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10 Ways Not to Make Instructional Video

Wednesday, November 25, 2020
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Are you planning to film your own instructional videos for use in the virtual classroom, to drop into e-learning, or use as microlearning? Maybe you want to show warehouse teams safe lifting practices, share aspects of body language with sales trainees, or demonstrate how a machine works to engineers.

Anyone can make video today because technology is easy to use, even compared to just 10 years ago. It’s also affordable. However, not everyone makes engaging video.

We’ve all seen training videos that miss their mark. But what can we expect? Most of the time, the trainer making the video didn’t go to film school. The good news is that if they just stop doing a few things, their videos will look great.

Here are 10 things you should stop doing to make your instructional videos look more professional and easier to produce as well as more effectively support learning.

1. Stop Winging It

If you don’t plan most aspects of your video, it will take you longer to produce. You’ll have to spend more energy thinking on your feet when your brain should be focusing on being creative. You’ll also make mistakes, which can cause you to change course halfway through. Ask a TV professional—you’ll discover just about everything they do is planned down to the smallest detail. Even action on screen that doesn’t look planned is typically planned not to look planned.

2. Stop Making Instructional Video Without First Nailing Down Your Objective

You can’t be focused and precise if you don’t know what you want your viewer to be able to do after watching your video. The objective keeps you on track and helps you avoid wasting time on irrelevant content. It also helps you make better creative decisions.

3. Don’t Film in Public Places Without Permission

When you film on just about any corporate campus, you’ll have security asking if you have permission. There are all sorts of reasons folks get edgy when you rip out your camera—privacy, intellectual property, and just the disruption it causes. So, ask permission from security or facilities management before filming in public areas.

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4. Don’t Tell but Show


Video is a visual medium and as such works best when we show people rather than tell them our message. That’s why video works so well for learning situations like demos and role plays. But it’s lousy for the kind of information you need to tell someone. If you find yourself having to explain the content verbally, the content is possibly better suited to a podcast.

5. Don’t rely on the spoken word to convey Your Message

Most viewers forget what they hear in video but remember what they see. That’s why talking head videos struggle to have instructional impact. Video is a visual medium, so always start with the picture by drawing a storyboard before you write the script.

6. Don’t Use the Microphone Built Into Your Camera.

Unless your camera is a few feet away from the person talking, the audio will sound lousy. So, invest in an external mic that you can position up close to the person speaking or the sound you hope to record.

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7. Don’t Load Up Text Graphics With Too Much Information

If you plan to use text graphics, keep them short, with just one point on the screen at a time and a serious font. Sans serif fonts like Helvetica, Arial, and Franklin are great. Cursive and creative fonts generally make things look like amateur hour. I mean, how can Comic Sans look anything but comedic in video?

8. Don’t Play Music All the Way Through Your Video

If you play the same track all the way through a four-minute video, people will fall asleep. Instead add some silence for effect. Or change the tune to grab the audience’s attention.

9. Don’t Get Sucked Into Using Fancy Transitions Like Starbursts and Ruffle Transitions

Sure, these are fun to play with in the editing software, but they’re not fun to watch. They also distract viewers from your message and make professional editors cringe. Stick with a simple cut or cross fade for your transitions unless that transition truly adds to the narrative.

10. Don’t overcomplicate Things.

A lot of people get hung up with using fancy equipment and software beyond what’s necessary. Truly, do you need green screen for everything? Sure, it was necessary for making Superman look like he was flying, but do you really need greenscreen for everything in corporate learning? Do you really need the expensive cameras?

Sure, there’s more we could add to this list. But I see new videographers making these mistakes all the time. If they stopped, their videos would be easier to follow and look much more professional.

Want to learn more about taking instructional videos to the next level? Jonathan Halls will be leading a virtual ATD Certificate program on rapid video production for trainers December 2–4, 2020.

About the Author

Jonathan Halls is an author, trainer, and coach. He wrote Confessions of a Corporate Trainer (ATD Press, 2019), Rapid Video Development for Trainers (ATD Press, 2012) and was a contributing author to Speak More (River Grove Books, 2012) and the ATD Handbook: The Definitive Reference for Training & Development 2nd Edition (ATD Press, 2014). He is author of the ATD Infoline, “Memory & Cognition in Learning” (ATD Press, 2014) and has written numerous articles for T&D magazine. Jonathan is an ATD BEST Awards reviewer and has sat on the advisory committees for the ASTD International Conference & Exposition and TechKnowledge.

The former BBC learning executive now runs workshops in media, communication, leadership, and creativity. He is on faculty at George Washington University and facilitates ATD’s Master Trainer Program ™, Training Certificate and Rapid Video for Learning Professionals Certificate program. Jonathan has been training, speaking, and coaching for 25 years in more than 20 countries. He describes his work as “at the intersection of media, communication, learning, leadership, and innovation.”

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Thank you! Good information on what not to do on making videos.
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