The STC Canada West Coast chapter held its first event of 2019, a sold-out workshop on creating instructional videos, at a meeting room at the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library on January 19. Joel Basart, facilitator of the workshop, tapped into his years of experience as a technical writer and training coordinator. He had much to share.
You can make a strong business case for producing instructional videos in-house. Consultants can charge $5,000 to produce a simple video. By contrast, the cost of equipment to produce quality videos starts at $250.
Why use videos? Videos are well suited to our shortened attention spans. Videos allow users to zero in on the information they need. Such “microlearning” requires a repository of up-to-date information from which users can access and apply the latest knowledge immediately.
Instructional videos fill a variety of needs. Product videos and explainer videos should be between two and ten minutes long. Concept videos require from five to 15 minutes to explain more complex information. Marketing and sales videos and support videos run from one to five minutes. Workshop participants were treated to a variety of videos, both successful and otherwise. While some were clear and informative, others provoked confusion and even laughter.
What makes a good video? Good videos show the important information, rather than merely explaining it. Effective videos do not stray from the topic. Often, they include a quiz to reinforce user uptake of key information. Videos should also provide a list of resources for users to learn more about the topic.
Video production requires planning and focus. The goal of an instructional video is to solve a problem or explain a concept. It should offer a solution to the problem and finish with a summary or clear takeaway. These points should be the basis for the script of the video.
How do you start? The video designer should be included as soon as possible in the product development process. An informative subject matter expert is key to putting together a video. The SME supplies information and ensures that the video accurately communicates that information. As a project develops, the SME and the video designer must regularly review and revise the script.
Following a video style guide can streamline the production process. Scripts and completed videos benefit from the scrutiny of at least two impartial reviewers who can review scripts and completed videos to ensure that the content, tone, and timing are appropriate.
Strong and effective visual elements are essential for videos. Generally, 80 per cent visual content supported by 20 per cent text is a useful formula to follow. Visual information can be in the form of 2D or 3D animation, which is time-consuming and expensive. Other options for visuals are photos, diagrams, or video clips. Editing instructional videos involves inserting images that create a mood, choosing music, ensuring adequate audio quality, and arranging the timing of the video.
What tools do you need? The hardware required to produce instructional videos is surprisingly simple: a microphone, a camera, and a quiet place to record. Screen recording and video editing programs such as Camtasia and audio editing programs such Audacity are the main software requirements. Audacity is free open-source software. Camtasia starts at $334, though there are free alternatives such as FFsplit and Camstudio.
The workshop closed with a question period and an opportunity for participants to practise creating their own video. The high demand for this workshop is a signal that such events are useful training activities.
Rick Georg is a technical writer, editor, and educator. He is currently serving as event planner for the STC Canada West Coast chapter. He holds degrees in journalism, communications, and education. He lives in Vancouver.