Three steps help build good “How To” Videos: tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. This article illustrates a three-step approach. You’ll discover six basic rules for planning and producing a good video. You’ll read five money-making possibilities for hobbyists, video producers or commercial publishers. This article assumes you know the basics for good video: planning, framing, lighting and audio. I’ll share how basics apply in producing good “how to” video.
These six rules are essential to an effective production. Follow them and you’ll produce a winner.
1 – Presentation. You and/or your talent must have well-informed knowledge of the subject. Prompt cards help, but familiarity rules. This is not always obvious. The talent should speak well and not mumble. Keep narrative pacing smooth and unhurried, but avoid drawing it out too long. Avoid clothing colors like red or white and stripes or tweeds.
2 – Hear the Room. Reduce audio interference – air conditioner hum, refrigerators, planes, trains and automobiles. Using a wireless mic is no guarantee. Place the mics close to the speakers if music is important. A shotgun or boom-mounted mic is easier to control. A hard-wired unidirectional mic rather than one with an omnidirectional ability helps. Listen carefully to your audio and address problems early.
3 – Get Lighting Right. Use diffused light sources. Avoid harsh, directional lighting. But keep in mind you may need a variety of choices for close-up work. Be sure to white balance and use a trusted reference monitor.
4 – Prepare Thyself. Have a script, shot and props list. Keep shots varied. Repeat essential instructions for emphasis and enhanced learning. Advance planning, rehearsals and organization go a long way toward enhancing your video quality. Pay attention to details. It’s easier with a crew so each can focus on one element – lighting, audio, framing – but it is not mandatory. A crew of one and one narrator work, one man bands are possible, but remain aware of details.
5 – Two Takes Save the Day. Don’t rush to get the project done. Double estimate time for your shoot. Allow for set-up and break down. Record the rehearsal and review takes. It’s less stressful to get it now, than rescheduling pickup sessions.
6 – Break the Rules. So you just want to share something with friends or family – a short “how to” on cooking rice or creating potpourri. If your instructions and presentation are simple and you want to rip through with less attention to details, go for it. But use a mix of talking heads and detail shots to enhance quality.
Well-paced narrative makes it easier to edit audio and insert cutaways. Record ambient room audio to fill dead space between narrative lines. You should do all of the detail, close-up and cutaway inserts in post.
Why did I do This?
You made the video because you love the subject, thought it would be fun or have a friend who needs your video production skills. Or you want to develop a “how to” video production library to share or sell. Maybe you just thought about doing a “how to” video, but haven’t taken another step. You’re concerned about equipment or finding talent. You worry about identifying your market, making the video too long or short, boring or overwhelming.
Practice makes perfect. Well, maybe not perfect. Experience gained as a hobbyist or commercial producer helps develop good techniques and will guide you into a positive direction.
Five Marketable Ideas
Music Instructional Video: My first music instructional came from pitching a wedding musician. I chatted up the lead guitarist, learned he held music classes and wanted to develop a video series to support his self-published techniques books. Then came others, including a flamenco guitarist, harmonica enthusiast and an independent publisher looking for affordable video to support his client roster.
Icing Flowers: A friend of a friend has a home business making designer cakes and created a masterpiece for a friend. Conversations led to planning one video, if not a series, on creating icing flowers for decorating enthusiasts.
Cooking: This barbecue enthusiast has his secret recipe, marinating methods and different woods used to enhance the tastes. I love barbecue and think of myself as somewhat knowledgeable of it. Another conversation lead to making a Don’t Burn the Barbecue video.
Hobby Shops: I visit regularly seeking handcraft enthusiasts – it’s called “trolling” folks. Ask the guy in your aisle about his hobby, tell him yours is producing how to videos – hooked.
Direct Marketing: Search the web for ideas. You will find dozens, if not hundreds, of how to video subjects and leads. There’s a host of folks receptive to your pitch.
How Long, How Much
Start short and simple. My first two were under five minutes, showing how to change a flat tire and how to consistently boil the perfect three-minute egg. The tire-changing video proved popular with women in an exercise group a friend attended. I mentioned this at a Chamber of Commerce session. Next thing I know, I’m giving away copies and selling a few.
A co-worker fussed about her boiled eggs being too hard or too runny, lamenting lack of knowledge on how to get it right. I happen to know how to achieve the perfect three-minute egg. I made a video and shared it. Suddenly, every brown bagger in the company wants a copy. Opportunity knocks.
“How to” video can go from free to $50 – (see the “Getting Paid” sidebar). The value of your production, real or perceived, is based on quality of information, learning ease and length. Length alone is rarely a deal breaker, unless you’re selling Boiling the Perfect Three-Minute Egg for $49.95.
Tackle complex subjects as experience and resources develop. I suggest your video not go beyond one hour. If you have more to share, then do a series. Subjects like software instruction, foreign language or how to build a Boeing 747 in your backyard require a longer, more extensive approach than your average “how to” video. Plan simple subjects before taking on projects requiring major planning and investment of time and money.
What You Told Them
Minimize talking heads. Use cutaways and close-ups to keep your video interesting, informative and fun. Be concise and topic specific. Don’t overdo it on the humor. Your only limitation is interest and desire to produce. Remember – Tell them what you’ll tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them. Use good lighting, audio, framing and focus. Enhance details with close-ups and cutaways. Search the web for ideas. Talk to people about your video hobby or business. Listen when they share. Anything that can be done can be learned with a good “how to” video. (The perfect three-minute boiled egg? Place two eggs in one-quart saucepan, fill with cold water, bring to boil and immediately turn off heat. Let cool, peel and eat)
Sidebar: Getting Paid
- By-the-hour is popular. It takes about three hours of shooting to develop a well-planned one-hour project. Your hourly rate should range accordingly – from $35 per hour, to $100 per hour.
- Flat fees can work. Use caution taking this route. Time can rip you. Two hours for $350 is a start. Work from there.
- Invest in trade where both agree to share talents, equipment and skills to make a product. Market the video. Both agree to split profits after expenses.
- With any arrangement, provide copies priced on a sliding scale from $20 down to $6, depending on numbers purchased by the client.
Earl Chessher is a veteran journalist and newspaper publisher with more than 30 years experience. He is a career independent professional video services provider who has produced thousands of videos and written about creating and marketing video for more than 20 years.