects plug-ins to make my life easier.
In fact, here are 4 Audacity tutorials I’ve pulled together to get you up and running AND show you how to edit your audio for higher-quality results.
1. Recording Audio with Audacity
2. Removing Unwanted Noise from Audio Files
3. Using Audacity's Equalization Effect
4. Using Audacity to Combine Narration & Music
Finally, here are a few tips for recording better quality audio so you won’t have quite as much editing work to do later.
- Give your script or talking points to the speaker/narrator a few days beforehand and encourage them to practice.
- Try to record audio (particularly narration) in the same room with the same basic settings on your computer to maintain consistency.
- Minimize background noise by turning off A/C, air purifiers, fans, or clocks and put a sign on the door – RECORDING IN PROGRESS – to let others know to keep quiet.
- Do a dry run without recording to work out any pronunciation issues, speed issues, etc.
- If you're recording scripted dialogue, embrace your inner-Scorsese and direct your voice talent on their character's setting, motivation, emotions, etc.
- Use a decent-quality microphone and place it 6 to 12 inches away from the person doing the speaking.
- Before you record, ask the speaker to allow for 4 or 5 seconds of silence before they begin speaking. This gives you a little buffer for later editing (if necessary).
- Do a test recording of the speaker and listen to it with headphones to make sure you’re both happy with how it sounds.
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Trina Rimmer is a learning and communications consultant with twelve years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training solutions. When her training skills aren't being tested by her children, you'll find her helping others to develop their own design muscles. Contact Trina at firstname.lastname@example.org.