As we looked back to compare the first few videos we made with the last few, it was easy to see the differences in quality. But only we know from that experience that the first videos took a significantly larger amount of time to create than the last few did. You won’t be an expert right away, so read on to see what we learned and how we improved. Hopefully it will get you up to speed faster than if you didn’t have any advice.
Once you get your environment set up and you’re ready to produce your first video, you’ll probably find that it takes more time than you expected. In fact, at first we felt lucky when we maintained a rate of one day of work for every one minute of completed video.
At this level of productivity, you can imagine that it’s important to be as efficient as possible. So here we’d like to present you with some practical tips and suggestions to help you (1) improve the quality of your videos, and (2) boost your productivity. The lessons we learned allowed us to basically double our rate to half a day for each minute of completed video. That would make your bosses proud.
My first piece of advice is to invest in a good microphone. For the first 8 months of 2020 I used a standard headset microphone like one you might use for a Skype call. We were satisfied with its quality; it really seemed fine. Then I had a chance to try out a friend’s more expensive condenser microphone, so I ran a few “side-by-side” tests to compare two recordings made simultaneously.
To tell you I was blown away by how “muddy” my previous audio suddenly sounded would be an understatement. If you’re looking for the biggest improvement you can make for the least amount of money, this is the first thing you should consider. Search online for semi-professional podcasting brands like Blue Yeti and HyperX, then read the reviews on the sites you find for microphones in their lowest price range. I also recommend getting a USB microphone, since they will often have their own custom analog-to-digital converter included.
When you finally do get around to recording, make sure everything you plan to say is already written down. This will cut down on the number of times you’ll have to re-record each segment. I often record about a paragraph of text at a time, where each “scene” in the video typically has 1 to 3 paragraphs. If you follow an iterative approach as described in the prior blog post, record the audio quickly as if it were draft quality the first round, trying just to match the timing and duration to the video.
Finally, record your audio all in one session, from the beginning to the end, without pausing. You would be surprised at how much your voice will vary not just over the course of a whole day, but even before and after lunch. It doesn’t sound good when two audio files recorded at different times come one after the other. It’s distracting to the listener, and in the worst case it can even sound like a completely different person is speaking.
One of the greatest obstacles to efficiency is having to undo the mistakes you’ve made after completing a video recording (not to be confused with the iterative design process, where time dedicated to revision is already included), since videos are expensive to record (and thus re-record), and post-editing to fix mistakes is also expensive.
Thus the longer your video is expected to be, the more time you should spend planning out exactly what should happen and when. Although the upfront cost may seem anywhere from significant to excessive, you’ll recoup it when everything goes more smoothly later.
You should record ALL of your videos at a constant size and ratio (e.g., always full screen, in Full HD if possible). Downscaling at a later date is much, much easier than upscaling. Your software may give you the ability to record a single application window, but that may lead to different ratios and sizes for different video clips, meaning more work for you later if you need to sequence those videos one after another, or match sizes with your graphics and text assets. This is especially true if you record your video in multiple segments and over multiple days, when your desktop environment may change.
I’ve also found that using a double monitor setup speeds things up, because you can record on one screen while continuing to use the other to display your video editor, action script, and notes.
Finally, you’ll find it’s impossible to never make a mistake. If you’re a perfectionist, this can lead to you trying to make 10 or so attempts to make a single video clip. You can imagine how much time that requires, and the longer the clip should be, the worse it is. So if you find yourself making a mistake, try to figure out immediately if it’s one that can be corrected in post-editing, for instance by just cutting out the mistake — just undo your mistake and start over from the last safe point. To reduce mistakes, don’t try to record audio while you’re making the video, just do them in two separate phases (video first!)
When planning, be sure to write down any sequences of mouse and keyboard actions you need to perform, especially if you’re not the creator of the software you’re documenting (and thus already know exactly what needs to be done).
When writing a voice-over script, especially for longer videos, don’t write a polished draft before you’ve recorded the video clips. During recording you’ll regularly find unexpected details you’ll want to add, or what you expected to show just doesn’t seem to flow right. You may decide to speed up or slow down certain clips to keep within a time limit, and you can’t be precise about the length of each clip until you’ve recorded all of them. Also, the amount of text you write will require a specific amount of time to say, which may not be the same as the length of the video.
In general, the solution is to quickly write the main points of what you want to say, but don’t polish it up until after you’ve finished the video editing phase. It’s not as much as a problem for static slides that describe concepts, since you will always be able to just make them longer or shorter, but you can’t speed up or slow down videos by more than 30% without making it look artificial. You’ll also want to time phrases like “Click here” to the moment that the clicking happens on the video, and you won’t be able to predict the exact timing before the video editing phase is underway.
So, you’ve completed your video! Hopefully on time and under budget. Now it’s time to upload it so everyone can see it. Of course, you don’t have to put it on YouTube, you can use another hosting site like Vimeo. But at least at this moment in time, YouTube is the best place for free tutorial videos.
I’m not an expert yet on every feature available, but as I mentioned in Part 1, you would be surprised at how many YouTube videos there are showing you how to upload a video on YouTube. Google even has its own set of tutorials.
Everything else is just style and branding. For instance, if you know ahead of time you’re going to be putting up a large number of videos, set up a common cover slide format, and organize one or more playlists. And don’t forget to publicize your YouTube channel. After all, if you’re going to put that much work into it, someone had better watch it!