Creating engaging how-to videos: Four Fantastic Tips
Colleen Burns 120000C4RP firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  video martin_keen youtube ibmredbooks ibm_redbooks forrester
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I recently fulfilled a lifelong dream: to have draft beer on tap in my very own basement bar. It was a complicated do-it-yourself project made possible by a heavy reliance on internet how-to videos. There are instructional how-to videos online for almost any topic, and many organizations are using video to supplement or even replace traditional documentation. In business, as access to video equipment becomes ever easier, we are increasingly using how-to videos to share our expertise. Forrester Research estimates that nearly half of information workers will have some type of personal video solution in 2016.
How-to videos can be tremendously helpful and are the reason I'll be sipping an ice cold beer this evening. But there are many pitfalls to avoid. Here are four tips that the best instructional videos follow:
1. Get to the point
It turns out that building a kegerator system to serve beer raises a lot of questions. The basic things I needed were an old fridge, a pipe with beer and gas lines, and a tower tap to dispense the beer. But where to drill a hole in the fridge to connect the pipe without damaging its internals? And how to keep the beer cold as it leaves the fridge?
Fortunately YouTube was filled with guidance: the safest place to drill holes in fridges, how to use a blower to pump cool air. There was just one problem: waffle. And lots of it.
I was watching these videos to understand a specific task—typically the task described in the title of the video. But many of them opened with several minutes of preamble: “Here's the fridge I'll be using to dispense my home brew porter, which I've been brewing this past winter—one of my best batches in fact, thanks to my special blend of Peruvian cocoa beans.” Just drill the hole in the darn fridge, will you?!
Make sure your how-to videos describe a specific task, and get to that task after a bare minimum of introductions. Cut the waffle.
2. Zoom in
The trickiest part of my beer installation was making sure the blower sent enough cold air out of the fridge to keep the beer lines chilled. The placement of the blower was key. I found an instructional video for just that, but it was shot from a fixed wide angle, so trying to see the intricacies of the task involved a lot of squinting.
If you've ever watched a how-to video demonstrating a software product, you might be familiar with this feeling—the speaker talking about clicking a tiny icon, about three pixels high. It's very hard to follow along when you can't see clearly.
Zooming in on important elements, either with a camera, photograph or screen capture can go a long way toward helping your viewers avoid squint-o-vision.
3. Focus less on sound, more on captions
It seems that beer folk like rock music. At least based on the background music accompanying many of the instructional videos I saw. Music can often be distracting and typically serves no useful purpose. It's usually best avoided in a how-to video.
On a similar note, there's a good chance viewers of your video will be listening without any sound at all (browsing the video while performing other tasks, such as watching TV or working in an office). Consider adding closed captions to your video so no audio is necessary to understand the tasks performed in the video. Closed captions are not only good for accessibility but also help improve search engine optimization. The YouTube transcript feature makes adding captions easy—just type out what is said in the video in a plain text file and YouTube will magically generate captions aligned to the audio.
4. Listen to your viewers
There are many ways to provide feedback to the creators of videos. I used the like button or comment field for many of the beer videos that I found helpful. Taking notice of comments is a good way to figure out what works and what to do better in your next video. But there's an even better way: audience retention.
YouTube's audience retention report can show you how long people will stick with your video before giving up. If your three-minute how-to video has an average watch time of 15 seconds, that's a sign that something is wrong. Better still, you can see the exact moment when audience retention starts to fall. Pay attention to the elements that work in your video and the elements that turn the audience off.
Keeping your videos on target, with the action clearly highlighted and captioned, goes a long way to producing how-to videos that people will love. And with retention analytics you can see exactly what's going well and what needs to be improved. Give it a try.
Oh, and won't you look at the time? Beer o'clock. Cheers!
Martin Keen is an IBM Redbooks Project Leader. He works with technical experts to create books, guides, blogs, and videos. Follow @MartinRTP on Twitter.