How To Videos – 10 Tips to Making More Effective Training Videos

How To videos and training videos are everywhere – from how to install a car engine to how to saddle a horse and how to build a model train. Many people think that since they know how to do something well enough, that they can use video sharing to teach these skills or techniques. Not necessarily.

If there's one thing YouTube and the ease of video sharing has brought us, it's an easy way to scrutinize how other people make videos. Mostly bad videos, but you can learn from the bad just as well as from the good.

Like any specialized movie or video genre, training videos have special needs that other videos might not employ. Documentaries don't have to tell you how the ancients built a pyramid, they just have to speculate on how it might have happened. Action movies don't have to tell you how to diffuse a bomb, they just imply that it can be done by cutting the green wire – no, wait, was that the white wire?… and the audience believes it.

Training videos or how to videos need certain points of action to give their audience not only the steps to making that model train, but the confidence that they're doing it right. The best training videos follow a good tight format, and these 10 elements can help you make the best training videos, and leave your audience wanting more:

1. Use a Script  – Don't Ramble

Too many people tend to want to skip to the fun part – the shooting, and not work with a script, storyboard, shot sheet or any type of plan to getting their training video done. This wastes a lot of time and doesn't inform the audience well, and key points can be missed or lost in translation.

  • Follow the same format for every video you make, especially if they're in a common series.
  • Make a script – even if it's just a bullet point list of steps to illustrate.
  • Read through the script out loud – understanding the spoken word is different than reading a written word. Some sounds don't go together well when spoken, like the "ka" sound of a word that ends with a "K" followed by that same sound from a word that begins with a "K" or "Q"  as in  "Rake Quick."
  • Have a second list in your script of all the props or tools you'll need and line them up on a table outside of the shooting area in the order you'll need them.

2. Keep it Short – Be Concise and Succinct

People have very short attention spans nowadays, especially for internet video. They have a lot of distractions taking them away from your video.

  • If the How To video is a simple technique, try to make it 2 to 5 minutes.
  • If the training video requires more skills and a longer involvement, make it a maximum of 30 minutes.
  • With a 30-minute or longer format video, find a good place to break it into segments of 3 to 5 minutes each. Give the viewer breathing time between steps.
  • If your video requires you to go longer than 30 minutes, break it into 2 or more separate videos, similar to how Videomaker created our "Making Commercials" training videos.

3. Audio is MOST Important!

Videomaker harping on the need for good audio is like listening to a broken record. (You remember those, right? Black vinyl discs with grooves that spun on a player with a diamond needle that projected cool tunes in the old days?) Some people still don't get it – your audience will forgive bad video, but will tune out due to bad audio.

  • Use a mic. Use a mic. Use. A. Mic. Always use an external microphone,  please do not reply on your on-camera mic to capture the audio of your video presentation. Good audio is crucial for any type of video sharing.
  • If you are setting your camera 10 feet away from your display table the audio will sound muddy and hollow coming from the camera mic. Then if you move in close for a closeup cutaway, the audio will peak because your mouth is now closer to the mic.
  • Even a simple inexpensive $15.00 wired mic from the mall electronics store is going to sound better and more even than the on-camera mic.
  • If you MUST use the on-camera mic, learn some tricks to getting around AGC (Automatic Gain Control) and covering your camera to mask the electronic mechanisms for simple voice-over work. Automatic gain control is a pain to work around, but it can be done.

4. Simple Background and Lighting

An elaborate set isn't necessary for most How To videos, and in fact it often detracts from the subject at hand.

  • In most cases, you're going to demonstrate something on a table or in front of a backdrop – so make the background simple, never busy.
  • You can get pre-made curtains cheap or go to a fabric store and check out their discount aisle – most raw fabric runs 45 to 60 inches wide and you can buy it by the yard or by the bolt. Bed sheets work, too, and are wider.
  • Stick with neutral shades, a darker color will show off most products well, but invest in some lighter fabric if you are demo'ing dark items like cameras.
  • Stay away from a white background, which tends to fight with exposure too much, unless you have a well-designed set.
  • Set two lights about 45-degrees from the center of the demo area, one on each side. Even simple stand lamps will work, but the idea is to make it even.

5. Use Two cameras or Shoot it Twice – Then Edit it!

Many people really want to do a training video in one long shot, with one take. More power to them. You can't run the camera and do the demo at the same time effectively, and zooming in then out to illustrate points wastes time.

  • If you choose to use two cameras, designate Camera A as your main camera, and hook the mic to that, and set up camera B for cutaways and close ups, but also record the audio from camera B to make it easier to sync the video later.
  • If you use one camera, consider doing the entire demo once, uncut, with the camera on a tripod, then shoot it again for closeups and cutaways – edit accordingly.

6. Closeups and Cutaways of the Action

Closeups are necessary for most training videos. Whether it's to demonstrate a techniques or show a collection of materials needed, most training videos will have some cutaways of closeup shots.

  • Don't shoot the cutaways during the demonstration, shoot them afterwards, so you know what you'll need to isolate.
  • Stay wide on the main shot, don't zoom in, pan or move the camera. This will make it easier to insert cutaways and close ups of technique or small parts in editing.
  • Pay attention to continuity by matching the movement of the shot. If your talent picks up a wrench in his right hand in the main demo, make sure he does it the same way in the cutaway.
  • Make the cut from the main wide shot to the closeup during the movement, rather than just before or after the movement. This will make the shot appear more fluid and should mask continuity discrepancies.
  • Hold cutaway shots long enough for the viewer to understand what it is you're showing.

7. Add Simple Graphics

From an Open Graphic that tells the audience what you are demonstrating to a Closing Graphic that tells them where to go for more, graphics are essential for all training videos. Even the easiest entry-level consumer video editing programs can make simple titles nowadays.

  • Every How To video should have an Open – even if it's the simplest white type over a black background.
  • A closing graphic with your name and/or website ties the whole piece together, especially when video sharing online.
  • Like the backdrop for your video, your graphics should be easy to read, and not too busy. You can learn proper titling techniques from many Videomaker features.
  • Leave the graphic up long enough to read through twice – not too long, definitely not too short.
  • Make bullet point lists within the body of your video when you are prepping a tool list, like we do in this training video on "How to Make your Own Car Mount".
  • You can place graphics over video, rather than a solid background, if you keep the video simple, soft or defocused.
  • Never use a busy background with wild graphics.
  • Make bullet point graphics to drill home ideas, techniques or to emphasize steps.
  • Bullet points are also good for recaps.

8. Check out Examples Online

As mentioned earlier, there are lots of examples of training videos or How To videos online that you can learn from, both good and bad. Critique them for how you think you'd learn to do the technique yourself.

  • Are they too sloppy? Can you understand what the message is implying? Do you feel confidant that you can do the process they are teaching? Is it rushed or does it drag to much? Does it have a busy backdrop or distracting background?

[image:blog_post:28226] Thai Foodcast, a multi-part cooking series, was put together by a couple former Videomaker staffers right in their home during a few weekends. They cleared an area in their living room of furniture and decoration, put up Asian bamboo backdrop to enhance the show's theme, and used an average mic and two lights. The look of the main introduction is always the same in every segment for consistency with this simple backdrop, then they shoot closeup cutaways of the food cooking in their tiny kitchen, and the presentation is on a folding table covered with a nice solid-colored tablecloth. It's one of many very simple examples to check out.

[image:blog_post:28227]"Chromatography Tips & Tricks", from Don Curo of La Habra, CA, is another example you'll find on our website from our old contest series. Don's training video exemplifies how important it is to gather all the right tools and demonstrate the techniques just right to train someone for a possibly dangerous mission. His video trains technicians how to assemble parts necessary to work on a gas chromatograph and he needed to be precise in his instructions and warnings. After watching this, I felt I could confidently "install a column into a split-splitless inlet" on a gas chromatograph, too.

9. Bonus Material

 If you're making the training video to sell on a disc, adding bonus material to the DVD is a good way to elicit sales other than just views from a free online audience.

  • Videomaker often includes pdfs of stories that correspond with the subjects on the videos, as an extra bonus. We sometimes throw in subscriptions, free material like sound effects or appropriate production forms from the Videomaker Book of Forms.
  • If your How To video is part of a series, package 4 to 9 techniques or subjects together and make sure they all have the same graphics and look for uniformity.
  • If the training videos are online only, be sure to add links to other training videos in that series or post a list of other series you sell.

10. Teaser – More to Come!

As they say in Show Business – always leave them wanting more.

  • If your training video is one in a series that runs online, you can have a short 10 to 20 second teaser at the end advertising the next video in the series using a simple voice-over that discusses what the next video will be along with an expected time it might appear. Don't forget to add your product name, company or business name and website.

Making Money with Video

How to videos are fairly simple to make – and well-produced series can bring in a good income. If you acquire  the necessary skills, you don't have to know how to install the engine, saddle the horse or build the train to make the video, you just need to know how to work with the on-camera talent and make the video he or she presents. Do it well, follow a similar format every time and you can get a reputation as the training video producer in no time, and earn income doing what you love to do – make video.

 – Jennifer O'Rourke, Videomaker's managing editor

Primary Image courtesy of

Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning videographer & editor.

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