Creating a How-to Video: 5 Ways Not To Blow It

Creating a How to Video: 5 Ways Not To Blow It

Over the years I’ve created many how-to videos. I've also watched many; some good, some bad and some downright ugly. They key thing I’ve learned through it all is that you HAVE to put yourself in the audience’s shoes. The golden rule is that you need to think about how the viewer is going to respond to your video, particularly if they are brand new to the skill. The following are 5 classic mistakes that I’ve seen creators make time and time again in their instructional videos, along with some examples of how-to videos that have fallen into these traps.

#1 Going Way, Way Too Fast

It’s awesome that you’re an expert in a particular area, and it’s even more awesome that you want to share it with the world. The only thing is we (as your viewers/fans) don’t have nearly the background knowledge that you have. For you, this thing you’re teaching us how to do is a piece of cake. For some of us it might as well be super advanced rocket science. The key is to pretend you are teaching a first grader. A comes before B comes before C and volia! You’ve got it! Now I know what you’re thinking, but I’m trying to teach smart people! and you are! but the brain can only absorb some much at a time and you are introducing a concept that is new to a lot of us.

#2 TMI (Too Much Information)…Way too Much

The beauty of creating instructional videos is that you can create as many as you want about anything you can possibly think of, so there really is not need to cram everything and the kitchen sink into one video. In fact, it’s better if you just stick to one topic at a time (again, because of that dang brain absorption impediment thing), so that we feel like we’ve really mastered something, and you look like a superstar for teaching it.

#3 Recording on an Itsy-Bitsy Screen

We’re trying to follow along with you, honest! But while you’re telling us to click on this button or that, the thing is…we can’t actually see where you’re clicking. It mostly just looks like a far off, distant button with some resemblance to what you’re talking about, but we can’t be sure. Sometimes we’ll take a stab at it and try and figure out on our own what you’re talking about, sometimes we’ll just abandon your video altogether. If possible to try increase the screen size around the area you are referring to, so that it’s nice and clear and easy to follow along for those of us watching at home on our mobile screens.

#4 Recording Audio that Blows

When it sounds like you’ve recorded your audio underwater and with marbles in your mouth it’s hard for us to keep up with your visuals. If you’d prefer to eliminate this potential hazard, try using title cards before/after or during each segment of your instruction, otherwise make sure the audio is clear and crisp. If the software you’re using to record mouse movements doesn’t provide you with a decent solution, consider recording audio externally and syncing it to your visuals later. More work for you, yes, but definitely better on everyone’s hearing.

#5 Giving your Audience the Extra Commentary Director’s Cut Version

Talking about extra stuff in your video between sections that is related to the topic at hand (troubleshooting certain areas, alternatives to use if we don’t have exactly what you’ve been talking about, etc. )that’s helpful information and is very much appreciated. What you ate for breakfast, and who your favorite Star Trek character……is not. (unless of course this is what your video is about!) We’re busy and so very grateful that you’ve decided to share your infinite wisdom with us, and would like to thank for all your efforts. However, adding extra commentary is just downright annoying and makes us want to skip through your video as fast as possible. Don’t make us have fast forward your hard work. Get to the point!

Please let me know of examples where brands and individuals have got it right.

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About Our Contributing Author - Sofia Stefou
Sofia Stefou is a Digital Video Strategist/Producer/Actor that creates fictional and non-fictional stories on the web for fun or profit. You can regularly catch her running around on set or buried in front of an editing bay.

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What do you think? ▼
  • Ken Fisher

    Volume too, but that could depend on what your audience has their volume levels set at. That last video had volume too far down in my opinion especially for that age group that likes things loud anyway…don't they? I tend to avoid videos when I have to make a PC volume adjustment.

  • richiebee

    I agree about volume if it's in the red it can distort – In YouTube "You can set volume levels for each clip in your project. Hover over a clip in your timeline and find the volume slider. Adjust the slider to lower the volume on the clip or music track." or if possible "look at your master audio track’s levels in your level meter and visually adjust it to somewhere within the -2 to -3 db range. " from Dan Dashaw…

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