There are a ton of tutorial videos out there on the World Wide Web, but the number of videos that are truly great gets smaller and smaller when you start to account for things like brevity, entertainment value, video quality, and how clear and informative the how-to video actually is.
Some creators have perfected the form by using humor, others through simplification or by using beautifully designed animations. Either way, the best “instructors” have a few things in common that make what they’re teaching easy to follow and fun to watch. Here are 4 tips for making great instructional videos.
1. Make an Outline, Storyboard, or Script
The most basic way to organize your project is by writing it down or visualizing it beforehand. A storyboard is obviously ideal for tutorials that have footage or animations over text or narration, but storyboards really work well for most tutorials. You can either draw pictures of what you want the visuals to be, or you can make notes on your written text that states exactly what you want to be shown during any given section. And when it comes to the talking points or text, an outline works well in cases where you know a ton about the topic and don’t require a word-perfect or tight delivery of the information.
When you’re writing a script, it’s a little tougher, because you have to not only write your ideas down in a way that flows from point to point, but you also have to make it sound like you’re NOT reading it. Write the script down in your regular cadence or delivery to keep yourself from sounding robotic, and make letters bold, all-caps, or italic to give yourself visual cues for emphasizing certain sections of the script.
2. Set Up & Shoot Accordingly
The style that you’ve chosen will largely dictate how you plan to shoot or create your tutorial. Of course, you should perform the normal, necessary steps for making high-quality video with proper framing, lighting, sound recording, and shooting settings, but there are some other specifics for various styles you should take into account.
- Screen recordings – These can be done with or without accompanying narration or text. Be deliberate and precise with your mouse movements, and be sure to stop moving the mouse if you’re not doing anything with it. If your screen recording software allows you to zoom into an area of the screen as you’re talking and highlights your mouse clicks and movements, you can utilize these features for more clarity and for showcasing more detailed features of the screen.
- Slide Shows & Text – If you’re shooting/creating the images or videos you plan to use as your slides, be sure that you use the most exciting, and impactful footage or frames you have collected. Also make sure it’s appropriate for the step or instruction so it’s not distracting. If you’re writing the text yourself, remember to keep it short and that it complements, rather than repeats or distracts from the visuals. Use a font that is easy to read and works with your personality or the subject matter.
- Off-Camera/Narration With B-Roll – This style of tutorial is similar to a slide show, so the same rules apply when you’re gathering content to use as your visuals. On the audio side, you should make sure that you speak clearly at a consistent volume, don’t move your head around a lot, and record somewhere where there is very little echo. A closet or other small room can actually work well to lessen any echo.
- On-Camera With B-Roll – With this style, you need to first position yourself correctly. An on-camera monitor or swiveling screen are a must if you’re solo. Once you’re in position, it’s time to read the text. Rehearse and read through your script or bullet points a few times. Sit up straight, project your voice, and give more energy than you think you need to. Watch it back to check your pacing. If you are also going to be covering yourself up in parts, feel free to bring in a computer or other device to read off of. Just make sure you’re reading at the same energy level and pointing your mouth in the same direction as when you were on-camera.
- Sketch Or Short Video/Film W/ A Breakdown Explanation (think Film Riot or Cinecom.net) – This is arguably the most labor-intensive of all the styles, because you’re essentially making a short film of your concept, then coming out of that into an explanation on how to do it. Basic filmmaking rules apply here, but when it comes to the tutorial part, be sure to shoot video of the behind-the-scenes process to give yourself plenty of B-Roll to use when explaining.
This is arguably the toughest way of all of them, because you need to write a script, get actors to read the script, and shoot essentially a short film of the recipe being made, the concept being utilized, etc. Then, you make a video teaching people how you did it so others can copy.
- Explainer Video – This can be either live action or animated, but the important thing to remember here is that you should allow for breaks between the points, because there’s a lot of information being relayed at once. You should also try to vary backgrounds, scenes, settings, etc. to keep it from being boring, since it’s typically a lot of talking. Sandwich video are experts at making entertaining explainer videos.
Ahhhh, the age old question of video length. The duration really just depends on 3 factors:
- How advanced and detailed the topic is
- The video style — different types allow for more expanded explanations
- The platform where the video is being published
And with those 3 factors, here are my (made up, but handy) rules for video length:
~30 Seconds: This is a great length for tutorials that cover 1 specific or beginner aspect of a larger process. It can also be perfect for a shortened or repurposed version of the full video that you’ll add a call-to-action to.
~1:00: This is pretty similar to 30 seconds in terms of styles that work well. It’s a perfect length for tutorials that have a much larger, written component. Recipe videos work well at this length, for instance.
~3:00-5:00: Tutorials at this length can cover a lot more ground and more advanced topics, but still keep a quick pace. They don’t fit all social media platforms though, so you’ll probably have to cut them down.
~7:00-10:00: Once you get to this length, you’re getting into the sketch-style tutorials and/or detailed screen recordings. I’d say most video editing and post production tutorials are around this length.
15:00+: These are deep-dives into complex topics, but the information is all there and really shows a step-by-step process, possibly in real time. This could also be a live broadcast on social media.
A good way to think about the duration is to look at the big picture and ask yourself, “If I were to explain this to someone in 1 minute, how would I do that? How about 5 minutes? 10 minutes?” This can help you think critically about just how much time you think it will take to explain the concept.
Attention spans are as long as your videos are interesting, so maximize the viewer’s retention by avoiding detailed explanations up front and get right into the first step. You should be more focused on showing the process as opposed to telling the process.
The great thing is, longer tutorials can always be boiled down into broad strokes and repurposed for social media, with a call-to-action to the full video.
4. Editing & Post Production
Editing a tutorial follows the same basic editing rules for any project, like making sure your audio is mixed properly, for instance. You should not be shy about cutting out redundant and unnecessary sections. Be sure to zoom in on details in screen recordings with basic keyframing. Recipes or DIY builds can be speed ramped or sped up to show longer processes in a fraction of the time. If there are sections where b-roll doesn’t quite work or you want to get some emphasis, it can help to cut back to yourself on-camera. Speed up or cut out any part of a tutorial with a progress bar!
Cutting down a full-length video for social media can involve completely removing any narration, adding graphics and music, and re-positioning footage. Be sure to include a call-to-action in text, pointing viewers to the full video.
If your video is starting to feel like it’s too long, too dense, or tough to cut down, you can always try to break it up into different parts. That way you can give some sections room to breathe or include something you think is really important.
Creating tutorials can be a great way to not only educate people, but improve your storytelling and editing skills. You can include your own personality, totally customize the way you want to deliver the information, and experiment with topics that you may never have attempted otherwise. And the amazing part is, you can teach yourself skills that can help you become incredibly versatile.