The Future of Communication Is Visual. Here Are 6 Ways Your Team Can Innovate.

Most people understand information faster and better when it’s presented visually. 

It’s why emojis, GIFs, screenshots, and videos have flooded our everyday communication. And it’s true at work too.

It was true when most of us worked in traditional office settings, and it’s true now that so many of us work remotely and may be missing that true connection with coworkers. 

That means it’s even more crucial for companies to embrace images and video.

So why do so many companies rely on long emails and endless Zoom calls for their remote communications?

For most organizations, CEOs, and managers, the answer is as simple as, “That’s the way we’ve always done it, and it works fine!”

But here’s the thing: What worked yesterday doesn’t necessarily guarantee success today — especially when there are more effective options.

Companies that are slow to innovate or update procedures will be left in the dust.


[Webinar] The Value of Visuals & 6 Ways You Can Start Using Them Right Now

 

Remote work requires finding new and better ways to connect online with coworkers — and visuals and video are the keys to effective workplace communications (whether remote or in-person). 

We get it. Change is hard. You’re busy. Your team is busy. And the idea of learning to make images and videos is daunting (especially if you’ve never done it before).

But what if creating professional-quality visuals and videos to communicate was — in many cases — actually easier than typing out a long and boring email?

It is! 

And, best of all, remote communication isn’t just better for your employees — it’s better for your business. You’ll increase productivity, have fewer mistakes, and eliminate feedback loops.

Plus, your employees will be more engaged than ever.

Don’t worry, we’re not asking you to give up email entirely. We’re just suggesting a better way. 

And it’s incredibly easy to get started.

We’ll show you how.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

How visuals are better for remote communication (and your business)

We’ve all been there. You hear the little “ding” from your email inbox. You click over to check it, and right there staring back at you is a giant wall of text. Five paragraphs, six sentences each. No personality. No breaks. No images.

No thanks. 

Spoiler alert: Your email did NOT find me well. 

But let’s be clear about something. We’re not saying email is obsolete. Email is and will continue to be one of the backbones of business communications.

It’s great when used properly. Unfortunately, we’ve come to rely on email as the end-all, be-all of workplace communications. 

Email is perfect for quick updates or notes a few sentences long. Need to follow up on a request or check the status of a project? Email’s your go-to. 

Need to give instructions or deliver a lot of information at once? That’s not really email’s strong suit.

Chat applications like Slack and Microsoft Teams have become so popular at least in part because we’ve been abusing email. 

When it comes to text-based communications, people want them short and sweet. 

But don’t take our word for it. We did the research!

What is the true value of visuals?

A couple of years ago, we did a pretty major research project called The Value of Visuals. We wanted to know if communicating with visuals and video actually was better than plain text, but we also wanted to discover if there was an economic benefit to visual communications. 

the value of visuals graph

We tested 125 people performing real-world office tasks, such as updating a web page, filling out an expense report, and downloading and installing new software. For each person, the instructions for each task were randomly given as plain text, text with marked up screenshots/images, or video.

Then, we measured their performance as they completed their tasks.

The results were astounding.

In all, 67% of those tested completed tasks better when the instructions were provided as images or video. On average, they absorbed the information 7% faster and, when asked later about the tasks, they remembered the information better and for a longer period of time. 

In fact, our research estimates that when companies use more images and videos in workplace communications, each employee could gain nearly seven minutes of productivity per day.

the value of visuals productivity chart

That’s nearly 34 minutes per five-day work week and 2.25 hours per month — for each employee. 

That means if your company has 100 employees, you could get back 225 hours of productivity every month. If your company has 500 employees, that’s 1,100 hours of productivity gained. 

In monetary terms, that’s about $1,200 in productivity gained per year for each employee — just by using more visuals in workplace communications.

Employees want more visuals

If the purely economic benefits weren’t enough, your employees crave more visual communication at work. 

Our study found that 48% of employees consider video to be the most engaging form of communication. 37% consider text with images to be the most engaging. 

Just 15% said email was the most engaging.

And yet, nearly 50% of businesses are actually increasing their use of email. 

value of visuals engagement chart

Employees who are less engaged feel less connected to their work, their company, and their peers. And that’s compounded by the feeling of disconnection that can already occur with remote work.

But truly engaged employees feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. They have motivation to do better work.

When they feel like their company cares for them, they care more for their company.

Six easy ways you can start using visuals at work right now — no pro skills required

1. Replace meetings with video

Purely informational meetings shouldn’t require everyone to be in the same place at the same time — even if that place is virtual.

If you have information to share with your team that doesn’t require immediate feedback or brainstorming, try replacing that meeting with a video. 

Replace meetings

You can write out exactly what you want to say and share the info without interruption or without conversations digressing or running wildly off course.

If you have slides to show, use Snagit to record your screen while you narrate. No slides? No problem. Snagit can record your webcam to give your video a more personal touch.

This type of delivery is more respectful of your team’s time. If it’s not urgent that they know the information right this second, they can watch the video in their own time. And, if they need a refresher, they can always go back and watch again.

Plus, if you do need feedback or if they have questions, they can come to you individually. 

In our experience, meetings that normally might have been scheduled for an hour can be reduced to a 20-minute (or less) video. That’s a TON of time saved!

2. Provide visual feedback

This is one of the best ways to get started using visuals in workplace and remote communications, because you’re probably already doing something similar.

Nearly all of us have had to proofread and edit a document that someone else has created. We print it out, grab our red pen, and note on the printed pages where to make the requested changes. 

Provide feedback

Unfortunately, unless you then want to scan your pages and email them, that doesn’t really work in a remote environment. 

Snagit can help!

In this example, I used Snagit to grab screenshots of specific pages in an ebook and note where changes were needed. Just like with traditional document editing, the recipient can see exactly what I want and where I want it. 

This took almost no time at all.

Plus, it works for just about any kind of similar feedback. Need to make changes to a website? Just grab your screenshots, note the necessary changes, and send them along to your web team. 

You can also do this by combining images and video. Snagit customer Referral Rock — whose team has been remote since day one — told us he regularly grabs the screenshots he needs and adds the markup. Then, he’ll make a quick screencast video walking his team through the changes so he can add context where necessary. 

Now, they understand what needs to be changed AND why.

It’s quicker than writing and email — and much more engaging and personable. 

3. Make evergreen onboarding and focused training content

Great onboarding gives new hires the tools and information they need to succeed in their new roles. In a remote environment, getting face-to-face time for training isn’t much of an option, but creating video and visual training content can go a long way in setting them on the path to success.

Whether it’s first-day training stuff or ongoing employee improvement training, visual and video content makes so much sense.

Onboarding and training content.

It’s great for things like how to use HR systems or log into the network. You can even make a quick video of answering four (or six or 10) most frequently asked questions from new hires.

And, it’s easily scalable. Your how-to guides, job aids, or short training videos work for one, 100, or 1,000 people or more.

Even for smaller organizations, this makes more sense. Your training content can work for you even when you’re doing other things. You’ll spend less time away from your job and more time doing other work.

Whether you need to create job aids, software training microvideos, step-by-step guides, or more, Snagit is the perfect tool for creating internal training content.

4. Have more efficient software rollouts

Nearly every organization has to roll out new software at some time or another. It can be incredibly frustrating and disrupting to your employees — especially if not well-communicated.

Use screenshots and screencasts to show how to showcase software features during an internal rollout. Record a quick screencast that can be easily shared with team members or the entire company. 

Software rollouts

Short training sessions can help users maintain their skill sets while learning new features. Having employees train for software rollouts can help prevent productivity loss.

We recently went through a major software rollout at TechSmith. Our IT team used a combination of screenshots, short videos, and even email to help prepare us for what was to come, guide us through the rollout process, and follow up with us after the software was installed. 

Rather than plowing our way through paragraphs of text (which most people won’t do more than skim), we were able to see what was coming, what we needed to do, and provide feedback as requested. 

📚 Recommended Reading: How to Crush Your Next Software Rollout

5. Provide peer-to-peer training/help (aka social learning or informal training)

Most of us probably don’t think of ourselves as trainers, but chances are if you work with other people, you’ve had to show someone how to do something at one time or another.

It can be anything from showing a colleague how to add an out-of-office message to their email to how to adjust the microphone settings in their virtual meeting application. 

Peer-to-peer training and help.

Instead of jumping in a meeting every time someone needs help, create a quick screencast video showing the process. Or, grab a few screenshots and use Snagit’s step tool to make a step-by-step guide. 

You’ll save time in your day and give your coworkers a nice reference for when they need a refresher.

6. Answer technical questions faster

Your IT staff can save considerable time and effort by creating how-tos and job aids for their most frequently asked questions. Then, when a request comes in, they have the answer at the ready.

Even more complex or less common questions will also benefit from visuals and videos. When one of your users has a problem or request, your IT team can grab screenshots of exactly where to go and what to do to fix the issue. Or, make a screencast video walking through various options or potential fixes. 

Technical support and customer support.

This works for your users, too! Did someone suddenly get a weird new error message? Grab a screenshot and send it to your IT team. They can diagnose the problem and get you back to work. 

Or, if a software application is repeatedly crashing, grab a screen recording of what steps you take before the crash to help your IT staff identify and rectify the problem.

Three myths about creating visual content (and why they’re untrue)

So, you know that you should use more visual content in workplace communications, but isn’t it way harder? It’s just so much easier to write an email, right?

Let’s look at that.

Myth 1. Creating visuals and video takes too long

Video and visuals CAN take a long time. But they don’t have to. 

Remember that perfect is the enemy of good. While many of us have no qualms about sending off a quick email without proofreading or making sure all our grammar and punctuation are perfect, for some reason we think visuals and videos have to be perfect before sharing. 

Not so. 

Embrace the slop. Champion the one-take screencast. Celebrate and use the quick screenshot with markup. 

If you find yourself in a cycle of perfection, take a step back and think about the goal and audience. These two factors will help you determine how polished your video needs to be. 

As a manager or CEO, boost your team’s confidence by explicitly outlining what content is higher-priority and needs more polish. Most internal communication probably doesn’t need to be perfect to be effective. 

Myth #2: You need special skill sets

Switching to anything new can make some people feel uneasy. Whether it’s nerves around being a first-time creator or uncertainty around the execution, many people have no idea how easy it is to create visuals.

Technology has brought a lot of ways to easily create really incredible visuals and videos without the need for professional skills. 

Visual communication software like TechSmith Snagit makes it easy to create and share high-quality images and video that deliver messages more quickly than text alone.

In many cases, it’s much easier and faster than writing a long and complicated email.

Myth #3: You won’t know where to start

Finding new ways to incorporate visual content into your organization doesn’t have to be overly elaborate or complicated — it’s meant to simplify. There are lots of ways to use visuals to make communication easier and help get the point across.

First, determine what you are trying to achieve and how visuals can help with that. Then, empower your employees and guide them to make sure it actually gets done.

It may take some time to get out of the email habit, but you and your employees will be happier when you do. 

Just like writing an email or putting together a meeting agenda, think about the purpose of the video or image and then what you want to accomplish with it. Then, create something that does that. 

If you still need a helping hand, Snagit comes with professionally designed, easy-to-use templates for those times when starting from scratch just seems like too much. And, with a subscription to TechSmith Assets for Snagit, you’ll get access to even more.

Take your remote communications to the next level with visuals and video

Companies that use more visual and video content for internal communications can gain productivity, reduce mistakes, eliminate feedback loops, and have happier, more engaged employees.

And, with software tools like TechSmith Snagit, it’s never been easier to create professional-quality, highly effective content with just a few clicks — even if you’ve never made an image or video in your life. 

Slay the unnecessary email monster and get on the path to engaging, effective communications.

Ryan Knott

TechSmith Marketing Content Specialist. Geek. Science Enthusiast. Retired roller derby coach. On a mission to pet all the dogs. He/him. A few things about me ... 1. Mildly obsessed with the movie Alien, 2. Two pibbles: Biggie and Reo, 3. Friend of ducks everywhere.

The Ultimate Guide to Easily Make Instructional Videos

how to make instructional videos illustrated hero

What do you do when you need to learn something new? What if you need to know how to fix something? Or what if you need to learn how to use a new software or service?

You probably look for a video. And you’re not alone.

According to a recent TechSmith study, 53% of people reported watching two or more instructional videos per week (up 152% compared to 2013).

Regardless of your industry, instructional videos are the best delivery method if you’re serious about teaching others, growing your business, or building an online course.

If you’re looking to level-up your video skills and knowledge, you’ll love this guide.

Research shows that when people look for answers to their questions, they prefer to consult a video. In fact:

You may be wondering, how do I create online training videos?

Unfortunately, it can be a challenge for many small businesses, educators, and entrepreneurs to find the time to create video content.

That’s why we’re here to help! And it’s much easier than you might think.

In this guide, we share the secrets to easily creating professional-quality training and tutorial videos. We know what works (and what doesn’t) and we’ll show you exactly what to do to make how-to and instructional videos.

Make your own instructional videos today!

Download Camtasia and FREE templates to quickly and easily make your own tutorial and training videos.

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Here’s what you’ll find in this free guide to create great instructional videos:

Part 1: What is an instructional video?

An instructional video is any video that demonstrates a process, transfers knowledge, explains a concept, or shows someone how to do something.

Creating instructional videos isn’t limited to instructional design professionals. At least, not anymore. Anyone, in any industry, can (and probably should) create instructional videos.

Here are a few examples of types of instructional videos you can create:

Micro videos

Micro videos are short instructional videos that focus on teaching a single, narrow topic. They’re usually less than a minute long and appeal to today’s media consumers, who have notoriously short attention spans.

Tutorial videos

Tutorial videos are the go-to instructional method for teaching a process or providing step-by-step instructions. Usually between 2-10 minutes long, tutorial videos may leverage multiple instructional methods.

Sometimes referred to as “how-to” videos, the best ones are carefully planned and have a professional touch.

Training videos

Training videos (or employee training videos) are designed to improve an employee’s workplace skills. Companies often create online training videos to cover interpersonal topics, such as compliance and harassment training, or job-related topics, such as hardware and software training.

Training videos often use footage of real people to connect the trainer and trainee. These can be interactive videos and often fit in among a larger training course.

Explainer videos

Explainer videos are short types of videos (usually less than two minutes) that explain a business concept or product in an entertaining, visual way. They typically use basic animations to explain a larger topic, product, or service. Explainer videos simplify complex ideas into easily digestible content.

Presentation videos

Recording a presentation makes it available for an audience to watch after the fact — perfect for people who want to rewatch and reabsorb the content or for those who may not have been able to attend the in-person event. This might be as simple as recording just the audio for a presentation, or as advanced as recording PowerPoint point slides, a webcam, and a separate microphone all at once.

Lecture and presentation capture tend to be longer than a tutorial video and span the length of the entire class or presentation. This makes them more time intensive to consume and requires a higher level of investment from the audience.

Screencast videos

Screencasts tend to be quick and informal, and are usually intended for a smaller audience than tutorial videos. These videos are digital video recordings of your computer screen and usually include audio narration.

The format lends itself to just-in-time teaching, where an instructor, colleague, or manager can quickly create a screencast to answer a question or clear up a problematic concept. Often considered “disposable” videos, screencasts can be made quickly, with lower production value, and for a specific purpose — often with a short lifespan.

As you can see, instructional videos go by a variety of different names. But whether you need to make a how-to video or a tutorial, the goal is the same. Unlike other forms of video, an instructional video instructs. Of course, while you don’t want boring videos, your main goal is for your viewers to comprehend and learn what you are teaching them.

Part 2: Common mistakes people make when creating videos

When it comes to making instructional videos there are a few common mistakes people make. Here are a few you can easily avoid:

1. Not knowing your audience

Knowing your audience is critical. If you don’t know your audience, it’s all but impossible to make a helpful video. Understanding your audience will guide key decisions about your videos.

General information is helpful, but thinking about a specific individual that is representative of your audience – what their problems are, why they will be watching your video, what they like and don’t like – will help you make a more focused and detailed video.

Later in this guide, I’ll show you the right questions to ask to get a clear picture of your audience.

how to make instructional videos nick

 

Nick Nimmin

Find Nick on YouTube: NickNimmin

“[Y]our audience for your videos is the same people that you’re targeting for your product in the first place. … [I]f people are buying your product, then people are looking for how to use that product, how to get better at that product. Things about that product that they might not know initially when they take it out of the box. They’re looking for that kind of information.” – Nick Nimmin

2. Trying to make it perfect

Too often people worry about getting things perfect. It’s good to remember that perfect is an illusion. If you start with perfection in mind, it will paralyze your creative process and you will struggle to begin.

Remember, the goal of creating video content isn’t to create the perfect video, it’s to create a video that teaches something.

how to make instructional videos sean

 

Sean Cannell

Find Sean on YouTube: THiNKmediaTV

“Punch perfectionism in the face. Punch fear in the face, and just hit publish, because you just got to put out your first videos, and the reality…is your first videos are going to be your worst videos. We all start horrible, and I think that’s the fear. We’re afraid of putting out some bad videos…just accept the fact they’re going to be bad, and get those ones out there.” – Sean Cannell

3. Worrying too much about equipment

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you don’t have the right tools to create quality videos. It’s fun to have the latest and greatest gear, but it’s far from a necessity. Learn the basics, then start to upgrade your tools. It doesn’t take fancy equipment to make great videos, and I’ll prove it later in this guide when I show you the equipment we use to make great videos.

how to make instructional videos andrew

Andrew Kan

“So many people focus on ‘I don’t have the right gear’ and ‘I don’t have the right camera,’ but they don’t really think about, well, what is my message? What am I trying to get across with my brand? They don’t want to just be told, buy my product. If you can make someone feel something, if you can make them relate to what you’re doing, that’s more important than any piece of gear.” – Andrew Kan

Part 3: How to make an instructional video with screen recording

Most people who end up making videos didn’t expect that someday they’d be making videos. They stumbled upon the job. The result of this is a lot of people don’t approach their first video with a well thought out plan.

But, the greatest secret of all is that great videos start with great planning.

The essentials for a complete tutorial video plan include:

  • Step 1: Determine and get know your audience
  • Step 2: Write a storyboard and script
  • Step 3: Record your narration
  • Step 4: Record your screen
  • Step 5: Make a few edits
  • Step 6: Add a video intro
  • Step 7: Produce and share

How to Make Tutorial Videos | Camtasia | TechSmith

Step 1. Determine and get to know your audience

Before you even think about hitting the record button, get to know your audience and understand why they need help.

If you have a product or service, talk to your customers about how they use your product and where they struggle. If you’re teaching a class, find out what learning outcomes your students hope to gain. Are you training a new hire? Ask yourself what questions they need to be answered to be most successful.

Then use that information to choose tutorial topics that will help the most people.

WARNING: As tempting as it may be, DO NOT skip this first step. Even if you know your audience like the back of your hand, it’s still vital to get that information out of your head and into an outline.

Before you move on to step two, make sure to answer these questions about your audience and video:

1. What is your topic? Pick ONE topic per video. By narrowing your scope, your video will be more focused, and easier to create. You’ll also ensure your video is the appropriate length to keep your viewers’ attention.

2. Who is the audience? Start with basic demographic information like education, age, professional organizations, association with other groups and then advance to their interests, concerns, and goals.

  • Why do they care about this topic? Make sure you know why your audience will care. This will ensure you address their concerns and reasons for watching the video.
  • What is the learning objective? Having a clear learning objective helps you provide clearer instruction with a more achievable outcome.
  • How does it benefit them? If someone is going to invest time watching your video, what value are they going to take away?

Do you want more tips on creating videos? Watch the entire Video Workflow series.

In this short video you’ll get even more questions to consider when planning your video, like:

  • Where is your video going to be hosted or end up?
  • What is the best size for that location?
  • Do you want to add interactivity, like quizzes or interactive hot spots?
  • Do you need accessibility features, like captions?

Step 2. Write a storyboard and script

Storyboard

Once you have your topic and know your audience, I recommend you create a storyboard to outline and visualize what you plan to show.

Answering these questions will help you create a video that’s clear, concise, and interesting to your audience. By spending a little time researching your audience, you’ll know exactly what they are looking for online. You’ll avoid losing viewers, reduce confusion, and help viewers retain your information.

Some people get really creative and draw elaborate pictures.

Honestly, though, they can be as simple as this:

Quick sketches and stick figures are perfectly fine for live video. For a screencast or screen recording, you can use a series of simple screenshots to roughly show what you plan to display with the narration.

When you finish storyboarding and you have your plan in hand you’re ready to record, right?

Not quite. Before you go any further, write a script.

Do you want more tips on creating videos? Watch the entire Video Workflow series.

Script

A script (even a simple one) will help you be efficient with what you say, saving you and your viewers time. You’re also far less likely to forget something.

Here are a few scriptwriting tips to get you started.

  • Write your script like your explaining the process to a friend. Use simple language and avoid jargon.
  • Show and tell. Instead of simply giving a play-by-play of your on-screen actions, “first I click this, then I click that,” let the actions speak for themselves. Take time to both say what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
  • Practice, practice … and then practice some more. Be sure to read your script aloud before you record. Many times you’ll find that something that sounded great in your head can be hard to say out loud. If you find yourself getting tripped up, go back and make sure you’re using natural language.
  • Get feedback. Find someone who’s not afraid to tell you what they really think and send them your script. This might seem scary at first, but once you get used to receiving feedback, it becomes an essential part of the scripting process.

Step 3. Record your voice over

With your script in hand, it’s time to record the narration. Camtasia comes with a built-in, easy-to-use voice recording feature and can be an excellent option.

But I also want to take this opportunity to introduce you to TechSmith Audiate.

Audiate takes voiceover recording and editing to an entirely different level by transcribing your voice in real time — as you record. Then, you can literally edit your audio just like you would edit text in a document.

So, rather than staring at a wave form and trying to figure out exactly what you said and where, you can see it right on your screen. 

Audiate even automatically flags all your “ums,” “uhs,” and other hesitations so you can easily find and delete them. You can even delete them all at once. 

Already have a voice over recorded? Import it into Audiate and it will transcribe it for you.

When you’re done, save audio file and import it into Camtasia. You can even export the edited text as a transcript or as an SRT file for captions.

I’ve been doing video and audio recording work for years and I’m quite comfortable using professional audio recording software like Adobe Audition, but if I’m doing voice over work, you can bet I’m using Audiate because it’s the best and easiest way to record voice overs.

Next, if you can, get your hands on the best microphone you can find. Even a middle-of-the-road mic (like the one connected to your headphones) will provide much better sound quality than the one built into your computer.

Do you want more tips on creating videos? Watch the entire Video Workflow series.

Then, find a quiet place to record. At TechSmith, have a recording studio with sound dampening foam, which is great, however, we realize this isn’t feasible for everyone. If you want a low-cost solution, a broom closet or small office can sometimes get you a pretty similar sound.

When you’re ready, record your script and make sure to speak slowly and clearly. If you make mistakes, don’t start over, simply pause, then start again right before you made the mistake. You can always remove the mistakes when you’re finished.

I recommend using Audacity or Adobe Audition to remove mistakes and any extra noise from your audio.

With your audio narration done, you can record your video.

Check out this blog for more information on how to record the perfect voice over for your instructional videos.

Step 4. Record your screen

Start by cleaning up your computer screen and closing unnecessary applications. Turn off notifications that might pop up. Follow these directions to get crisp, clear, screen video. The last thing you want after you record all your footage is to realize you have a blurry video.

TIP: When you choose a screen capture or screencasting software, pick a tool with built-in recording, editing, and sharing features. It will save you time and let you do all of your work in one tool.

Open the application you want to record and conduct a few practice walkthroughs of exactly what you want to show your viewers. This will help you get smooth cursor motions and, in the end, you’ll have less editing to do.

Then, open the Camtasia recorder and record your screen just as you practiced. Remember, if you make a mistake, simply pause and then start right before the mistake. You can always smooth things out when editing later on.

If you want a simple way to increase engagement and help viewers connect with your content, try adding a webcam recording to your screencast.

When you finish recording your desktop, you can edit your video.

Step 5. Edit the video

Most people feel like they need to be a professional video editor to make a nice looking video. But you don’t need expensive editing tools or a lot of knowledge to get started.

It takes just a few steps and some simple video editing tips.

📺 Recommended Viewing: How to Edit Video

To start, cut out mistakes by selecting them with the playhead, then clicking cut. To trim extra footage from the ends or your recording, drag the end of the clip in.

 

Editing In-Depth | Camtasia | TechSmith

When you finish editing the video, add your audio narration. With your narration on the timeline, you can use clip speed and extend frame to sync the audio and video in your project.

Ripple Move & Extend Frame | Camtasia | TechSmith

Here are a few examples of simple edits:

  • If you need more time to explain a concept split the clip and use extend frame to essentially freeze the video.
  • To speed up a boring part of your recording, add clip speed, then drag the handles to speed it up.
  • Or to focus your viewer’s attention, use animations to zoom in on the important parts.

Step 6. Add a video intro

A video intro leads your viewers into your content, but don’t get too crazy. Keep your intro simple and to the point. Viewers want to get to the meat of your content. They don’t care about anything other than what you promised to teach them.

A good intro clearly lays out the topic and quickly explains what the viewers can expect to learn.

To create your own video intro, add some space at the beginning of your video. Hold the shift key on your keyboard and drag the playhead to the right.

Then, open your media bin and select the Library tab. From the “Motion Graphics – Intro Clips” folder, drag the intro you like onto the timeline.

Camtasia comes stocked with a few built-in video intro templates, but you can get an entire catalog of pre-made video assets, including intro templates from TechSmith Assets.

To customize your intro clip, select it on the timeline and then edit the text and shapes in the properties panel. Enter text, choose a font, and change any colors or other settings for the shapes and text.

After you have your video all put together, now is a great time to add some music to your video. While it’s not required, music can make a good video that much better. For a how-to or video lesson, try to choose something upbeat and positive. You want your viewers to feel good as they’re learning.

Step 7. Produce and share

Finally, think about where your video will live. There are many video hosting options to choose from these days. You can share your video to an online video platform like YouTube, Vimeo, or Screencast, or you can choose to save the video as a local file. You can also share directly to your favorite social media site.

We’ve found that the majority of our users prefer to store finished videos on YouTube, especially for external videos. There are many great reasons to put your education and learning videos on YouTube.

We also have a free guide, if you want to learn our exact tips and tricks on how to make a YouTube video.

screencast hosting pie chart

Before sending your video out into the world, I recommend sharing your video with a few people to get some video feedback.

This helps ensure your message is clear and your video accomplishes your goals.

Part 4: How to create a training video with a camera

This is where we start to level up. There are a lot of similarities between a screencast and creating training video with a camera. You still need a video plan, a script, and the right tools, but stepping in front of the camera also brings some new challenges.

Here are a few unique things to consider when creating a training video that includes camera video.

How to Create Training Videos | Camtasia | TechSmith

Start by gathering any equipment you need for your video. Remember, don’t get overwhelmed by equipment. For example, in the video above, we only used five tools:

  • Tripod
  • Smartphone
  • Phone clip (to keep the camera steady and attach it to the tripod)
  • A clean backdrop
  • Lights

Set up your recording space and make sure the area is well lit. You’ll either want to record in a spot that has a lot of natural light or add some video lighting to your equipment list.

Place your camera on a tripod and position it as close to your subject as possible, while still getting everything you need in the shot. Being close to the subject will help you get the best possible audio when recording with a smartphone camera.

When the scene is set, use your storyboard and script to guide you through each step.

Remember, just because you have a camera video, it doesn’t mean you can’t also use screen video. Some of the best tutorial and training videos include both! Camtasia makes it easy to combine camera and screen video in one project.

Part 5: The true cost of making tutorial, training, and explainer videos

Before you roll up your sleeves DIY style or hand off your project to a professional video company, let’s take a step back and make sure the right people are making your video.

Budget often plays a large role in this decision, you may want to start by considering the impact you want the video to have.

Here are a few questions to ask when weighing the options.

  • How many videos do I need?
  • How much money am I willing to spend?
  • Is this video going to lead the marketing efforts for a campaign?
  • Will it live in a prominent place, such as on a website landing page?

Below, I’ve laid out the pros and cons of common options for creating an instructional video.

Hire an outside company

If there’s a lot depending on this video (and you only need one), you might want to consider hiring an external company to produce a “knock their socks off” level video. But buyer beware. This will cost you a lot of time and money. Furthermore, if you want to edit the video further for use in other places, you’ll have to pay extra for that.

Pros

Video production companies have the talent, skills, and experience to create the best explainer videos. Good companies work with you to make your video exactly how you want it.

Cons

It’ll cost you. The average cost for a custom 60-second explainer video is roughly $8,000. And just one professionally-made tutorial video can cost $10,000 or more.

Make your own videos

This is my favorite option because if you create your videos in-house you’ll have more control over the budget and complete creative freedom. A screencast tool like Camtasia is a perfect option for those looking for a DIY option.

Pros

You have complete creative freedom and more control over the budget.

Cons

You’re limited by your own skills, time, software, and hardware.

And, while you might never reach the level of a full-time video producer, you’ll be amazed at the quality of the videos you can create with just a little bit of practice.

What’s next?

Whether you’re just getting started, or you’re a video ninja, you’ve learned some of the key tools and strategies to create successful instructional videos.

Take this guide, download a free trial of Camtasia, and hop in.

Camtasia is built for anyone who needs to make any kind of instructional video. We offer a ton of helpful tutorials to get you started. And, for the record, we make 100% of our tutorials and other screencasts using Camtasia.

If you want to learn even more about creating videos, try out the new TechSmith Academy. It’s a totally free resource designed to level-up new video creators!

No time to read the whole guide?

Don’t worry. Get a free PDF version so you can read it whenever you want.

Download PDF

Frequently asked questions

How long should instructional videos be?

According to TechSmith research, the majority of viewers prefer videos of 1-6 minutes in length. However, there is also an appetite for longer videos of up to 20 minutes. It all depends on your topic and audience. In some cases, a longer video may be more successful.

How do you make a training video?

You can make a training video with a camera, screen recorder, and video editor. Just make sure you plan out your content first and know exactly who the audience is for your video.

What is the best software for making video tutorials?

Camtasia is the best software for making tutorial videos. You want to have a tool that is simple use, but flexible enough to take on larger projects down the road. Camtasia is a screen recorder with a built-in video editor.

What are video tutorials?

Tutorial videos are the go-to instructional method for teaching a process or providing step-by-step instructions. Usually between 2-10 minutes long, tutorial videos may leverage multiple instructional methods.

Can streaming video be recorded?

Absolutely! You can easily capture or record live streaming video and share it with your friends, your coworkers, or save it for later viewing. It’s easy, it’s fast, and it will bring order to a chaotic media landscape.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2019 and has been updated in July 2020 for accuracy and to include new information.

How Online Leadership is Changing in Higher Education

online leadership hero

The following session was presented at Educause 2019 by Eric Fredericksen, Associate Vice President, University of Rochester; Richard Garrett, Chief Research Officer, Eduventures, National Research Center for College & University Admissions; and Ron Legon, Executive Director Emeritus, Quality Matters.

Who manages online programs at most universities? What does a chief online officer (COO) do, and how does that overlap with the head of IT?  

The most recent survey from Quality Matters and Eduventures Research of online officers across all sectors of US higher education answers these questions. In its fourth year, CHLOE – an acronym for changing landscapes in online education – gathered feedback from 367 respondents, up from 104 in 2016 ﹘ the largest response yet. 

“We’re quite happy with how the survey has taken hold, ” said Ron Legon, Executive Director Emeritus at Quality Matters.

COO on the rise

More institutions now have a COO than ever before. While only 15% of higher education institutions surveyed had a COO pre-2001, now almost all have one, even if the title varies. 

“In most cases, this position is situated on the academic side of the house,” Ron explained, although some report to the president of the institution.  

Richard Garrett, Chief Research Officer, Eduventures, National Research Center for College and University Admissions, at the podium giving a session at Educause 2019 about the latest CHLOE 3 survey results.
Richard Garrett, Chief Research Officer, Eduventures, National Research Center for College and University Admissions, explains how the relationship between the CIO and COO may be linked with enrollment.

What COOs actually do

How exactly do COOs help oversee online teaching and learning?

At least half of all COOs in the study oversees an array of responsibilities including instructional design and course development, quality assurance, LMS support/administration, online budgeting, online policy-making, and student/faculty training. In addition to technical knowledge, COOs need excellent collaboration skills as well. 

“One of the top duties of the COO is coordination between the academic units,” Ron said.

Relationships evolve

Considering the growing presence of COOs and the potential overlap in duties with IT, what is the relationship between those two senior officer positions? 

“This year, for the first time, we asked them how they relate to other senior officers at the institution,” Ron said. “Specifically, we wanted to find out the relationship between two top officers ﹘ the COO and Chief Information Officer (CIO).” 

Eric Fredericksen, Associate Vice President at the University of Rochester, echoed the mindset of many administrators. 

“The common question that comes up is: ‘What are our peer institutions doing?’” Eric asked. “We need the anecdotal experience of working faculty and administrators to find out what the working relationship is between the CIO and COO.  Is it collaborative? Are they separate parallel tracks that seldom intersect? Or is one person wearing both hats?”

In the majority of institutions surveyed, the COO and CIO collaborate as peers, from 56% of the time at community colleges to 77% in larger universities. The two roles tend to collaborate more in institutions that have restructured to maximize the benefits of online and distance learning. Looking at Carnegie classifications, Research and Masters institutions have a high incidence of collaborating roles as well.  

“It sends a message that as online learning grows, it benefits from a closer collaboration between these two officers and their organizations,” Ron said.

While the teamwork mindset is highly beneficial at that level of leadership, sometimes it can also be tough for faculty and staff. When duties overlap between CIO and COO, students and faculty don’t know who to ask questions, or where to get help. 

Richard Garrett, Chief Research Officer at Eduventures, sees the emergence of this strong relationship as reason to ask more questions about how it will mature in the future. 

“What is the optimal relationship here?” Richard asked. “Should it be a collaboration of these roles, where the COO focuses on remote students and the CIO on campus students? Or do the two roles need to merge?”

Two senior online officers collaborate and discuss strategies while pointing to two large computer screens.

Centralize or not? 

Given the amount of emerging technology for online and blended programs, it’s no wonder colleges grapple with the best way to introduce new solutions. New e-learning technology can come from the CIO, the COO, or from both offices. Sometimes departments choose their own internal systems. In past decades, universities have trended from decentralized to centralized and back again. 

“Does everybody get a sense that this is the wild west, or are we going towards a more centralized structure?,” asked Ron. 

Vendors frequently offer tools directly to faculty and departments, with cloud options that make a department-only pilot feasible. With the best of intentions, sometimes faculty groups roll out new tools without letting IT or even their department heads know ahead of time. With so many shiny new systems in the cloud, it can be difficult to stem rogue rollouts when vendors have turn-key systems. There can also be a fuzzy line about IT approval when programs are used first at home, off premise, and then slowly brought into the institution. 

This increased multi-level array of options may not always be a bad thing. 

“Today’s student, traditional or not, increasingly values the convenience of online learning, whether it makes up an entire program or just a portion. COOs and CIOs need to work together to ensure the student experience is as flexible and integrated as possible,” Richard said. “The CHLOE project will continue to explore this and many other online learning issues.”  

Next steps

The next iteration of the survey ﹘ CHLOE 5 ﹘ will launch next year with a focus on the online learning market. Moving forward, the survey will continue to look at changing landscapes in online education, after its namesake acronym.  

See the Quality Matters website for more information including full CHLOE survey results.  

Do your video tools give faculty an easy way to record, share, edit, and caption videos for online and blended learning? 

TechSmith Knowmia Pro provides industry-leading quizzing and analytics, mobile teaching and learning, and flexible accessibility options.

Learning Online 101: How to Teach Online Course Skills that Improve Student Success

teach online course skills

Can you teach students how to learn online?

A mid-size college without an official online program, CSU Channel Islands was going through a transition.

They knew their large segment of transfer students wanted online courses, so administrators introduced one or two sections of select e-courses — around 12% of total offerings — to provide a few online options.

But instructors initially had reservations. They wanted to make sure students still had a great learning experience, and that faculty wouldn’t be inundated with technical issues.

Jill Leafstedt, Ph.D Associate Vice Provost, Innovation and Faculty Development, explained the sentiment around campus. “Faculty wanted to teach online. But they didn’t want all the student questions that come along with it.”

Imagine what’s possible for e-course skills

Jill Leafstedt, Ph.D Associate Vice Provost, Innovation and Faculty Development, CSU Channel Islands

The learning design team started to brainstorm solutions, searching for a preemptive one that would prevent issues before they even started. What if they could teach students how to learn online, to make the entire process smoother for both faculty and students?

They liked the idea, but still had questions. Can a “how to learn online” student orientation reduces the technical support concerns of faculty? If so, what is the best way to prep students across all departments for online learning? According to research by Britto & Rush (2013), students who participate in an orientation have higher retention rates. That was inspiring in and of itself. 

It was definitely worth a try. The learning design team began to create an interactive course that orients students to the online environment.

Building a human-centered course

Working together to establish overall goals, administrators knew that the orientation should cover much more than just technical know-how. “We want students to feel more confident, more connected to the institution and each other,” explained Jamie Hoffman, design consultant.

The course also needed to prepare students for academic success, and of course, introduce and immerse students in the technology they’ll use in online courses.

Administrators started the program slowly. They recruited a student test group for feedback, which gave them a critical recommendation — include videos of students. After this first phase, a small group of faculty ran a pilot with their own students. After that, a larger pilot with 10 faculty gave feedback, and designers made changes from there. 

A self-paced one-to-three hour online course, “Learning Online 101” consists of five modules, including sections on how to have a positive mindset as well as how to navigate the online classroom, with details such as where to find assignments and how to use the LMS and find their instructor’s office hours. There is also an emphasis on time management and how to use the broader campus support system, including e-resources at the library. 

Going beyond tech

Initially unsure of the ideal course length, they instead made sure to cover the most important topics. “This was a little bit of a test because we figured students were going to orientation to learn technical skills,” said Jamie, “but they really appreciated the other sections, too.” Students liked the hands-on nature of navigating the course itself. “They were given the opportunity throughout the course to use the technology,” said Jamie, and they even got an overview of soft technical skills such as netiquette.

“I really wanted to get the technical stuff out of the way,” said Jill. “Going beyond the technical support and thinking about the larger issues — how do I manage my time, how do I connect, are essential.” Since self-guidance is an important skill for independent online learners, administrators knew it was important to include that as well. “We actually contemplated an entirely separate section about time management,” said Jamie. 

Relatable and personable

A key part of making the online course relatable was to include the voices and faces of people from the university. “Anywhere and everywhere we put human faces,” said Jamie. “We included a video with faculty talking about their experiences with students, to make it feel as human as possible.” Specifically, the course involved: 

  • A welcome video from the university president 
  • Faculty and student advice videos
  • Images from the Channel Islands community, including photos and images of campus

The humanization of the course was very important. “Students recognize some of their faculty or peers in these videos,” said Jill.  “It makes students feel like it’s their place.” The course also pointed to a real person students can contact for support. “They’re not on campus to create that connection,” explained Jill. “Any way we can help them create that connection online is wonderful.”

Students like the module on ‘Navigating the Online Classroom’ the best, followed by ‘Having a Positive Mindset’. “We thought that was an important start, but we weren’t sure how students would like that,” said Jamie. It was good to see that it resonated. After each course module, students were prompted to earn learning badges, which was a convenient way to track completion. “It also provides us with great data,” said Jill. “It’s useful on the faculty end, and also on our administrative end to know what’s going on in the class.”

By design, the course included interactive elements, which many students completed voluntarily. “It was really reassuring to see that,” said Jamie. Since there’s no way their single learning designer could grade interactive responses from everyone on campus, the course pilot tried several tools, such as AnswerGarden. “Students really enjoyed seeing their peers’ responses,” said Jill.

Rollout, results, and student response

The course, which launched in the fall of 2018, saw 961 out of 8,000 students (about 12% of campus) complete all modules, of which 87% earned a badge. The majority took the course (56%) to prepare for taking a fully online course. Interestingly, quite a few students decided to take the course to enhance existing skills — 68% completed the course even though they had already taken an online course before.

Students had a lot to say about how the course helped them, echoed in this self-reported feedback: “The Online 101 course I believe was very helpful. This is my Senior year at CSUCI and I wish I would have had this course earlier on to help me with past online courses. Although I have taken an online course before, I learned a lot about how to be successful and stay on top of online classwork. It also gave great tips on study skills and how to stay on track! I think it should be mandatory because of how useful it was for me!”

After completion, 63% of students said they felt very prepared to take an online course. 92% of students earned 80% or better on the knowledge checks throughout the modules. Only five students reached out for help on how to complete the course.

Collaboration during the pilot phases led to faculty buy-in, while word of mouth helped spread excitement about the course. “We rolled it out to faculty in a very individual way,” said Jill. Faculty were encouraged to add it to their own courses within the first week of class. “Canvas Commons makes it very easy to share resources across classes,” said Jill. Administrators used screenshots to show faculty how to add it within the LMS. “We really took all the challenges out of it for faculty,” said Jill. Since knowledge checks are automated in the Canvas quizzing feature, it’s easy for faculty to see when students submit their ‘complete’ badge. 

Next steps

Faculty and students like it explained Jill, “but we now have new questions. Is it actually helping student performance in classes?”  Is the impact the same across disciplines? Do students need something extra in different disciplines? “Are faculty receiving fewer technical questions? Does it increase retention in online classes, especially prior to that three-week mark?”  

Now, another CSU campus location wants to adopt this, and place it into their own LMS, BlackBoard. At Channel Islands, Teaching and Learning Innovations offers a voluntary online course meant for professors about humanizing online instruction. They also offer a working group to encourage pedagogical technical skills. While these are both voluntary, the goal is that these offerings will increase digital course skills across campus. 

The above session was presented by the following at Educause: Jamie Hoffman, Independent Learning Consultant, Noodle Partners; Jill Leafstedt, Ph.D Associate Vice Provost, Innovation and Faculty Development, CSU Channel Islands

Ready to create visuals that teach students to learn online?

With Snagit and Camtasia you can easily capture what’s on your screen as compelling screenshots and video lessons. Record, organize, and share videos and images with TechSmith Knowmia Pro along with interactive quizzing and analytics. 

The Top 9 Screen Recording Tips That Will Make You a Better Creator (With Video)

tips for screen recording

Screen recording is a powerful way to share any information that you have on your screen with your viewers.

Before you make your first screencast, these nine essential tips will help you create a quality screen recording that you’ll want to share.

Watch the video, read the post, or do both! Either way, you’ll be well on your way to creating better screen recording videos.

1. You can record anything on your screen

One of the benefits of screen recording is that if you can see it, you can capture it. Anything is fair game – PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets, webpages, and everything else that shows up.

The downside of capturing your screen is that you can accidentally record unwanted notifications and popups – sometimes even your cluttered desktop.

Before you start recording, clean up the icons on your desktop. Turn off notifications and disable popups, too.

Example of a messy desktop with cluttered icons, next to a clean desktop with no icons
Too many icons on your screen distract viewers. Instead, a clean desktop makes a better background for your recording.

2. Have a plan about what you’re going to say

It’s easy to ramble when you record. Instead, have a plan.

An outline or script will help guide you through your recording, for a better final video. Write down as much as you need to stay focused. This could be as detailed as exact words, a general list of steps, or any other details that help you stay on point and ensure you don’t forget anything important.

Matt Pierce of TechSmith talks into his webcam, with the word "Ramble"
Without a script or some general direction, it’s easy to be too wordy in your recording.
Example of a screen-recording script including columns describing action and narration
Write down general talking points, or even a full script, to keep your narration focused and concise.

3. Length can impact effectiveness

How long is the ideal screencasting video? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer – it depends. Short videos are great, but if you skip important information, viewers will be annoyed and unhappy.

On the other hand, if you make a long video that has way more information than viewers need, they’ll be bored and stop watching. To get the best video length, focus on the content itself. Include just enough relevant information and your video will be as short as it can be.

4. Audio quality matters

Sound can make a big difference in the overall quality of your screencast recording. Let’s face it folks – one thing that turns off viewers faster than almost anything else is bad audio.

The best way to record good audio is to plan for it before you even start recording.

Don’t use the microphone built into your computer

It’s convenient and works in a pinch, but it won’t give you the best results. Use an external microphone to increase the quality of your audio dramatically. Even an inexpensive USB mic will work.

Get rid of background noise

Your microphone can pick up any noise around you, including relatively quiet ones such as fluorescent lighting and HVAC units, as well as louder ones like your neighbor’s barking dog down the street.

Some screencast programs let you ‘clean’ this type of noise out of the recording afterward, but it’s much better to eliminate them in the first place.

Strategically place your microphone

Make sure it’s located where it can pick up your voice easily and your audience can understand you clearly.

5. Record an appropriate size

It’s easy to record everything on your screen, but you can end up with a not-so-great viewing experience. Instead, record only what’s important. Most screen recording programs let you record just a section of your screen so you can focus on details.

📚Recommended Reading: Getting Crisp, Clear Screen Video

Avoid showing areas that distract, get in the way, or that just don’t help your video’s goal.

If you want to only show one window on your screen, then record only that portion. Your viewers would see the rest of your screen as a distraction.

When you record a section of your screen, make sure the dimensions work wherever you’re going to host your video. Stick with standard ranges. Odd sizes – too tall or too wide – can leave your video with dark filler-bars on the sides or top when viewed on YouTube, Vimeo, etc.

If you’re not sure which size to record, it’s okay to include everything on your screen. It’s better to capture it all than to miss something important.

6. If you’re using webcam, make sure it looks good

Don’t underestimate the value of eye contact. Webcam footage builds credibility. Your audience can look into your eyes, see who you are, and more easily relate with your message.

Get yourself in a position to look good on camera. Pay attention to what’s behind you. If there’s something in the background you don’t want to be seen, move it or clean it up.

When recording webcam, take time to position it correctly. Make sure it captures your face – not pointed up your nose, at the top of your forehead, inside your ear, or any other distracting angle.

All that said, you don’t have to use a record your webcam. If you aren’t getting a good result, don’t use it. Your screencast recording can work without it.

7. Watch your mouse cursor

One element you’ll use in almost every screencast is the humble mouse cursor. It shows people where to look on the screen. It helps them follow along and see every movement to make sure they know where you are and what you’re talking about. The mouse cursor is important, so make sure you’re it’s as effective as possible.

Don’t circle things

Moving your mouse cursor around and around as if you’re talking with your hands is going to leave your viewers confused and unsure of where they should look. Instead, move your mouse cursor deliberately, and with purpose.

Don’t move at the speed of light

If you’re moving your mouse across the too fast, your audience won’t know where to look, struggle to follow along, and, ultimately, will stop watching your video.

A frantic cursor is distracting. Instead, keep your mouse humble –  slow it down.

Smooth out cursor motion in screen recordings

The Cursor Smoothing Effect in Camtasia is a great way to add polish to your screen recordings.

The effect takes the movement of the cursor in a screen recording, and turns it into a smooth line, from one point to the next.

8. If you can, cut out mistakes and unneeded content

Mistakes happen to the best of us. You’ll be recording, and your mouse will move to the wrong place, you’ll click on the wrong thing, or another unexpected thing will happen. It’s okay – it’s fixable.

Use a video editor to cut out any problems after the fact. Even if you don’t make any mistakes, there are other reasons to cut out content.

Not only does it help your video be more concise and to the point, it also makes your end result seem more polished and professional.

screen-recording-sharing-tips

9. Know where you’re going to share your video

Where to host your video is a burning question you should answer at the start of your video creation process. Decide where to put your video early-on, so you’ll know:

  • Which file type do you need?
  • What dimensions should your video be?
  • What information makes sense to include along with the video file?
  • How will I upload my video (manually or direct)?

The more you know up-front the better, as it helps you create a better video for your viewers.

Well, now you’ve got the basics! If you need a screen recorder, TechSmith offers solutions to capture any area of your screen, edit, add effects, music, and more.

Why You Need Audio Descriptions to Make Online Course Videos Accessible

caption online video courses

Not only does the ADA Section 504-refresh highlight the need for audio descriptions in higher education videos, but it’s also an accessibility best practice that has the potential to benefit all students.

Learn the different types of audio descriptions, how they work, and how to create them so your institution stays compliant.

Are audio descriptions like captions?

Sort of.  Here’s the difference: captions use text to describe what’s being heard on-screen. Audio descriptions (AD) talk through what’s being seen. Put another way, captions help people who are hard of hearing, while audio descriptions help people who have difficulty seeing.

Audio descriptions are also sometimes called ‘video descriptions’ or ‘descriptive narration tracks.’ They all refer to the same thing – an option that gives you all the information from a video without ever opening your eyes.

You’ve probably watched movies that have embedded audio descriptions, even though you didn’t use them yourself (or even know they were there!). Ever see the AD symbol on a DVD? That means the movie has an audio description track that can be turned on as needed. Many movie theaters offer audio description support, too.

Audio descriptions icon

An example – what they sound like
Although visuals are a core strength of video’s ability to convey information, it can be difficult for people with sight loss to understand what’s going on based on standard audio alone. Audio descriptions bridge the gap by narrating what occurs on screen so everyone can understand the meaning.

Here’s an example that demonstrates how audio descriptions can describe important on-screen action that makes the video easier to understand for sight-challenged viewers.

Audio descriptions icon on a still-frame of a popular movie clip, The Lion King

In higher education, audio descriptions are important and providing them is legally required. This is good news because it makes crucial on-screen visuals in online and blended courses available to every student.

Audio descriptions help many types of learners

Audio descriptions help people with a visual disability (more than seven and a half million adults in the United States alone) as well as students with lesser degrees of vision loss.

They can help other students, too. Some people learn better with both audio and visual inputs or are primarily auditory learners. Non-native speakers may like hearing audio descriptions to better understand the language. Students on the autism spectrum can benefit from hearing social/facial cues read aloud.

Student on a jostling bus, using headphones to listen to a video lesson with audio descriptions

Some students turn on audio descriptions simply because they prefer to hear the video lesson. Whether they’re jogging, reviewing a video lesson at night with headphones while their roommate sleeps, or watching videos on a jostling bus, there are many reasons why having the option to treat the lecture like a podcast makes sense.

How to add audio descriptions

There are two main ways to add audio descriptions:

  • Embedded voice descriptions – In this method, audio descriptions are their own separate digital “track,” behind the scenes. They can be turned on as needed. This is the most advanced and versatile method because all students have the same version of the video, and only listen to audio descriptions if they need them.

The best of today’s accessible video platforms now offer features that make it easy to add audio description tracks to videos. In TechSmith Knowmia, formerly TechSmith Relay, you simply log in, go to your video, click on the ‘Accessibility’ tab, and then ‘Manage Audio Description.’

Screenshot of how to add audio descriptions in TechSmith Relay. Click on Accessibility and then Manage Audio Descriptions

Then, upload your audio description track, which can be an Mp3 or M4A file type. Once your video has an audio description track, students can easily turn it on by clicking the AD Track button on the video player.

Screenshot of what video looks like once an audio description track is included, with the AD icon
  • Separate video – Usually only used when embedded tracks are not available, this involves creating a duplicate video with audio descriptions permanently part of the audio, or “burned in.” There’s no option to turn on or off the audio description narration with this method. While this is great for students who always use the narration, having two copies of every video can be confusing and double bandwidth and storage costs.

Create audio descriptions yourself, or outsource

The easiest way to create audio descriptions is to outsource it to a company who does this as a service. Many of the same vendors who create captions can also create audio descriptions and usually charge about $15-$30 per minute.

Another option is to create audio descriptions in-house. It’s more affordable, and you retain complete control of the wording and phrasing.

An instructor creating audio descriptions

Before you begin, learn from those who have done this before and can share best practices. There are a number of preferred ways to explain what’s happening on-screen. It’s helpful and will save you time when you understand common practices. One great resource is the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP), which has a handy description key and other resources with tips and techniques that will make your audio descriptions easier to create and understand.

When you record your audio descriptions, keep in mind that they don’t need to synch perfectly with the visuals. As long as they are approximately nearby the on-screen action, they will be effective.

Another tip is to time your narration so that it doesn’t interfere with on-screen dialogue or other audio in the original video. Record audio descriptions in the empty spaces in between the existing audio. You don’t need to verbally explain every single thing that happens on the screen, as long as you describe the gist of what’s happening.   

Alternatives to audio descriptions

An annotated transcript is an alternative to audio descriptions. Instead of narrating what’s happening visually, you write it out and provide it separate from the video.

For example, if a complicated chart is shown in a health sciences video, an annotated transcript would include an extra section that describes what the chart looks like, in detail.

One benefit of this method is that deaf and blind students can use assistive devices to ‘read’ these transcripts, whereas audio descriptions are only helpful to those who can hear. Extended transcripts may also help other types of students who want to review material through written words, or struggle to process visual information for other reasons. Cons include extra time creating the transcript and maintaining another resource.

Health sciences instructor explaining a medical skeletal model in a video lesson

A final alternative to audio descriptions is simply to verbally describe all visuals within your original video. This takes the concept of providing an AD track and makes it part of the video itself. This method works particularly well for educational videos and demonstrations where descriptions of on-screen action are a natural addition.

For example, if you’re making a video lesson with a chart, verbally explain the main points. If you’re hand-writing a calculus proof, talk through it as you go. Demonstrating a chemistry experiment? Describe what you’re doing along the way, so students have the audio and visuals.

There’s a lot to understand about audio descriptions. This topic will continue to grow as more video platforms offer this functionality, and more colleges and universities begin including audio descriptions alongside video captions as standard accessibility accommodations.

Learn more about TechSmith Knowmia and its accessibility solutions including Audio Description track support.

Simplified User Interface: The Beginner’s Guide

Mocked-up website with a simplified user interface

It can be difficult to onboard users to new and complex interfaces and workflows. Too much information can easily overwhelm the user and make it difficult to keep the focus on the essential feature or functionality.

Additionally, software updates tend to be frequent. These regular updates, coupled with localization processes, can make documentation work in the software industry quite demanding for technical content creators. How can we face these challenges without having to constantly update supporting content?

What if we designed our visual content in a way that is easy to follow, and is able to withstand future UI tweaks?

Let us introduce a design technique used by TechSmith’s User Assistance team and others – it’s called simplified user interface.

Simplified User Interface: What is it?

A simplified user interface (SUI) is a visual representation of a software interface that removes  unimportant elements and reduces them to simpler shapes.

Simplified User Interface graphic showing PowerPoint UI
An example of SUI (pronounced “sue-ee” by the TechSmith User Assistance team).

The elements that are fundamental to the instructions or for the user to understand are purposefully kept visible and the SUI graphics serves as a visual aid to support the instructional content given, via the sub- or figure text.

SUI graphics allow for easy-to-follow instructions which enable the reader to get to the point quickly and avoid distractions.

Keep it simple, Stupid!

SUI graphics leverage the famous K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, Stupid!) principle: systems perform better if they are kept simple and when unnecessary complexities are avoided. By reducing the graphics to a simpler state and by removing distractions, we can allow the user to focus on only the essential information, which creates a better experience.

Josh Cavalier,an eLearning expert, describes cognitive load as the “amount of information being processed by the brain”. When you reduce the amount of distractions for your audience, they are better able to focus their attention on what is important.

Simplified User Interface graphic with one menu item exposed
In this example, only a single menu item is shown so as direct user attention to something specific.

In a recent blog post from The Interaction Design Foundation, it’s explained that a user is focused solely on how useful something will be for them. This is true for both the product design itself but also for the how-to documentation and instructions.  If it’s hard to understand how to use a product, the value that it has to offer, or how a product can solve a particular problem, then users will struggle.

SUI graphics build upon these principles: using a simplified user interface in help documentation can aid in user success by giving them only the information they must have in order to be successful, increasing their success and satisfaction with a product.

Keeping content up to date

Keep your content current, longer. A quick survey with attendees at STC Technical Communication Summit revealed that keeping content up to date is one of the biggest challenges faced by technical communicators today. And that makes sense, if we look to software as an example: release cycles are shortening and new features and functionality are being added frequently. And with each feature addition and related tweaks to the user interface, the instructions that the technical documentation team laboriously put together are at risk of becoming quickly out of date, even if only slightly. So what is a technical communicator to do?

Again, simplified user interface graphics can play a strategic role in one’s content strategy. The removal of a button or addition of a feature will easily confuse the user if this change is not reflected in a precise screenshot. However, a simplified user interface graphic can often sustain multiple software versions and updates before needing further updates. The simplified design is more forgiving to minor interface changes and additions as it is already an abstract representation of the interface. Technical content creators can use this technique to extend the shelf-life of their visual content or even for repurposing content in similar scenarios.

Faster content localization

Any content creator who has been through the localization process knows that it can be time-consuming and expensive to create screenshots and graphics for each locale. Yet, the localization of onboarding materials and other graphics can be trivial for any organization that wants to be successful internationally. As Day Translations points out, we should all “scrap the idea that English is the language of business”. It’s important to cater to different customer bases by providing them with content that speaks to them…in their native language.

Most technical communicators know the effort it takes to create and manage unique screenshots for each language. In order to simplify this task, one can design the content to use SUI images instead of language-specific screenshots. The same graphic can often be repurposed across multiple languages with little to no adjustment. Additional information or instructions can be conveyed through the sub- or figure text.

Simplified User Interface used in both German and English dialog boxes.
In this example, the same SUI graphic is used in the software preference dialog for all languages.

Again, this is another area that helps to reduce creation and maintenance efforts while still providing the user with clear instructions.

How to create a Simplified User Interface Graphic

Creating a simplified user interface (SUI) graphic is easier than you think. The best way to get started is to begin with a screenshot and then transform it. To do this, you need screen capture and image editing software. At TechSmith, our tool of choice for creating SUI images is Snagit because it provides both of these functions, though there are other capable image editors.

Step 1: Capture the screenshot

Using Snagit, capture a screenshot of the user interface you want to turn into a SUI graphic and open it in the Snagit Editor. Crop the screenshot to the dimensions of your desired output.

Screenshot of a web page for Bridge Street Insurance featured a Request a Quote call to action button

Step 2: Simplify the screenshot

Simplifying an image is a process that involves covering up and removing visual noise like unrelated text, menus, buttons, or tool tips to reduce an image’s complexity and focus attention on the important parts. Snagit provides two ways to help make this an easy process with the new Simplify tool available in Snagit 2019.

The first option is to simplify a screenshot manually by selecting the Simplify tool, and using the graphic elements to hide unimportant details in your image and direct attention to the ones that matter. After choosing the Simplify tool, Snagit automatically detects the colors in your screenshot, creates a color palette, and provides a set of tools that match and are ideal for simplifying images.

Video Thumbnail
Video Thumbnail

The second way option is to automate the process. Snagit’s Auto Simplify feature recognizes shapes and text and then automatically covers them with the themed elements. Remove, add, and change the color of any of the elements Snagit adds to achieve the look you want.

Video Thumbnail
Video Thumbnail

Watch the tutorial below to see the Simplify tool in action!

Video Thumbnail
Video Thumbnail

Step 3: Save it

When you are done, save your file as a .png or .jpg file to be used in your documentation. We highly recommend also saving your final image as a .snag file. This is the Snagit project file type and it allows you to reopen the project to edit and adjust the image later on. This makes updating your image easy so you won’t need to recreate your SUI graphic every time.

Bonus Tip: Use a tag to easily access this file any time in the Snagit library.

Key takeaways

The benefits of using Simplified User Interface graphics in your technical documentation are twofold: First, these graphics visually enhance your instructions and improve the onboarding experience for your users. Second, the graphics make technical communicators’ jobs easier, as they reduce the need for screenshot updates and help with localization.

Integrating SUI graphics into part of one’s content strategy is therefore a smart business decision that all content creators should consider, regardless if your favorite aspect is the improved user experience, having evergreen content, or faster localization. Even just a few simplified user interface graphics can make a big difference!

If you aren’t using Snagit yet, download the free trial today, and get started creating your own SUI graphics!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2012 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Allison Boatman

Allison Boatman is a member of the Marketing Team at TechSmith. Follow her on Twitter @allisonboats She can often be found aimlessly wandering around local craft stores. Personal motto: "Work hard, stay humble." Favorites: Alaskan Malamutes, Iceland, and 90's pop culture.

Snagit 2022 Revealed

Snagit 2022 Revealed

Snagit 2022 is here! And it comes packed with brand new and updated features to help instructional designers, L&D professionals, and anyone who wants to create video level up their content.

To explain more about what’s new on Snagit and why, TechSmith’s Chris Larson, Technical Product Manager and Daniel Foster, Strategy Manager, joined The Visual Lounge to give us a breakdown.

Chris currently works remotely with an amazing development team dedicated to Snagit. He’s a graduate of Michigan State University and joined TechSmith 14 years ago with a background in user experience design.

Daniel heads up the marketing and product strategy side for Snagit. He has 16 years of software industry experience in marketing, communications, content creation, and social media. Daniel has previously spoken at STC Summit, LavaCon, tcworld, and other conferences.

Whether you’ve been a long-standing Snagit fan from the very beginning or are looking to get started, this episode is full of new updates and tips on what you can get out of the tool.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

How Snagit is still going strong – 31 years later

As software goes, 31 years is a long time for a tool to be on the market and remain popular. When it first launched, it was a modest beginning compared to what it is now. Snagit was originally about simple visual captures and images primarily and has since exploded in popularity.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a huge need for tools like Zoom, video streaming, and video creation which has helped to shift the direction Snagit is heading in.   

While things look different in the market, 31 years later, the primary aims remain the same. As Chris explained, we want a tool to make it quick and easy to capture images and video, but with a new and improved user experience.

“We’re starting to really make that a better experience. Make it quick for people to capture and get what they want out immediately. That quick sharing mechanism is something we’re trying to keep, but we also want to bring these new ways of communicating.”

Video creation used to be something that only a tiny segment of people was even interested in. But it’s not just the content creators on YouTube or L&D professionals who need to make videos anymore.

Almost everyone has had to get comfortable being on camera, whether that’s recording a video or jumping on a dozen daily Zoom calls. The pandemic and remote working have made visual communication much more of an everyday thing.

As Daniel puts it, “making a video used to be an event. It was like, I want to sit down and make a video, but we don’t think that way anymore.”

How Snagit’s cloud library makes storing captures a breeze

"Having just a giant bunch of files is not useful at all. It's really all about how quickly you can get your hands on things you need later." - Daniel Foster

One of Snagit’s handiest features has been its library, which allows users to make captures quickly and store them. But our new and improved library means you can now save those captures to the cloud instead of on a single machine.

In the age of Google Drive, Dropbox, and remote working, this seemed like a natural next step for the tool. You’re no longer locked into using one machine. You can just access your Snagit library from any device, making collaboration and sharing so much easier and faster.

“The advent of cloud computing and all these different things like Dropbox and Google Drive and things like that, it just felt like it was the right the right time for us to bring this to Snagit.”

The library also has a search function so you can locate the files you need in seconds rather than sifting through hundreds of random capture files.

Cross-platform compatibility

Another great feature that’s new to Snagit 2022 is the ability to open and edit the same Snagit files on both Windows and Mac computers. Daniel previously had to say goodbye to all his old Windows Snagit files when he moved over to Mac a few years ago, but now that’s a thing of the past.

This cross-platform compatibility is possible with Snagit’s new file format SNAGX, which replaces the old SNAG format on Windows and SNAGPROJ on Mac.

This solves a big problem for those who switch between Windows and Mac, as Daniel explains:

“I think about the teams that I’ve talked to, and these are often heavy content creators, who are like, “I actually have to document software on Windows and Mac. I’m constantly going back and forth.” And a real pain point, since the beginning for that group is that they’re different file formats, so it can be confusing.”

How the TechSmith team focused on building the best version of Snagit yet

A tough job for any development team is deciding what features to update and what new ones to develop. Chris breaks TechSmith’s approach down into three categories.

1. The expected

These are changes that everyone expects to see as the market changes. For example, many tools have cloud compatibility, so it makes sense to include that in our tool as well.

2. Improvements

The second category is about improving and iterating based on user feedback to fine-tune certain features.

3. Delighters

The third category is all about how can we go beyond what’s both needed and expected? It’s about building things that people don’t know they need but will improve their lives or workflows.

For the expected and the improvements categories, we need to look at larger trends and feed that through to the development team so they can target certain problems.

The big focuses for Snagit 2022

"What we've done with Snagit 2022 has been a lot of things around improving the video engine itself."- 
Chris Larson

One of the biggest focuses has been on improving things around the video engine itself. This enables people who are using either high-quality cameras or other virtual cameras to add effects and more customization.

As Chris explained, TechSmith also wanted to build greater stability into the tool. So if there’s a big error on your computer, you’ll be able to recover those captures on the Mac and Windows soon as well.

Another part of the development has been improving the audio and video sync to ensure that the video matches the audio more accurately. 

“Our main driving force around a lot of the features we’re building is that it’s just ready to go. You just take a video, and it’s there for you. You can share it out, you can drag it to wherever you need it to go. And it doesn’t require that extra step of rendering it, and you having to wait. It’s really good for that quick communication.”

Hidden gems on Snagit 2022

As many Snagit users will already know, the tool is packed full of features – some you might not have even discovered yet.

Chris and Daniel shared their top hidden gems they’d love users to explore.

For Chris, it’s the Step Tool. This is a handy little feature that lets you add steps to illustrate a process, and you can find it in your Snagit Editor toolbar. While it’s not a new feature, it’s something that Chris is really excited for more people to explore. He describes it as a “lightbulb moment whenever we mention it to people.”

If you want to find your own hidden gems on Snagit, Chris highlighted the Learn More button at the bottom of the tool.

“What’s really powerful is that Learn More button at the bottom. So we’ve started exposing, on the website a lot of our tutorials in a way where we broke them out into separate pages. So we have a different page for each of the tools. We’re combining our help and our video tutorials all in one spot for each of them. And I’m excited about that. So that’ll help people on their own find all these hidden gems too.”

For Daniel, he’s excited about a fairly new addition on Snagit – templates. This is something that lets you create professional-looking documentation without having to design everything yourself. You can just load up a template, slot your images and text in and voilà! You have a great piece of content to show people.

“These are things that people learn how to do when they take courses on technical communication and instructional design. And we’re not saying we can make you a pro at this overnight. But we’re taking some of the best practices from that and are putting them right into these templates.”

We could go on and on about all the fantastic new features that Snagit 2022 has to offer, but the best way to discover them is to give the tool a try. You can also read more about what’s new in Snagit 2022 and how to get started.

For more tips on video creation and instructional design, head over to TechSmith Academy for more videos. 

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

What Viewers Want: 2021 Video Viewer Study Deep Dive

What Viewers Want: 2021 Video Viewer Study Deep Dive

What’s new in the world of instructional and informational video?

If you’re in the business of creating videos, having the latest research and stats at hand is always important.

Luckily, we’ve got you covered. We’ve just released our 2021 Video Viewer Study – a collaboration between TechSmith and Dr. Jane Bozarth, Director of Research at The Learning Guild.

We publish this study every year, but this time, we invited Jane to help us out as an unbiased third party. Jane joined this special episode of The Visual Lounge to discuss the most interesting findings and what they mean for video creators going forwards.

Take a look at our updated findings on video viewer habits and trends, or tune in to the episode below to hear more from Jane.

Jane is a veteran classroom trainer who transitioned to the world of eLearning in the late 90s and hasn’t looked back since. Jane now specializes in finding low-cost ways to provide online training solutions. She’s the author of several books, including E-Learning Solutions on a Shoestring, Social Media for Trainers, and Show Your Work: The Payoffs and How-To’s of Working Out Loud.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

The methodology

Close to 1,000 people took part in this study, coming from six different markets around the world. We wanted a variety of respondents, not just TechSmith customers, to get a well-rounded picture of what video viewer habits are really like.

In terms of questions, Jane used the usual types of questions from other video viewer studies with a few tweaks.

Here are some of the key findings.

Video is still the king of content

Over the past few years, there’s been a clear shift towards video. It’s largely overtaken the written word as people’s go-to method for getting information. Our findings show that a whopping 83% of respondents prefer video to reading text or listening to audio.

But why is that?

One thing that Jane highlights is that from video, you can get the benefit of visuals and audio, so it’s the best of both worlds. Also, with the popularity of video resources like YouTube and even TikTok, video has become more accessible than ever.

“I think that we certainly see with the popularity of tools like YouTube and now TikTok, that video is so easy to create, and it’s so accessible, and is less work than reading. I think it’s just obvious people are leaning into that, increasingly, as time goes by.”

Why people watch videos

People watch videos for all sorts of reasons, but generally, people need a specific reason to watch an instructional or informational video. The research suggests that 23% of people chose to watch videos because they’re interested in learning more about a topic.

But what makes them choose a specific video? There are countless YouTube videos out there to choose from.

Our research found that the top reason was when a video description matched what a viewer wanted to learn about. Other reasons were being required to watch it by their workplace, it had an interesting title, it was a good length, and it looked entertaining.  

One of the top questions Jane sees is, “how long should the video be?” But this finding suggests there are other more important factors at play. Titles and descriptions are more of a priority for viewers than the length of a video.

“When thinking about titles and descriptions, also think about keywords. What words are people searching for? Because they may be different than the words you would search for. What results do viewers want when they’re looking for videos on your topic?”

How long should a video be?

It’s one of the top questions people ask, and there’s never one single answer other than “it depends.” Our research showed a good mix of results when people were asked what video length they prefer for instructional videos.

Most respondents fell into the range between 3-19 minutes long, with a fairly equal number preferring 3-4 minutes (21%) and 10-19 minutes (22%).

Interestingly, the perceived value of a video was diminished if it was less than 2 minutes long. Those who preferred very short videos were also more likely to select ‘reading text’ as their preferred method of consuming content.

Our suggestion for best video length is that it’s as long as it needs to be to cover the subject – but as short as possible.

Another thing to consider when looking at video length is why people are watching. Someone who wants to watch a video to learn something they’re interested in will be more comfortable with longer videos. However, if you’re made to watch a video for work, you’ll understandably want it to be shorter. That’s one big reason why the findings for this question are always so varied.

What does the viewer want?

We probably didn’t need a whole study to tell you that what the viewer wants is essential for any video creator to think about.

If you want people to watch your videos and learn something, you need to address what they need and want and tailor your video to deliver that.

“I think figuring out what it is the audience really wants and needs and figuring out how to make your content fit better with that, and their expectations would be helpful.”

Jane had some interesting food for thought on this. Sometimes video creators and marketers can go overboard on this idea. They start trying to over-promise with their video titles to get people to click on them.

“I think sometimes the attractive title may over-promise, and then you get two minutes in, and this isn’t at all what they said was going to be covered. I think we need to strike a balance between a descriptive, entertaining, engaging, interesting, attractive title and just telling the truth.”

Keeping people watching

It’s one thing to get someone to click on your video. It’s another job to get them to stick around.

Firstly, it’s important to note that not everyone who decides not to finish a video doesn’t like it. Sometimes they get the answer they’re looking for and move on quickly. Other times, the viewer didn’t get what they needed and moved on to another video.

In our research, the top thing that kept viewers watching was ‘it was easy to follow along,’ followed by the content being relatable and current and the speaker being engaging and knowledgeable.

But what makes people close a video? Jane highlighted one common issue she sees a lot in homemade instructional videos. The type of videos that are unrehearsed and disorganized can be very difficult to follow. And viewers aren’t going to stick around for that.

“Watching somebody who has not set something up in a logical way to follow is like watching somebody who’s not good at telling a joke.”

The good thing is that this is a pretty easy fix and requires some planning before you hit record. That way, you can cover everything you want in an order that makes sense, which keeps your viewers watching.

The most important thing about video

Let’s say you can only focus on one thing in your video. What would it be? Many video creators would say that video quality is key, but the stats say something different.

Yes, video quality is important, but good audio is essential. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot on The Visual Lounge – bad audio can ruin an otherwise great video.

Jane gave a great reason for this:

“Many of us are multitasking. And maybe we’re running a video and not really looking at it. If you can’t hear the audio, you’re kind of doomed.”

For those just listening to the video, bad audio can totally distract from the meaning and is enough for a viewer to close your video and move on to another. So, if you have to focus on one thing, make it the audio first.

There are plenty more insights from Jane and the study in the full episode of The Visual Lounge. We’d highly recommend scrolling to the top and watching/listening to it, and also checking out the full Video Viewer Study report.

For more video tips and handy resources on creating videos people love to watch, head over to the TechSmith Academy.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Training and Support Content

measure training effectiveness

You create training, educational, and support content to foster changes in behavior. Whether shifting the way your customers use your product, helping coworkers rethink processes, or assisting a customer with a product problem, your content should have a discernible effect on how people do things. This goes for both in-person and online training.

The best training content does this quickly and efficiently, allowing customers and colleagues to get on with their days and keep work moving.

But how do you measure training and support effectiveness?

For TechSmith Academy, we spoke with some of the leading experts in training to find out how they measure their own effectiveness. They agree that you must learn to measure your content’s effect on the audience’s behavior to understand what’s working — and where you can improve.

They also offered a number of tips you can start using right now to begin analyzing your content’s effectiveness.

Watch TechSmith Academy – For Free!

TechSmith Academy is a free online learning platform with courses to help you learn more about visual communication and video creation.

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Start with a baseline

You can’t measure your training content if you don’t know where things stand now. That means starting with a baseline. 

This can include already-established metrics such as customer data, employee performance, or — in the case of things that can’t be easily measured — any anecdotal evidence, customer complaints or suggestions, etc.

As Cindy Laurin notes, “Understand what the outcome is that you’re looking for … so that whatever you build is going to actually fulfill what you’re trying to accomplish to begin with.”

Toddi Norum headshot. Quote reads, If you see an improvement in something that was previously measured, then you know the training probably had something to do with that." — Toddi Norum

While this may not be easy, there are ways to get information that can help you set a baseline.

As Kati Ryan notes, you may need to get creative. 

“Sometimes it’s qualitative. And so it’s exit interview data, or is it being mentioned?,” she said. “Then, you can measure an uptick based on the learning.”

Remember that your business likely tracks a lot of metrics that can be leveraged to measure training effectiveness.

Toddi Norum believes this is a great way to measure success.

“If you see improvement in something that was previously monitored or tracked as a problem, then you know the training probably had something to do with that,” she suggested.

However, she cautions, you should be able to align training activities with the analytics.

Find out what needs to change

Once you have your baseline data, focus your content on the changes you want to see. 

As Tim Slade puts it, “What is it that people are doing, what aren’t they doing, and what’s the reason why?”

Once you know the answers to these questions, you can create content focused on how to change those behaviors. Ultimately, it’s not about what you want them to know, but what you want them to do.

Tim Slade headshot. Caption reads, What is it that people are doing, what aren't they doing, and what's the reason why? — Tim Slade

“Then, figuring out whether your training is working or not is pretty simple, because it’s just a matter of then “Then, figuring out whether your training is working or not is pretty simple, because it’s just a matter of then answering, are they doing it now or not?,” he said.

Get feedback from participants

With your baseline in hand, and after implementing a training plan, it’s time to measure the effectiveness of your efforts. 

We often assume that measuring success has to have hard numbers attached to it to be valid, but our experts noted that there are a lot of great ways to determine whether or not content accomplished your goals that don’t necessarily conform to that assumption.

Many, including Trish Uhl, recommend talking to your audience to find out what they think.

“Put it into the hands of the people that need to consume it and then ask them,” she said. 

At first glance, some may think this is too anecdotal to be a truly effective strategy, but over the course of time, by collecting enough feedback, you may see patterns in responses that can help you get a clear picture of your content’s strengths and weaknesses. This is especially useful when you combine it with quantitative metrics as well.

Remember, it’s okay to be wrong (as long as you adapt)

People in the software industry are familiar with the idea of failing fast and adapting to produce the best possible result, but for others, failure can feel like a big deal. Especially when you’re creating content for customers.

However, figuring out what works and what doesn’t is a process, and often requires making mistakes and learning from them. Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Trish Uhl headshot. Caption reads, Be willing to be wrong. — Trish Uhl

“Be willing to be wrong,” she said. “Be willing to be like, ‘Okay, this was an experiment, and I thought it was going to produce this kind of result.”

And, if it doesn’t, be ready to tweak it — or, in extreme cases — let it go and start over.

The Kirkpatrick Model for measuring training

The Kirkpatrick method. Level 1: Reaction. Level 2: Learning. Level 3: Behavior. Level 4: Results.

While the experts we interviewed didn’t specifically mention the Kirkpatrick model, no discussion of training and customer education content would be complete without at least noting its existence.

And, much of what our experts said can be found in this model, which reinforces its importance. 

The Kirkpatrick model was developed in the 1950s by University of Wisconsin professor Donald Kilpatrick. It provides a simple, four-level approach to measuring the effectiveness of training and educational content.

I won’t go into too much detail here, but here are the basics:

Level 1 — Reaction

Measures how quickly learners have reacted to the training, as well as how relevant and useful it is. Uses surveys and other direct feedback methods.

Level 2 — Learning

How much knowledge did learners acquire from the training? Uses test scores, business metrics, and other hard data sources.

Level 3 — Behavior

How has the training altered behavior and performance? Uses questionnaires, peer and manager feedback, job performance KPIs, and more.

Level 4 — Results

Measures tangible results, such as reduced costs, improved quality, increased productivity, etc.

You can see pieces of the tactics suggested by our experts in these methods. For more information on the Kirkpatrick model, check out this blog.

There’s no one way to measure your results

From hard numbers and stats to simple audience feedback, there are a lot of ways to measure training effectiveness. The most important thing is that you are measuring it and then acting on what you find. Reinforce methods that work and alter those that don’t.

If you haven’t checked out TechSmith Academy, now is a great time to give it a try. From incredible tutorials on improving video content to more interviews with experts, TechSmith Academy is a TOTALLY free learning tool to help you take your customer education, tutorial, and training videos to a whole new level.

Watch TechSmith Academy – For Free!

TechSmith Academy is a free online learning platform with courses to help you learn more about visual communication and video creation.

Watch Now

Frequently asked questions

What are some ways I can evaluate my training?

There are many ways to measure your training program. Consider both quantitative and qualitative metrics, such as analytics and customer feedback. Often, taking a look at both can help you get a better understanding of employee or customer experience with your training than one alone.

It seems like my training isn’t going as well as I’d hoped. What should I do now?

Use feedback from participants to help figure out which parts of the training went well and which didn’t. Then, you can use that information to build even stronger content. The important thing is that you “fail forward” and use any shortcomings as learning experiences.

Ryan Knott

TechSmith Marketing Content Specialist. Geek. Science Enthusiast. Retired roller derby coach. On a mission to pet all the dogs. He/him. A few things about me ... 1. Mildly obsessed with the movie Alien, 2. Two pibbles: Biggie and Reo, 3. Friend of ducks everywhere.

How to Build the Best User Documentation

How to Build the Best User Documentation

Chances are if your products are more complex than a roll of paper towels, you create some kind of user documentation to help people learn how to use them.

A well-crafted, user-friendly product manual or user guide can mean the difference between a fantastic customer experience and a terrible one.

Plus, user documentation isn’t just for new users.

Experienced customers may also refer to user manuals or product guides to refresh their memories on a feature they haven’t used often or to solve a specific problem they have.

For this post, we’ll focus mostly on best practices for creating user documentation for non-physical products such as software, but most (if not all) of these tips also apply to the hardware realm.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • What user documentation is and why it’s important.
  • How end user documentation is part of the customer experience.
  • How good user documentation can help take the burden off your customer support team.
  • Why visual content is the secret ingredient to the best documentation.
  • The essential elements that ensure the best user documentation.
  • The four steps to creating documentation that delights your customers and stands the test of time.

Easily create a user guide (Free Template)

Snagit’s templates are the fastest way to create user guides. Create step-by-step guides with a simple and professional look.

Download

What is user documentation?

User documentation (also called end user manuals, end user guides, instruction manuals, etc.) is the content you provide end users with to help them be more successful with your product or service.

What is user documentation?

These are the instructional materials that go with your product to help someone learn to properly use it or — in the case of physical products — even assemble it.

If you’ve ever put together a piece of IKEA furniture, you’ve used end-user documentation.

Ikea assembly instructions for the Billy bookcase. The image is made up of diagrams containing very little text, but clearly showing the steps for assembling the product.
This is a great example of IKEA user documentation. Very little text, but clear and easy-to-follow diagrams and visual instructions on how to complete the product. ©Ikea

However, user documentation takes many forms.

Video games come with manuals to tell you which buttons to push to shoot the bad guys. Software documentation shows you what your purchase can do and how to do it.

Tax forms come with guides on how to properly fill them out.

Lawn mowers and snow blowers have product guides to show you how to start the engines and where to refill the fuel.

Skip down to how to make user documentation

Why is user documentation important?

You know your product is great. You want your customers to know it, too. User documentation helps ensure your customers or users actually learn how to get the most out of your product.

Whether it’s how to save a document, start a motor, use a specific tool, or even important safety information, your end-user documentation is an important part of your relationship with your customers.

User documentation can delight your customers

User documentation is easy, right? I mean, just write some stuff about how to use your product, and you’re good to go!

It’s not quite that simple.

It’s more than just “how-to” material. It’s part of the customer experience. And that means it’s also marketing material.

As a consumer myself, I’ve experienced both great and horrible user guides. I bet most of you have had similar experiences. 

70% of people would rather use a company's website for help vs phone or email

A great user manual or product guide shows your customers that you care not just about whether they buy your product, but whether they have a truly great experience actually using it.

Customers who feel that you care about them beyond their wallet will keep coming back to you.

If you want them to shout to the world about how much they love your products and services, providing awesome user documentation is an essential part of that post-purchase experience.

📚Recommended Reading: 9 Tips for Awesome User Documentation

How user documentation supports your support team

People often contact your support team when something isn’t working, but they might also call when they simply can’t figure something out. Having great user documentation helps out your support team in two major ways.

1. Gives them an easy reference guide

Great user documentation doesn’t just have to be for customers. Your product support team can use documentation to help better support your customers when they ask for help. When you include essential pieces, such as a table of contents or index, they can quickly find the information they need. And, if it’s a searchable electronic document, that’s even better! We’ll learn more about this later in the article.

2. Reduces calls

As noted above, people often call support when they can’t figure something out. But, if customers can figure it out themselves, they’re far less likely to need help. In fact, more than 70 percent of people prefer to use a company’s website for help rather than get assistance using phone or email. 

Even the best documentation won’t eliminate all of these calls, but creating user guides and manuals that are clear, comprehensive, and concise will go a long way to reduce the overall volume of support requests.

What are the essential elements of great user documentation?

Even though each product is unique and will require different elements to create truly great user docs, there are some end user documentation best practices to follow no matter what. 

Essential elements for great user documentation. Content is repeated in the paragraph below.

Great user documentation should include:

  • Plain language
  • Simplicity
  • Visuals
  • A focus on the problem
  • A logical hierarchy and flow
  • A table of contents
  • Searchable content
  • Accessible content
  • Good design
  • Feedback from real users
  • Links to further resources

Plain language

Nothing will frustrate a customer more than reading something they can’t understand. No one wants to feel dumb, and language that makes your customer feel that way is certainly no way to foster a great experience.

Use simple, plain language whenever possible to help your customers understand even the most complex concepts. 

Remember, write for the user, not the developer.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but writing in plain language about a product or service you know front-to-back is more difficult than you might think. You know all kinds of jargon, acronyms, and other “insider” info that customers likely don’t. It’s natural for you to use it.

But that’s where you can run into some serious trouble.

Don’t assume your customer knows anything about your product. Don’t assume they know all the technical and/or industry buzzwords that you likely use every day inside your office.

Don’t write as if they’re children, but understand that they may need extra help to truly get them up to speed. Write the documentation in an easy-to-read way.

Simplicity

Keep documentation as simple as possible to achieve its goal. This applies both to the document’s content as well as its design. Long blocks of text and pages tightly packed with written and graphic content can make user guides or manuals feel intimidating and unfriendly. 

Customers who are intimidated by your user materials are far more likely to call your support team for help than they are to try to solve their questions on their own. Additionally, they’re far less likely to have a good customer experience.

Visuals

The best user documentation perfectly illustrates the phrase, “show, don’t tell.” 

Visual content, including images, annotated screenshots, graphics, and videos, quickly shows someone how your product works. They don’t have to read about it: they can see it!

Recent research from TechSmith shows that people actually absorb visual information faster and perform tasks better when instructions are provided with visual or video content.

Visual instructions are better for user documentation

Visual content also helps break up long blocks of text and can help eliminate a lot of the text that makes many user guides or manuals feel intimidating and unpleasant. 

Popular ways of including visual content in user documentation include screenshots, screen recordings, tutorial videos, and more.

Have you heard of simplified graphics? Sometimes called simplified user interface (or SUI), simplified graphics take images of a user interface or other graphic and — just as the name suggests — simplifies them. This more basic version highlight the most essential information while reducing text and graphics that aren’t important to simpler shapes.

So, something that looks like this:

An image that looks a little cluttered and hard to follow

Now looks like this:

The same image as above is now simplified and easy to understand

If I were trying to show someone how to select the Connect Mobile Device menu item, the second image removes all the clutter and allows the customer’s eyes to focus where they need to be.

Chances are you’ve already encountered simplified graphics and didn’t even realize it, like this one from G Suite Learning Center:

A screenshot of the G suite learning center

There are a lot of tools out there, but if you’re looking for powerful and easy ways to create screenshots and screen recordings, I highly recommend downloading a free trial of Snagit.

Focus on the problem to be solved

Every product solves a problem. But too often, we’re so in love our cool product features that all we want to do is highlight what it can do rather that why our customers need it.

Make sure to show users how to perform tasks with your product.

Naturally, this will involve product features, but highlight them in the context of helping the user get to the reason they bought your product in the first place — to solve a specific problem.

For example, our Camtasia and Snagit tutorials (yes, tutorial videos can be a form of documentation) highlight specific features, but they do so in the context of why someone might use that particular feature. It’s about the why, not just the how.

Here’s a great example …

Logical hierarchy and flow

Good documentation needs a hierarchy of headings and subheadings that lets a user know what each section will show them. And that hierarchy should follow a logical flow that helps the user learn to use your product in the most helpful way.

For example, you probably don’t want to begin your documentation by showing customers how to use the more advanced functions without first showing them the basics of how your product works. Start with the easy stuff first and then, as your users build their knowledge, show them the advanced features.

Table of contents

A table of contents provides your customers a simple, efficient, and familiar way to quickly find a solution to their question or problem. It’s right at the beginning of the document, so they don’t have to sift through pages of text to find what they’re looking for. It should include all the major headings and subheadings as described above.

A user documentation search page

Make it searchable

There was a time when most user documentation was printed. Now, in an era where just about everyone has access to a smartphone, it makes more sense to create electronic documentation. That doesn’t mean you can’t create print versions as well, but an electronic version offers a number of advantages we’ll discuss in more detail below. 

Like a table of contents, searchable content gives users easier access to your content and helps them find solutions on their own. 

Accessibility

Create accessible content. This means ensuring that electronic documentation adheres to standards of accessibility for people who may be blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, or may have cognitive disabilities. 

Remember, many of your customers need this to understand and fully access your user documentation. Don’t leave them behind!

Good design

Give your users a document they want to look at and they’ll be more likely to use it.

Design materials with your customers in mind. Make it usable and friendly. Avoid long paragraphs of text or pages that are packed too full of content. Allow for white space to help break up the monotony and make the prospect of learning a new product less daunting. 

Include graphics and images as much as possible to show rather than tell your customers how to use your product. For electronic documentation, use video and GIFs.

Use consistent fonts and complementary colors across multiple documents. If your organization has a style guide (which I HIGHLY recommend creating if one doesn’t already exist), make sure your documentation adheres to it. 

Snagit templates make it incredibly easy to create professional-looking user documentation from a series of screenshots or other images. Simply gather the images you need, choose Create and then Image from Template, and you’re on your way.

Snagit comes with a bunch of free, professionally designed templates, and with TechSmith Assets for Snagit, you get access to a ton more!

Feedback from real users and/or beta testers

You can’t create truly great user documentation until you’ve listened to the people outside your organization who actually use the products.

Learn their pain points and try to address them as best you can. Find out what they tell you is needed to know to best use your products. While some of it might seem obvious, I guarantee you’ll learn things you never even considered.

Links to other documentation

Make sure your customers have access to more of your organization’s resources on how to be successful with your products. For electronic user documentation, this can be as simple as providing links to tutorials, FAQs, user forums, and more.

But even print documentation can include things like website addresses and phone numbers for further support.

Bonus! Add Step-by-step instructions

example of the Snagit step tool for user documentation.

Step-by-step guides help avoid long blocks of text and provide a much clearer way to show a process than trying to explain it via text alone. They’re easier to follow, easier to understand, and offer a much more user-friendly experience than simply telling someone how to complete a task. 

And remember, including visual content in your step-by-step instructions makes them even better.

Snagit provides an easy-to-use Step Tool that helps you create great step-by-step documentation. Plus, the Combine Images Tool enables you to combine individual screenshots and other images into a single image for easier editing and mark up.

An image of how to create great user documentation: Plan, create, test, and update.

How to create great user documentation

Step 1: Plan

Every great set of user documents starts with a plan. Here are some tips on how to get where you want to go.

Know where to start

Many people assume that if you know your product, you can just start creating your documentation. But there’s a lot more that goes into it. Instead, start with a plan to ensure that you’re actually helping your users.

Before you make documentation, here are a few things to consider:

  • What should you include? What should you leave out? (Hint: This is where user feedback can be REALLY helpful!)
  • In what order should we present the information? (Remember essay outlines from school? Use ‘em!)
  • What other resources will be available? How will we provide access/links to those?
  • Who is responsible for creating the document? Who is responsible for feedback on the document? Who has final approval?
  • Will this need to be translated or localized?

The answers to those questions shape how you create your documentation. Planning ensures a smooth process and a better user document.

Know your product

Make sure you know your product.

That doesn’t mean you need to be the absolute expert at everything, but anyone creating a user manual or user guide should have hands-on experience with the product. 

Rely on your subject matter experts for the more in-depth knowledge, but you should know how to use it yourself before you try to teach someone else.

Choose your format

Choose your file format

Additionally, a document’s final format is equally important. Will it be print only? Will it be electronic? If so, where will it live?  

It wasn’t too long ago that nearly all user documentation was print only. However, unless you have a very good reason, I recommend at least having an electronic version available on your website. 

Most users have 24-hour access to smartphones, computers, or tablets, and they’re used to finding anything they want to know whenever they want to know it. Putting user resources online gives them access wherever they may be, meaning they don’t have to go searching through drawers or file cabinets to find a user manual they haven’t seen in years. 

Also, it’s simply easier to make electronic documentation accessible for people with disabilities. A print only version will work for most people, but are you prepared to create a braille version for users who may be blind or visually impaired? What about users who have a physical disability where it’s difficult for them to manipulate objects with their hands?

Tools exist to make electronic documentation easier for all to access, but print only versions provide a much more difficult accessibility problem.

Plus, electronic documentation is much easier to update, as it lives on the web. 

Should I make my documentation a PDF?

Unless you want people to print your documentation, do NOT make it a PDF. Instead, make an electronic version available on your website as normal website text. There are a number of reasons for it, but it all boils down to this: It’s simply easier to use. 

If you want to offer a downloadable PDF version of your documentation, that’s fine. But make sure it’s available on your website in a non-PDF format, as well.

Step 2: Create your user document

Once you’ve answered all the questions and made all of the decisions outlined above, it’s time to create your user documentation. I’m not going to presume to tell you how EXACTLY to create the documentation for your specific product, but there are some key things to keep in mind.

  • Avoid jargon and highly technical terms except when absolutely necessary (and then be sure to define them).
  • Avoid acronyms unless you explain what they mean.
  • Use a commonly recognized writing style, such as AP or Chicago, whenever possible. If your organization has a company style guide, use that.
  • Don’t assume the user knows anything about your product or what it does. SHOW them what they need to know to be successful.
  • Remember to use plain language. Write for an eighth-grade level or below. Even for advanced readers, simple language leads to faster processing and better comprehension.
  • The design should be pleasing, non-intimidating, and draw the user in. Make them WANT to use your documentation.

Step 3: Test it

A user guide is only great if it helps your customers use your product to the best of their ability. And you can’t know that until someone uses it. Before your new creation goes out into the world at large, you want to test it. Here are a few tips!

  • Best practice: Give it to a group of real users or beta testers and see how they do. Incorporate their feedback into the finished document.
  • If you don’t have beta testing user feedback, test it internally, preferably with employees who are least familiar with the product.
  • Get feedback from the developers and engineers. They know the product better than anyone, and they can point out things you may have missed.

Step 4: Keep your documentation up-to-date

When your product changes, you’ll need to keep user documentation updated. As noted above, this gives electronic documentation a huge advantage over print. However, even print only docs can be updated and made available for download on your website. 

Remember, your content is only great if it’s accurate. Be sure that what you give your customers actually helps them use your product. 

Summary

If you remember nothing else, keep in mind that great user documentation should be created, designed, and presented in a way that is most helpful to your users.

Give them documentation that continues to delight them and provides the kind of customer experience you’d want to have.

Make your documentation accessible, useful, and visual.

Easily create a user guide (Free Template)

Snagit’s templates are the fastest way to create user guides. Create step-by-step guides with a simple and professional look.

Download

Frequently ask questions

What is user documentation?

User documentation (also called end user manuals, end user guides, instruction manuals, etc.) is the content you provide end users with to help them be more successful with your product or service.


What are the types of user documentation?

In the past, user documentation was given via a help file that was local to the user’s machine or a physical manual or booklet. Nowadays, user documentation is almost always offered online, which has helped technical writers be more imaginative in how they assist users. 


What is included in user documentation?

Great user documentation should include: Plain language, simplicity, visuals, a focus on the problem, a logical hierarchy and flow, a table of contents, searchable content, accessible content, good design, feedback from real users, and links to further resources.


How do you create a user document?

Great user documentation can be made in four simple steps: First Know your goals and create a plan to achieve them. Next, create
your guide based on your plan. Then test out your guide to make sure it does the job before you set it free. Finally, keep it up to date. When your product changes, update your documentation to reflect the changes.

Ryan Knott

TechSmith Marketing Content Specialist. Geek. Science Enthusiast. Retired roller derby coach. On a mission to pet all the dogs. He/him. A few things about me ... 1. Mildly obsessed with the movie Alien, 2. Two pibbles: Biggie and Reo, 3. Friend of ducks everywhere.

Diversity and Inclusion in Video & Workplace Media

Diversity and Inclusion in Video & Workplace Media

Your video and workplace media can have a big impact on users, but is it affecting everyone in the same way?

Understanding how your media choices represent people and their experiences can help you select more diverse and inclusive images and videos that impact everyone more effectively.

Jess Jackson, Racial Equity Strategist, and Megan Torrance, CEO, both of TorranceLearning, join this episode of The Visual Lounge to explain how to incorporate a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) mindset into your video and workplace media decisions.

They also talk about the unique position and responsibility creators, instructional designers and those in learning and development roles have for instilling DEIB approaches within organizations.

Jess is an award-winning educator with a background in social justice dialogue, facilitation, restorative justice practices, and DEIB consulting for instructional design. In her current role at TorranceLearning, Jess combines project management with instructional design.

TorranceLearning helps organizations connect learning strategy to design, development, data and performance. Founder and CEO, Megan, has over 25 years of experience in learning, design, development and consulting.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

What is diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging?

Talking about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging is important, but these can be sensitive topics. So we asked Jess to define what these mean in the context of workplace media.

Diversity is an all-around representation of difference, including race, gender, neuro-diversity, and much, much more. The term covers a wide span of categories, which Jess thinks of as simply the “humanity we all show up to work with”.

Equity is about ensuring equality and overcoming limitations that social identities may have faced. Making decisions with equity in mind may involve challenging outdated status quos.

Inclusion is identifying ways that injustice impacts your relationships. This is more about how you’re welcoming people to the table and creating seats for them.

Belonging is considering how people feel within environments. It’s about questioning whether people can be themselves fully in a space or if they have to adapt in order to fit in.

Why instructional designers are vital to DEIB

Megan says that learning and development organizations, departments, and even instructional designers have an interesting opportunity to spread the DEIB message. Trainers and those who produce training materials have the potential to connect with everyone in the organization, including employees and in some cases customers too.

DEIB isn’t just a training session or a tick-box exercise. For educators and instructional designers, it’s a responsibility to share the message. Megan notes that this can be daunting, especially if you don’t have the insight, experience, or training. But it’s important because DEIB can help every person in your organization, and getting it wrong is painful for everyone.

How to create more diverse and inclusive workplace media

The goal of instructional design is often to help people. However, if you’re creating media that can be triggering for certain groups, it may mean that they can’t engage with it or that it even causes harm.

To make sure that your workplace media is having the right impact, Jess suggests making DEIB education a priority and integrating the principles throughout roles and responsibilities in your organizations. This can help your videos and visuals achieve the right outcomes for everyone in your audience.

Another way is to ask for feedback from your learners or analyze their performance to unearth where they may have struggled to engage. Could making decisions with DEIB at the forefront have an impact on those results? Understanding people’s experiences can give you fantastic insights into what might need changing.

Three key things to consider when making media choices

There are, of course, many things you can do to enhance DEIB or further implement principles within your organization. But if you’re making decisions about what media to select, Jess suggests using these three tips to help guide you.

1. Consider your baseline

Is your baseline reflective of diverse individuals? Or is it reflective of things that have been historically normalized and centered?

Making an effort to diversify your baseline could mean including greater representation. Jess suggests thinking about how your images might include or exclude certain groups, for example, illustrating people entering a building. Does your baseline include showing those with mobility impairments, and if not, can you use this to expand your perspective?

2. Positively challenge narratives

What is the power dynamic in your visuals? Jess suggests thinking about images of men in leadership positions. If your images adhere to a stereotype, you’re not challenging the status quo and confirming a power differential.

There may also be chances for you to include positive depictions and better representation. For example, showing diversity in a range of roles.

3. Source media inclusively

If you’re using photographs or videos to represent your organization, consider how you can source this media in an inclusive way. You could use stock visuals to communicate how diverse your organization is (or aims to be). Or, if you’re getting images and videos taken, but have limited diversity in your team, is there an opportunity to hire a photographer or videographer from a different background?

How to represent diversity within your organization

A big question for many businesses seeking to present a diverse image is whether their imagery should reflect a true picture of their diversity, or an aspirational one?

Navigating how you present diversity in your business can be an ethical minefield. But Jess says one way you can approach it is to stay authentic to your goals.

“Consider what is your business goal, in terms of the impact that you want to make with your content, and be authentic to that.”

If your goals include hiring a more diverse workforce, then it would be authentic to add wider representation to your business’s imagery. But if this doesn’t align with your organization’s current state, Jess suggests an alternative approach.

“If you want to focus on your current employees, and make sure that the learning is reflective of who they are, and feels more inclusive to them, use imagery from your actual workplace instead of sourcing outside content.”

The key thing to bear in mind when making decisions about representing diversity in your organization is the intention behind your choices.

Resources to get you started

One of the barriers to entry for creating more diverse content might simply be that you’re not sure where to look for more inclusive visuals. Many platforms provide stock imagery that represents diverse bodies, including our asset libraries for Camtasia and Snagit.

If you’re not sure how to get started or are wondering what actions you can take today to cultivate more DEIB awareness in your organization, check out TorranceLearning’s handy resource guide. For more free and detailed resources on creating impactful videos and workplace media, check out the TechSmith Academy. Get downloadable templates, supplemental materials, and more to help you grow your skills and design effective visual content.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

Video Gear Wish List

Video Gear Wish List

What’s the best budget-friendly microphone to make videos? How do you set up your lighting in a home studio? Do you need a green screen? What’s a stream deck?

The TechSmith team has all these answers covered and much more. On this episode of The Visual Lounge, host Matt Pierce, Kara Swanson (Content Marketer), Andy Owen (Video Production), and Anton Bollen (Customer Success) share their top picks for audio, camera, lighting, and accessories.

If you’re looking for some recommendations to point you in the right direction, be sure to tune in today or keep reading. For a list of all the gear mentioned in this episode, head over to Matt’s wish list.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

Top picks for audio equipment and tools

One of the most important pieces of equipment is audio equipment. Bad audio can ruin an otherwise great video, so it’s important to pay attention to it. Step one is picking a microphone.  

1. Blue Yeti microphones

Kara Swanson’s pick is the Blue Yeti microphone, which is a side-address condenser microphone. It’s not super expensive, but it’s also a decent, trustworthy brand that’ll last for years to come.

As Kara explains, it’s a great pick for those who are newer to video who still want a professional-sounding microphone to make explainer videos.

“I love the Blue Yeti because as someone who’s definitely newer to video, I don’t have the budget for something that’s going to be crazy and also not really necessary. For me, my main video needs are explainer videos or quick walkthroughs. So the Blue Yeti is definitely a budget-friendly option running in at about $99.”

It’s not just Kara who thinks so either. A lot of the TechSmith team have one as well. Andy explains that one of the best things about it is that there’s a handy mute button on the microphone itself and a way to adjust the gain.

“A lot of that sounds really overwhelming, but they explain it really well in their instructions. And so, I think even though there are more knobs than on some of the others, I think it makes it more user-friendly to be able to control some of those things right in the microphone.”

2. TechSmith Assets

For beginner video creators, having something like TechSmith Assets can really help you add free music and sound effects to your video. You can also use any of the visuals and graphics on there to give your videos something a little bit extra.

3. Silent mouse and keyboard

Another thing to be aware of when you’re making explainer videos is the sound your mouse and keyboard make. It may not feel like they’re loud but play a video back, and they’ll stick out. And the last thing you want is a distracting noise when you’re trying to give a demo or instructions.

Anton recommends using a silent mouse and keyboard like the Logitech MK295. He also recommends in the meantime using mousepads to reduce the noise that your desk makes.

4. Audio Technica Shotgun condenser microphone

If you’re looking for a higher-end microphone, Matt’s pick is the Audio-Technica AT875R Line/Gradient Shotgun Condenser Microphone. This is what he uses in all of The Visual Lounge episodes.

It’s an XLR microphone and requires a mixer along with it, so it’s a bit more expensive than the Blue Yeti. It’s more for people who are getting into professional audio recording and want something high-quality and robust.

It’s all about the lighting

A common misconception about good quality video is that it’s all about the camera. The truth is, the lighting is just as important. You can have an amazing, expensive DSLR camera, but if your lighting is bad, it won’t make much difference.

Matt uses a basic set of LED panel lights for his videos. What he likes about these lights is that there’s a digital display on them that helps him set the color temperature. And because they pair up, you can match the color settings on each simultaneously.

For those who don’t want to splash out or don’t have the space for big panel lights, a ring light is a great alternative that Kara uses.

“The ring light is perfect for me because, first of all, it’s cheap, about $25-30. So that’s awesome. Second of all, it does have a few different settings. It’s not super fancy, but you can get a lot of different light tones with it.”

Green screens

Green screens aren’t just for Hollywood anymore. In fact, we’ve all probably tried to use some kind of background swap on our Zoom calls by now.

A green screen is something that Anton likes to use when he’s helping customers with tutorial videos. It helps him set a nice neutral background or pull up information that helps him get his message across.

As he doesn’t have much space, he likes to use one you can pull down like a projector screen. He recommends one from Elgato, which is easy enough to mount on the wall and use whenever you need it.

The truth about sound panels

When people are setting up a studio, one of the things they focus on is those egg crate-style foam panels. It something that just says “recording studio” just by looking at them.

However, there are some common mistakes, says Andy.

Typically, Andy advises against the cheap stuff on Amazon because it doesn’t really work. They may look great, but there’s more to sound-dampening than a bit of foam. What you should look for is for air in between the panels, which usually means you have to spend a little more for panels with good air density.

“As far as panels, there needs to be some air in between. So when you can squish those things, and they just pop right back up, there’s not a lot of air density in between them. So for good sound dampening, you’re going to have to spend a little bit more money.”

Also, in terms of placement, you’ve probably seen videos of people with panels behind them. Again, they look great, but it’s generally a bad place to put them because they’re facing away from where you’re speaking. They need to go in front of you instead.

Camera gear

Camera gear is where the budget often disappears. However, there’s nothing wrong with using a good webcam if you’re looking for a cost-effective way to record video. Kara and Anton use simple Logitech HD webcams for their videos.

For those who have a bigger budget, you may want to look at DSLR or mirrorless cameras. The one Matt uses for The Visual Lounge is the Sony A6400 which is a fairly costly camera for the body alone.

With this type of camera, you also need to invest in a ton of accessories. For example, you need to buy lenses, batteries, adaptors, and other accessories to go along with it. Andy says that a lot of people don’t realize how expensive it can be to get a decent camera setup.

“The camera body is expensive, but then you also need lenses or at least a lens. Then you also need batteries. You’re also going to need some way to connect this camera to your computer.”

Control it all with a stream deck

Another handy piece of equipment that Anton recommends is a stream deck. This is like a digital control panel that you can program different buttons and integrate them with different applications.

He uses this to control his lighting, and he also uses it for music. Anton also uses it to bring up text snippets he’s saved, so he doesn’t have to type the same thing out for tutorials and demos.

“With a click of a button, I can fill in title descriptions, whatever I need to do as part of the demo, with the click of a silent button right here. Without actually having to do the typing, it looks a lot smoother, and it helps my demos when my video recordings just go a lot cleaner.”

For lots more tips and recommendations, check out the full video or podcast at the top of the page. If you head over to TechSmith Academy, you can also get lots of tips and tutorials on how to improve your videos and much more.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

3 Reasons Your Tech Support Team Should Use Screen Capture

Nobody contacts tech support when everything is going well. If all is working perfectly and there are no problems, there’s typically no need for assistance.

In many cases, the standard response to a tech support request might be to type out the steps needed to resolve a customer or colleague’s issue. However, the more complex the instructions, the more difficult it can be to write a response that’s easy to understand and follow. 

Luckily, there’s a better way.

Screen capture can provide an easy-to-understand and often much faster way to convey that information. Let’s take a look at three reasons your tech support team should use screen capture to provide customer support.

1. Save time

Most people contact tech support as a last resort. They’ve already invested time in trying to resolve their problem, and the faster the resolution, the better. Nobody wants to sit on the phone or reply to an email to ask, “Where do I find that button?” or, “Can you remind me what I’m looking for?”

Instead, providing visual instructions can help prevent further frustration by helping your customer fix their problem quickly. And it’s not just faster and better for the customer! A tech support agent will save a significant amount of time by marking up a screenshot rather than typing a long email, and it saves the customer time by providing an easy-to-follow response. TechSmith’s tech support team uses Snagit to create screenshots, screencasts, and even an occasional GIF to show a process.

An email explanation with text only versus a screenshot with markup

2. Eliminate confusion

When you show instead of tell, instructions are much more clear, which can prevent a lot of back-and-forth emails and follow-up questions. Visuals allow you to boil down your communication to what’s essential. Plus, according to research, people following directions with text and illustrations do 32% better than people following directions without illustrations.

3. Overcome language barriers

If your organization serves customers across multiple languages and cultures, effective communication can be even more challenging. While Google Translate is a good starting point for translingual communication, incorporating images into your tech support correspondence makes it easier to get the point across quickly and effectively — often with no text necessary. There is less risk of information getting lost in translation when you use a screenshot.

As an added bonus, if you use Snagit to create visuals for something a bit more permanent — like a knowledge base article as opposed to an email — you can easily create a localized version of your screenshot. Simply upload the translated text into Snagit, and easily create a new set of localized screenshots using the translation workflow feature.

You can also use Snagit’s simplify feature to create simplified user interface, or SUI, graphics to help break things down for those requesting support.

Bonus: Make a screen recording

While screen captures with markup can be great resources for tech support, a screen recording can be even better. Record a short video of yourself walking through the steps in real time, and narrate what you’re doing. That way, customers and coworkers can follow along step-by-step. For a great resource on how to make a screen recording, check out this blog post or the video below.

Summing it up

Using a screen capture tool to help with tech support is a great way to quickly and effectively provide assistance and ensure customer satisfaction. You’ll be able to prevent tons of wasted time and frustration for all parties involved, and customers will remember and appreciate your efforts!

Are you looking to start using screen capture to support your technical support team and customers? Download a free trial of Snagit and get started today!

Easily create screen captures and recordings

Snagit makes creating visual content to help customers and coworkers incredibly simple. No experience necessary!

Download Your Free Trial

Frequently asked questions:

Do I need to have video experience to make helpful screen recordings?

Not at all! Snagit makes it easy to create explainer videos regardless of your video experience. Plus, Snagit offers a large library of tutorials that can help you out if you get stuck.

How do I know if it’s better to create an image or a video?

It’s up to you, but you want to make your content as easy as possible for the recipient to understand. If what you’re explaining is a bit of a longer or more complicated process, then a video walkthrough might be a lot easier to understand than a marked-up screenshot.

Lessons Learned about Visual Communication from Comic Books

Lessons Learned about Visual Communication from Comic Books

What can we learn from comic books that we can apply to instructional design or marketing?

It may seem like an odd question, but it turns out we can learn a whole lot from comic books.

Buddy Scalera, comic book writer, educator, and Founder of Comic Book School, joins The Visual Lounge to share those lessons with us. Whether you’re creating your own comic book or designing instructional videos for a corporate environment, we can all take something from comic books.

In this episode, Buddy explains why comics can help contextualize your brand in a simpler and less expensive way than other mediums. He shares some of his biggest lessons about visual communication and some details about his fantastic career so far.

Buddy is an award-winning creator with a focus on marketing, storytelling, and technology. For the past 25 years, he’s moonlighted as a comic book writer. Buddy has had the chance to work on Marvel favorites like Deadpool as well as many other comics. He’s won three awards, including the Content Marketing Institute Award.

This interview is full of advice on achieving great visual design, storytelling, and getting your message across in a fun, clear, and interesting way.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

Blending the worlds of marketing and comic books

It may appear a strange combination, but it seems to fit in better than you might expect. Buddy is a marketer by trade with a background in journalism and tech. While he was working in the comic book industry, building websites for comic book pros, it all just evolved from there. Soon enough, he found himself writing comics.

One day it hit him. He realized that visual storytelling on comic books wasn’t all that different from the stuff he was doing as a marketer or website designer. So, he combined the two. By day, he works in marketing and software, but he still keeps a foot in comic books.

“Every single day, we are all telling visual stories, whether we’re making videos, or websites, or slide decks. We have to learn how to think visually, and comics are just great practice for that.”

Working with restrictions in different mediums

Working with any kind of media, you’re bound to face some kind of restrictions. With comic books, you’re constrained by the space on the page and what you can squeeze on there.

In the world of video, you’re limited by time and budget. The way Buddy likes to differentiate video and comic is through time and space. With video, you’re restricted by time. With comics, you’re restricted by space.

But Buddy’s advice for creating content for any other medium is to know it well and create content specifically for it.

“I think that it’s really important that when you think about what you want to do, or what story you want to tell, be it a PowerPoint or a video, you’re creating for the medium.”

Where comics meet marketing

Lessons Learned about Visual Communication from Comic Books

Where does the true intersection between comics and marketing fall? Buddy believes that comic books can teach us so much about visual storytelling and getting a message across.

People are visual learners for the most part, and not everyone reads at the same reading level, so using visuals over written directions is often best. Comics are great for this and are ideal for rapid communication.

“Some people just respond better to pictures and are visual learners. So comics are great for that.”

How to get your message across clearly

The reason comics are such an interesting way to explore communication is because they force you to be more visually interesting.

As Buddy explains, a comic about Peter Parker getting medication for Aunt May could easily be an image of him sitting in a chair mulling things over. Or it can be him swinging across the city, demonstrating his powers instead. The second version says so much more about the character and the world.

Another great thing about comics is that you can access any environment that you want. You don’t have to rely on budget constraints to paint a picture. You can explain everything on the page in a visually interesting, clear, and engaging way.

“I think one of the things that we can take away from that marketing is that you need to be visually interesting, but you need to tell a succinct, clear story in a short amount of time. People’s attention span for your marketing is very limited.”

Back to the marketing world, the same lessons apply. If you want to sell a car, you could show a static image of a car in a showroom but it’d be pretty boring.

Or you could show a video that shows what the car can do.

“You can show it in an environment. If it’s a four-wheel, you can show it driving off-road, leaping over a cliff or a mountain. These are the kinds of things that we can do as visual storytellers to grab the audience.”

How to make a corporate comic…the right way

Lessons Learned about Visual Communication from Comic Books

If you’ve come across a few corporate comics in your life, you’ve probably seen them done well…and not so well. But luckily, Buddy has some tips on how to make it work.

The main tip that Buddy has is to go to someone who understands the medium. Not amateurs. Not first-timers. People can tell when a movie or a comic is created with poor storytelling, so it’s important to prioritize that quality and make sure it’s done well. It may cost you more, but if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

“Make sure that you’re hiring the right people, you’re coming in with the right budget, and then just commit to the medium and just say, we’re not going to make a comic that talks at people, we’re going to make a comic that is engaging and entertaining.”

Buddy’s favorite thing about using comics to improve visual marketing

Buddy believes that overall, comics do a great job of helping you contextualize your brand in a way that would be way more expensive in other mediums. Comics can tell a story, they can get a message across, and Buddy believes they should be used more by brands.

He brings up the average Ikea instructions. Rather than being the nightmare that they are, they could easily be turned into a simple comic.

“Let’s face it. This is an inexpensive medium compared to other production mediums. And it’s much faster. So I think what we need to do is really think about what is the power of that medium? It’s the ability to open a comic, leave it there and fix an engine or assemble furniture, that can be an effective way that helps a brand.”

For more insights and tips on visual design and the lessons comics can teach us, it’s definitely worth watching or listening to the full episode. You can also head over to TechSmith Academy for more tutorials and advice on leveling up your content.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

The Role of Images & Video in Workplace Productivity | Tom Solid

The Role of Images & Video in Workplace Productivity

No one can completely stress the importance of videos, images, and infographics in today’s world. Since humans are quite visual in their understanding, these media have the potential to send engagement levels soaring.

However, there’s one major issue to tackle.

With so many choices of tools, applications, and methods to choose from these days, it has never been easier to fall down the rabbit hole of unproductivity. This leads to the question of the day, is there a better way to use visual content creation tools to increase productivity?

In today’s episode, we have Tom Solid, the CEO of The Paperless Movement and productivity expert. He’s also the host of Tom at Paperless Movement.

Tom spent 16 years in the corporate world and academia solving the same productivity problems that plague many in the digital era. While coaching multiple teams across different industries, he has recorded as much as a 60% increase in productivity levels.

The secret behind this? Simply using the right project management and digital tools.

A brainchild of his is the Input Control, Output Refine (ICOR) framework, which is central to The Paperless Movement and the services they offer.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

Begin with a tool-agnostic approach

“Switching from a notebook to an iPad Pro doesn’t solve anything — it just gets worse.”

However, that’s the mentality most people have today. If they could just get that high-rated tool or device, perhaps it would streamline tasks and eventually boost their productivity. Here’s where it gets complicated —with pieces of paper, you only have your methods to contend with. With a digital device, you have to consider both your methods and the myriad of tools available.

For Tom, this realization came when he decided to switch from a paper notebook to an iPad. Logically, this transition should have made his work a lot easier. But it was a downward spiral from that point.

Over time, he developed a more tool-agnostic approach that worked — not just for him but anyone looking to leverage digital tools for productivity.

In a nutshell, it’s counterproductive and out of context to believe a tool will do wonders for your process without considering the following:

  • The overall task
  • Individual needs
  • Team-wide needs
  • Special features
  • Tools that work well together
  • The desired outcome

The role played by images and video in workplace productivity

Right off the bat, videos and images make information easier to digest. According to Tom, everything has to be simplified to ensure people can understand it, and that’s what visuals do.

Consider the onboarding process in most organizations. After getting all the paperwork sorted out, the next step is for the new employee to get acquainted with any Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in place.

Admittedly, pages of bulky text are one way to get a message across. However, it doesn’t guarantee that the message will be understood. In Tom’s experience, the best way to go about these things is to turn the SOP into an instructional video. That beats reading through a 100-page document any day.

It’s also worth mentioning the flow of things here.

With the right visual content creation tools, workflow is practically a breeze.

Panning back to what Tom said about taking a tool-agnostic approach, it’s vital to get tools that work well together. If that isn’t prioritized, you’ll end up introducing friction into the flow, which defeats all purposes.

Does the ICOR framework apply to images and videos?

The ICOR framework is something that Tom came up with to streamline all processes. So, whether you work with videos, words, numbers, etc., it’s a tried and tested way to get things done correctly.

Right at its core is the principle that “everything you do should have a purpose and a defined place where you put it.”

So, let’s say you’re throwing an infographic together or recording a video, “finding a single source of truth” is pertinent. Once you’ve defined this single source of truth, it takes redundancies out of the equation. To narrow things down, it helps to ask questions that point you back to the “why” of things.

Imagine you’ve found some interesting visual content and want to share it. With ICOR in mind, you’d probably consider:

  • The type of information collected
  • What part is vital to your message
  • How to present it

No doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Tom’s ICOR framework is concerned. But, in the end, this could help narrow down the types of tools to use, the medium to share them on, and the form they should take.

Priority levels make all the difference in the world

The Role of Images & Video in Workplace Productivity

Generally speaking, priorities make the world go round. You could have all the right visual content-creating tools and the right processes in place, but if you’re working without defined priorities, none of that really matters.

Approaching the task, you probably have a clear picture of what you want and when you want it.

Here’s the issue, you need to go deeper if you want to strike gold.

Don’t just stop once you’ve categorized your work based on urgency, map out how urgent it is.

Though this translates slightly differently from one person to the next, a good place to start is to consider what the words urgent, high-priority, normal priority, and low-priority mean to you?

If the answer is “nothing,” then you’re setting yourself up for worlds of disappointment.

Tom explains how a clear-cut definition of these words takes away any room for finger-pointing or excuses.

Productivity is a journey, not a destination

It’s easy to look at just about anyone these days and come out the end feeling inadequate. With that in mind, Tom drops some words of wisdom, “we are all in the same boat.” Everyone, Tom inclusive, is still in the process of finetuning their methods.

The only difference is that some people are further ahead in their quest for continuous improvement.

To hear more of what Tom has to say about productivity in the workplace, don’t miss out on the full episode. Links to the podcast and video are available at the top of this page.

For more resources, hacks, and tips on content creation, head down to TechSmith Academy.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

Animation, Video, and the Power of Visual Explanation | Lee Lefever

Animation, Video, and the Power of Visual Explanation | Lee Lefever

What makes a solid explainer video? The kind that gets your point across fast, without confusion, and equips the audience with all they need to know.

There are many components that go into a good explainer video. Lee Lefever, Co-Founder of Common Craft, breaks them down in this episode of The Visual Lounge.

Common Craft excels in creating simple animated videos to explain concepts suitable for use in online presentations, courses, classrooms, and more. With a refreshingly simple animation style, Common Craft’s videos focus totally on the audience and the content while also telling a story in a unique way.

As well as being the Co-Founder of Common Craft, Lee is also the author of two books – ‘Big Enough’ and ‘The Art of Explanation.’ He’s worked with clients such as Google, Intel, Lego, Microsoft, and more.

This episode covers a lot of ground on everything you need to know to craft a successful explainer video. You’ll hear why it all begins with the audience, why keeping it simple is usually best, and how to tell a great story.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

What makes a good explainer video?

Anyone can put together a video to explain something, but a truly great explainer video has a few common elements.

As Lee explains, the most important thing is that videos should focus on the audience. Explainer videos are designed to transfer information to an audience in the hope that they’ll retain it. So, it needs to be tailored to that audience. Explanations don’t work in a vacuum. It’s all about context.

“If I walked into a conference full of physics PhDs, who were doing presentations about physics, I might think, oh god, these explanations are terrible. I don’t understand any of this. But the truth is, it’s just not for me.”

So, the first step is to consider what the audience knows and what they’ll understand. Your language and how you explain things should sound familiar to your audience.

The next thing that Lee mentions is that explainer videos need to set clear expectations. A common trap people fall into is worrying that they’ll sound condescending. But Lee thinks this can be mitigated if you set an expectation at the beginning.

“I’m just going to take a couple of minutes and talk about this from a very simple standpoint so that we can all start on the same page.”

The third thing Lee talks about is context. If we know a subject really well, we sometimes assume the audience has the same experience and knowledge. This is commonly called “the curse of knowledge,” and it can make it really difficult to teach someone something.

But it’s important not to fall into the habit of talking about concepts or terminology that the audience won’t understand.

“Sometimes taking a step back, talking about the big picture in the world where this idea lives can be really powerful.”

Getting familiar with an unfamiliar audience

So, if familiarity is key, what if your audience is totally unfamiliar?

If you’re ever pulled in to create an explainer video for an external company, you may not know your audience well at all. This can be a bit of a roadblock, but Lee has some pointers on what you can do about it.

He says that the easiest way around it is to talk to people in that audience. Try writing a basic script that includes the language you think the audience will use and get someone to take a look over it. Ask them what they think sounds familiar or weird to them and tweak it.

If the company has existing explainer videos, take a look on YouTube and familiarize yourself with the audience’s language.

What to include in your videos

Your own video style may be personal to you, your brand, and your audience, but take a leaf out of Common Craft’s book. According to Lee, all Common Craft videos are made in the same way.

They started out with physical paper cut-outs, stop motion animation on a whiteboard, and it was that way for many years. Eventually, the tools changed, and so did the process. Everything became digital and created through software instead to make it more efficient.

However, it’s the same explanation style, voiceover, artwork that you see in their videos today.

Consistency like that allows you to focus on the content and the message rather than the style or the branding. One of Common Craft’s goals is to make things understandable for a general audience, and so it’s easier to stick to a simple style you can use for different scenarios.

One thing that Lee emphasizes is that explainer videos should be very “low noise.” This means that nothing is on the screen that doesn’t need to be there. There’s not much distracting animation, eye-catching graphics, or bright colors to distract you.  

The benefit of this low noise approach to visuals is that it helps to reduce cognitive load. With fewer things to concentrate on and get distracted by, the message behind the video is easier to absorb.

“The big goal for us is to make something understandable for a general audience.” - Lee Lefever

Deciding what goes into a video

It’s so easy to get carried away and include lots of different things in your videos. But in most cases, this ends up as a long-winded video that could have been two minutes long instead.

At Common Craft, they like to keep things short and sweet, starting with the script. Lee aims to have a script that’s just 450 words or so, which translates to two or three minutes.

Within the script, he tries to identify two or three key points that he wants the audience to remember once the video’s over. This helps to get around the ‘curse of knowledge’ problem that a lot of explainer videos suffer from.

When you know the subject well, it’s always tough to try and teach it to others who don’t know what you know. But keeping your videos short, structured, and simple, you can stay on task.

The role of storytelling

Too often, people overemphasize what storytelling is in the explainer/instructional video world. It doesn’t have to mean a long sweeping narrative or a Hero’s Journey-type epic.

Lee likes to think about it in a simpler way. He says that the moment a human is in a situation, it becomes a story. You’re watching this human change and experience something.

“The basic structure is basically, meet Bob. Bob has a problem. Bob feels bad. Oh, look, Bob found a solution. Bob feels great. Don’t you want to feel like Bob? So that’s really the structure of it. It’s just showing a person trying to solve a problem and discovering what the solution to that problem is.”

Sometimes that solution is a product, sometimes it’s an idea or a strategy, or sometimes it’s a big picture thing. Taking Lee’s example, there’s no need to know much more about Bob than that. You don’t need to know about his childhood or his favorite color. All you need to know is he’s a person.

What you need to make a good explainer video

We’ve talked a little bit about the content, but what about behind-the-scenes? Lee says that enthusiasm from whoever is creating the video or doing the voiceover is key. It’s “infectious,” which can help to tell the story.

Another recommendation from Lee is to talk slower than you’d like. This is a common problem for those new to making videos. They typically talk way too fast and try to get the information out too quickly.

Lee says that you need to clearly enunciate, speak with enthusiasm, and also talk slowly. While it may feel weird to you, you’re not the audience.

“What sounds weird to you sounds natural to the audience a lot of times.” - Lee Lefever

Don’t confuse marketing with explaining

Lee’s closing words of wisdom are a reminder not to confuse marketing with explaining. A common thing that businesses do is they’ll create an explainer video which is just a marketing tactic in disguise.

“Sometimes they call things an explainer when really it’s really just an advertisement.”

It’s understandable that businesses want to promote their products, but Lee says you should be careful about the tone and intent of the video. Sometimes a video that has a strong marketing message doesn’t sit right with the viewer.

“You’re selling to me, like I thought this was going to be something that I was going to learn from, and obviously, you just really want me to buy something.”

To hear more wisdom from Lee, you can watch or listen to the full episode at the top of the page. Or, for more tips on creating explainer or instructional videos, head over to TechSmith Academy for more episodes and resources like this.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

Finding Your Groove with YouTube and Video Creation | Sean Cannell

Finding Your Groove with YouTube and Video Creation

Becoming a content creator is a dream that many people have these days. But it’s far from an easy road to follow.

It takes a great deal of grit, determination, and a commitment to learning and growing to get your channel off the ground. On top of that, there’s also the big learning process of developing your camera and editing skills.

Joining this episode of The Visual Lounge is Sean Cannell, CEO of Think Media, and host of the Think Media Podcast. If you’ve ever looked up YouTube or content creation tips or tutorials, you’ll probably have come across his content.

Sean is one of today’s leading online video experts and the world’s most-watched YouTube strategist. He has been featured on Forbes.com, CNBC, Social Media Examiner, Entrepreneur.com, and Success.com, after growing a six-figure income as a tech YouTuber.

Sean is also an international speaker, coach, and prolific content creator. His mission is to help 10,000 purpose-driven people create a full-time living while making a difference in the world with YouTube.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

Humble beginnings on YouTube

Sean didn’t start off on YouTube armed with lots of experience or fancy equipment. He started in a small town as a college dropout, shooting videos in his bedroom. Sean began video-making YouTube in the early 2000s as an experiment, but it soon became a serious career path for him.

For those who believe they’ve missed the boat when it comes to YouTube, Sean believes that YouTube is even more important nowadays. In fact, he says being a content creator is the fastest-growing small business type.

“Being a content creator this next decade is going to be the best decade on YouTube. A new report came out from YouTube showing that the YouTube economy is responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs, whether that’s people working in the YouTube economy, building software or actually being content creators themselves. It’s pretty amazing.”

In the early days, Sean spent his time experimenting with cameras, video editing software, and making “some really bad videos.” But this was all vital to his learning experience and formed part of his teachings later when he started helping people with YouTube and tech.

Eventually, Sean realized that money could be made on YouTube. So, he started in affiliate marketing and learned how to use that in his videos. Eventually, he earned a small income, which was $2.12 in 2010. While it wasn’t quite enough to retire on, Sean said it changed everything.

“It wasn’t really just a financial barrier that was broken that day. It was a mind barrier. I was like, I just made $2.12 more than my neighbors made online today. This is real. And it was like a proof-of-concept moment. And it had me dream a little bit bigger.”

He started to wonder, what if that $2 became $20 or $200 or even more. And that’s what kept him going.

Commit to learning new skills

It doesn’t matter whether you’re aiming to be the next YouTube sensation or you’re creating content for training purposes in your workplace. The number one thing you need is a commitment to improving and learning new skills.

Sean highlights that to get to the next level, you need to carry on learning and growing. Think of each new level as an entirely different operating system.

“It’s one thing to reach six figures as an entrepreneur, but a lot stay stuck and can’t reach seven because it’s a whole different operating system.”

For Sean, getting to the next level was developing a media company. For you, it might look entirely different, but what’s important is that you keep leveling up and improving where you can.

Say no to perfectionism

A quote that Sean likes to use is “punch perfectionism in the face.” Perfectionism can be a major roadblock to success, especially for creatives and content creators. People get so stuck trying to create something perfect that they never hit publish.

To Sean, perfectionism is “evil,” and it’s a moving target. Perfectionism, by its nature, is subjective and disempowering. Instead, Sean recommends focusing on excellence. He defines excellence as “doing the best you can with what you have right now.”

He likes to mention the George Lucas quote, “no movie is ever finished. It’s only abandoned.” The same applies to YouTube and any other creative project. If you let perfectionism drive things, you’ll never grow.

There's a difference between perfectionism and excellence. I believe that excellence is doing the best you can with what you have right now. - Sean Cannell

How to pick a niche

Picking the right niche is critical to success in the content creation world. If you want to earn a living with your content, it’s not enough to just pick something you like. You have to think of the big picture and look at the total addressable market.

“If you have large ambitions to reach a large market, but there isn’t even a large market, well, then your initiative is doomed from the start.”

Of course, not everyone wants millions of subscribers on YouTube, but you need to figure out what your end goal is. Sean began by experimenting because he didn’t have a clear idea of what to do so he did a bit of everything.

He eventually learned the Three Ps framework, which is:

  • Passion
  • Proficiency
  • Proft

If you can find something you’re passionate about, good at, and can turn a profit, bingo! You’ve just found your ideal niche.

That’s how Sean narrowed his focus down. But what about his other YouTube channels that didn’t fit into that niche? Were they just failures? Sean prefers to see them as learning experiments that helped him gain great clarity.

“I look back and I’m like, why didn’t I see that sooner? It was uncovering that self-awareness, market awareness, the intersection of not just our passions, not just our proficiency, but also what’s profitable. And what I would encourage people is to work on that right now.”

If turning a profit on YouTube is part of your end goal, like any business, you’ve got to do your market research.

Figure out what the market size is like. Is it a growing market, or is it shrinking? What’s the demographic of your audience? The ages, nationalities, purchasing power, and so on? Write it all down and start putting a plan of action together.

Staying motivated in a difficult market

Content creation is a daunting prospect for many. But for those who want to try it, you need a way to stay motivated. Sean believes you need a certain degree of inner confidence and faith that your idea is strong. You also need a commitment to fill in any skills gaps you have.

You also need to recognize that half the battle is staying in the game. Most people drop out and give up, but Sean brings up the Steve Jobs quote, “business is mostly a game of attrition.” So, if you can keep standing longer than everyone else, you’ve got a better chance of growing and becoming a success.

Part of staying motivated and confident is taking care of yourself in any way. That could mean creating a positive morning routine, committing to reading, journaling, staying fit, or meditating – whatever works for you.

“One of the reasons I’m here today is because I just didn’t quit. And one of the ways I did not quit was I actually prioritized my inner health, my inner game, realizing that things start from the inside, and then they start showing up on the outside.”

Deciding what content to create

Even when you have your niche, deciding on what type of content to create can be a constant battle. What videos do you make, and which ones do you not make?

Sean says it’s all about knowing your audience. In the world of tech YouTubers, there’s a huge wealth of information Think Media could create content about. But he knows that you need to set guardrails on what you want to talk about.

It’s about figuring out what your channel or company is truly about, who it speaks to, and getting clear on that.

The content creator who understnads the viewer best wins. - Sean Cannell

Sean goes on to share the two skills every content creator needs to overcome this issue of too much choice – prioritization and concentration.

You’ve probably got hundreds of ideas around your head, but you need to prioritize and figure out which is the most important. Once you’ve figured out your priorities, you then need to stay focused and limit distractions.

To hear more from Sean, be sure to watch or listen to the full episode at the top of this page. For more tips and tricks about video and content creation, check out TechSmith Academy for plenty more resources to build your skills.

For more expert advice and tips visit TechSmith Academy on YouTube or listen to the Podcast.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

Video Statistics, Habits, and Trends You Need To Know [2021 UPDATE!]

video statistics research hero

Video has revolutionized the delivery of information and training content.

Whether you are teaching people through online content or training internal coworkers, using video to share knowledge is becoming an expectation. 

Don’t make folks spend their time pouring through long, wordy training manuals or documentation to learn about your product or service. In fact, 83% of people prefer watching videos to accessing instructional or informational content via text or audio.

The type of content you create matters just as much as the information you are trying to share, this includes video.

The problem is many companies struggle with how to create and deliver engaging and effective instructional videos that viewers will actually watch.

TechSmith conducted research to learn more about people’s viewing habits and preferences around instructional and informational videos.

No time to read the whole guide?

Don’t worry. Get a free PDF version so you can read it whenever you want.

Download PDF

Here’s what you’ll learn

We wanted to know how to create instructional videos that get watched.

In this guide, you will find actionable tips on how you can leverage these video statistics. In the end, you’ll be able to create effective video content that helps people learn new skills or gain new knowledge.

Highlights

  • 83% of respondents prefer watching video to accessing information or instructional content via text or audio.
  • Most respondents view videos two to four times per week.
  • Despite changes in how and where people work, much of the 20921 data were consistent with our 2018 data.
  • First impressions are important! Clear titles, good descriptions, and compelling thumbnails matter.
  • YouTube is the most popular place to watch instructional and informational videos.
  • Respondents prefer videos between five and 19 minutes long.

And here are the complete and final statistics, habits, and trends we found around video and how you can leverage them in 2022 and beyond.

Enjoy!

Video Viewer Study higlights. The text is repeated in the list above this graphic.

How to create videos that are effective and that get watched

Video has emerged as one of the most powerful and widely used formats for delivering training and instructions, regardless of who your audience is.

The vast majority of businesses have embraced video as a marketing, training, and communication tool. And while marketers say video is becoming ever more popular, marketing professionals aren’t the only ones who can benefit.

The acceptance and consumption of video (including mobile video) continue to grow across most departments, segments, and demographics. 

This should come as no surprise.

As employees, students, and customers increasingly expect information to be available in video format, businesses are embracing video for its benefits, visual appeal, and effectiveness. In fact, 83% of people prefer watching videos to accessing instructional or informational content via text or audio.

The big question is no longer “Should I create a video?”

Instead, we need to be asking “How do I  create videos that are effective and that get watched?” 

We conducted research to discover user preferences and consumption habits across six different markets – Australia, Canada, France, UK, the US, and Germany. 

The TechSmith Video Viewer research provides unique insights into when, why, and how people engage with informational and instructional video content. We’ll also walk you through the best practices to ensure your instructional and informational videos are efficient and effective. 

Discover how you can revamp your own instructional and informational videos to find a better way to connect with your audience and build brand awareness.

Why video keeps rising

Video viewing figures are going up across the board. The Cisco Video Networking Index forecasts that video traffic will grow fourfold from 2017 to 2022.

And video will make up 82% of Internet traffic by the end of that period, up from 75% in 2017. 

This growth can partially be attributed to the ever-increasing video file size, quality, and the rise of video streaming services. It also reflects the viewing practices and overall demand for video content.

The TechSmith Video Viewer Research shows that this trend also holds true for instructional and informational videos.

This year, 52% of people reported watching more than two instructional or informational videos each week. This is up from 51% in 2018 and up from 28% in 2013. 

Viewing frequency of instructional and informational videos (combined) has been steadily increasing over the last decade, with the number of users who watch two or more videos almost tripling since 2013.
Viewing frequency of instructional and informational videos (combined) has been steadily increasing over the last decade, with the number of users who watch two or more videos almost tripling since 2013.

How to find and know your audience 

When you create videos, it is important to define and understand the audience and their needs. Most people (25%) watch these videos to learn new skills for their job, followed closely at 22% by people who are genuinely interested in the topic.

Before you create a video, determine who you’re targeting by asking yourself questions like: 

  • Who are they? 
  • What problem are they trying to solve? 
  • What goals are they pursuing? 
  • Do they have previous experience with the topic? 
  • What will they need to accomplish their goals?
  • Where and how will they likely find or access the video?
  • What is their skill level?
  • What related topics should they also be learning?

Carefully consider these factors when you plan and create your video content to ensure it will be helpful for your audience. 

Consider cultural differences, as well. If your audience is international, keep in mind that some types of humor or cultural references may not work across multiple regions. Even simple hand gestures may be innocent in one culture and offensive in another.

How to grab their attention (and make them stay)

We know that video viewing is on the rise, and while younger audiences watch videos more frequently, it’s a medium that’s reaching people of all ages.

But the amount of available videos also means that viewers are more discerning toward what they watch.

Video creators need to think carefully about the style, structure, and format of their videos in order to meet viewers’ needs and expectations.  

How long should you make your videos?

The majority of users prefer informational and instructional videos to be less than 20 minutes, with an emphasis on the 3-4 and 5-6 minute ranges.

When it comes to video length preferences, it seems that there’s a “Goldilocks length”— not too short, and not too long.

Across all countries in our most recent study, the majority of viewers prefer instructional and informational videos in the ranges of 3-4 and 5-6 minutes.

Content over 20 minutes in length was only preferred by less than 10% of all participants.  

So, just like Goldilocks’ porridge, you need to make sure that your video length is just right for its purpose. While some videos can be longer, make sure that you’re not overloading your viewer with information. Your video shouldn’t include information isn’t relevant or cover too much information. 

In other words, make your video content as short as possible, yet as long as necessary. 

These tips will help you to keep your video short and sweet, while including all of the points you want to make: 

  • Write a script or storyboard to plan your content and keep your video focused and short. 
  • Focus your video on a single topic with a single objective.
  • Consider organizing your topic into a video-series or creating “microlearning” units, which deliver short units of information.
  • For longer videos, create a table of contents to enable viewers to easily navigate the video and quickly access relevant sections. 

Why people stop watching videos (and how you can avoid it)

Viewers don’t watch every video until the very end. That is a known and common behavior across all audiences. That said, you can gain a lot of value by exploring why.

Why did viewers stop watching their last video?

Participant answers to “Why did you stop watching the last instructional or informational video?”

The most common reason for a viewer to stop an instructional or informational video before the end is that they got the information they needed and moved on. The second most common reason is that they didn’t get what they were looking for. 

Armed with this knowledge, you can optimize their content to meet viewers’ expectations and reduce video drop-offs.

Your videos needs to match your viewers’ needs and expectations

You can help to set expectations for your viewers by controlling the initial experience with the content. This is primarily done by using a clear title and accurate description that conveys the video topic as well as the style of the video. 

The actual video needs to match the description and product, it needs to be detailed enough, and should be easy to follow along (especially important for instructional videos). 

The thumbnail, if applicable, can also relay upfront information for the viewers. 

And if the video is embedded on a website or part of a course, you also need to provide enough context around the video (i. e. website text, course title) to let the viewer know what they should expect.  

How to make your video interesting to keep viewers engaged?

Some topics and information may simply be dry and uninspiring, but an engaging presentation can keep viewers from getting bored and tuning out.

Follow these tips to make your content engaging to keep your viewers watching until the end: 

  • Use storytelling techniques, incorporating characters and a storyline that provoke emotion. 
  • Use an engaging speaker or voiceover to present the topic with passion and excitement. 
  • A visible speaker can also serve as an authentic ‘expert voice’ in your video, and you can leverage the existing experts within your company.  Their knowledge of the subject will allow them to present information accurately and authentically. 
  • Include practical, real-life examples that your viewers can easily apply to their own lives. 
  • Make extensive use of good visuals, like images and icons to illustrate your concepts. 
  • Be particular about when you repeat information, or when you slow down: Both can be effective techniques, but can cause people to stop watching if overused. 
  • Humor can be a great asset to keep viewers engaged when executed well, assuming it’s appropriate to use with your topic and for your audience. 
  • Use familiar, everyday language in your script. Avoid overly formal expressions or jargon.  Carefully consider your technical terms—while sometimes a bit dry, they may be critical to understanding and following the content.  
  • Prompt viewers to actively follow along with your video, post thought-provoking questions and ask for comments, feedback, and other engagement. 

When you create video, be sure to create content that’s relevant, engaging, and useful.  Regardless of where, when, or how people view your videos, focus on making your learning content as accessible as possible so that it can be viewed anywhere, at any time. 

Your video doesn’t need to be high-quality

It may be surprising to learn that the video quality was not a common reason for viewers to stop watching a video. In fact, only 11% of viewers listed poor video quality as the main reason they stopped watching.

This provides another useful lesson for you:

Good content trumps perfect production. 

This also reinforces the idea that easy-to-follow (50%) and relatable content (44%) are the overwhelming factors for getting users interested in your video. Visual effects or video quality doesn’t have the same effect.

High-end equipment and super-fancy video effects aren’t necessarily a recipe for success. 

Concentrate on writing accurate supporting copy and creating an interesting video rather than trying to create a Hollywood-quality blockbuster. Create content that keeps users interested and engaged, even if it’s a simple screen recording or video from an iPhone.

How to start making your own videos

It’s no secret that people increasingly look to video when they want to learn a new skill or information. Whether you need to share knowledge with one person or 100,000, a video offers a unique way to engage and enlighten viewers beyond the capabilities of written content.

This guide offers insights into how real people’s video preferences and habits, as well as analysis of great videos. This shines a light on how YOU can create better, more successful instructional and informational video content for your audience. 

But ultimately, don’t be overwhelmed by the details.

Get out there and start creating videos!

Learn as you go and find out what works best for you.

It’s time for you to make some videos! We’d love for you to consider getting a free trial of TechSmith Camtasia by visiting the TechSmith website.

Camtasia – screen recorder and video editor

TechSmith Camtasia makes it easy to create informational videos for teaching, training, and explaining concepts.

Record your screen and add content you already have by importing slide decks, webinar recordings, video clips, images, and audio files. With Camtasia, you can…

  • Add transitions, annotations, callouts, and effects with drag-and-drop ease to focus viewers’ attention and highlight key information.
  • Add pre-built motion graphics, music tracks, and other assets to capture your viewers’ attention and that professional polish.
  • Create quizzes, interactivity, and captions to improve viewer engagement.
  • Produce MP4 files or upload your video to YouTube, Vimeo, Screencast, or LMS for easy sharing.

Research methodology

Video viewer survey

To understand more about how video is most effective, TechSmith conducted research to discover user preferences and video viewing habits.

The main portion of the research consists of a survey that was administered to 914 unique respondents in late June 2021.  The recruitment, as well as the delivery of the survey, were conducted by Qualtrics, an independent research partner. 

Similar versions of this survey were previously conducted in 2013, 2016, and 2018.  This report focuses on the most recent results, but data from previous reports will be referenced for comparative purposes. 

For the 2016 study, we surveyed 1,006 participants while the 2013 study involved surveying 1900 respondents, and the 2018 study surveyed 924. All studies used the same type of survey methodology, though the questions varied slightly year to year.

About the survey participants

Participants had to answer between 16 and 20 multiple-choice questions, and 3-6 open-ended questions about their attitudes towards technical videos, focusing on two different types of videos:

Instructional videos 

A video that teaches a process, such as a step-by-step tutorial or how-to video.

For example: “How to add a new customer to the database.”

Informational videos

A video that delivers facts, ideas, or important information. 

For example: “Overview of the new safety regulations” or “Insights from the last departmental meeting”.

Thank you!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read through the research. We can’t wait to see what you create this year!

If you have questions or comments you can always reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Ryan Knott

TechSmith Marketing Content Specialist. Geek. Science Enthusiast. Retired roller derby coach. On a mission to pet all the dogs. He/him. A few things about me ... 1. Mildly obsessed with the movie Alien, 2. Two pibbles: Biggie and Reo, 3. Friend of ducks everywhere.

Good Training Is All about the Audience | Kati Ryan

What does it take to be great at learning and development?

Is it down to fancy tools, qualifications, or top video creation skills? Not exactly.

It’s all about your audience and focusing on what they need to know. The other stuff can come later.

During her 12-year career, Kati Ryan, Founder of A Positive Adventure, has picked up so many fantastic tips for L&D professionals. She joins this episode of The Visual Lounge to share her best advice for new and experienced L&D professionals alike.

In this episode, Kati explains why we need to get back to basics, focus on the audience, and plan everything with the end goal in mind. She shares why L&D often makes the mistake of over-engineering and overcomplicating training content and how to improve it.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

Good training starts with the audience

No matter where you are in your journey as an L&D trainer, the most important thing is to focus on the audience receiving the training. What do they need and why?

Kati says you should always ask these questions before you start so you have a better idea of what your content needs.

While experienced L&D professionals may already know this, what if you find yourself in the role with little experience? Kati says the best thing for newbies in L&D is to find someone well versed in it and partner with them. Grab a coffee and quiz them.

For those who are new to it and want to progress into a career in L&D, Kati says the best thing you can do is find a mentor. Having a mentor is an incredibly useful way to progress in any type of career, but especially in this field.

Formal or informal doesn’t matter. What matters is you find someone you can swap ideas with.

“Ask intelligent questions of them about their experience and how they’ve gotten there.”

The keys to effective learning

One of the most common mistakes that people make when delivering training is to over-engineer and overcomplicate it.

Instead, a good starting point is to go back to basics. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What are you trying to do?
  • Are you looking for a behavior change or for it to be informational?
  • What are the learning objectives or goals?
  • Is there anything that needs unlearning?
  • Do you need to introduce a new concept?
  • What’s the level of knowledge from the audience to begin with?
  • What does the audience want to know?

Once you’ve outlined these basics, you can start to get more creative with your training. But you should get clear on your goals before you get to that point.

“I think when you think about the goals, the outcome, the target audience, then you can get creative about how you make that happen. But you really have to understand what you’re trying to accomplish and for whom.”

The difficulties of measuring the impact of training

Measuring the impact of training is always a tough shout. There are so many confounding variables that it’s hard to isolate real cause and effect. It’s almost impossible to say, “this training is the only thing that impacted this outcome.”

But before even getting to that point, Kati likes to first identify whether training is what’s needed. Many organizations see a problem, for example, low sales figures, and immediately jump to new training. However, this overlooks the question of whether training is the answer. Maybe there’s another underlying problem or a better solution.

If training isn’t really needed, this is going to result in low motivation from the audience. If they already know what you’re about to tell them, they’re probably not going to listen.

The next thing Kati looks at is what success looks like. If you don’t have a clear vision of what the ideal outcome is, it’s easy to get lost and it’s hard to measure.

“When I go in and talk to clients, I’m always asking them at the end of this, will you say this was worth it? What does success look like? And a lot of times, they don’t even know. They say, “we don’t know, we just know we need to check this box.” And I say okay, we need to have a deeper conversation here.”

Working with subject matter experts

Often, L&D people aren’t experts in the content they’re delivering. So, how do you teach people about something you’re not an expert in? That’s where subject matter experts come in to save the day.

Kati describes L&D people as “glorified interpreters.” Part of the job is to take information from subject matter experts and share it with people who need to know it.  

“We need to figure out ways to braid those two things together to tell a story and to flow into a learning funnel. And so, it comes from asking good questions.”

Part of Kati’s process is to ask the right questions of these experts. Collaborating with them on training programs and letting them know what your aims are can help you get more targeted information to develop the program.

Keeping training content fresh and engaging

There are all sorts of informational content online, from formal training programs to Buzzfeed articles. In the case of Buzzfeed, its job is to either quickly inform you or entertain you. While a formal training program might not have the same tone or aims, we can learn a lot from this to make content more engaging.

Kati thinks that you should go back to what you’re trying to accomplish before overloading your content with images and videos to keep it interesting. Sometimes throwing out a funny image is a good way to break the tension in the audience or give them a break.

However, you should use this tactic strategically. The images and videos should still tie into the overall goal of the content.

Making the content relevant and targeted

Another element of successful learning design is making the content targeted to the audience. A lot of trainers make the mistake of designing content that can apply to anyone when really it should be tailored to the people in the room.

“You have to make sure it’s relevant. This goes back to knowing the target audience you’re speaking to. And using their language, not yours, using their images, not yours.”

It’s easy to grab a few stock photos of people high fiving in suits, but to make your content more relevant, you could use images from the organization you’re in. This is such a simple switch, but it can make all the difference.

Kati recommends asking the company for images, access to the company Facebook page, or a brand catalog to weave in those relevant images.

For more insights into L&D, creating videos, and instructional design, check out TechSmith Academy for more videos and tutorials like this.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

Accelerate Product Adoption and Improve Customer Retention | Cutler Bleecker

Did you know that customer education can help to boost both customer adoption and retention?

Education is often an overlooked part of the customer experience, but companies that prioritize it see great results.

In this episode of The Visual Lounge, Cutler Bleecker, Learning Experience Designer at Skilljar, joins to share his expertise on customer education and creating great training content.

Cutler has a passion for both teaching and technology, with an undergraduate degree in education as well as a Master’s in Instructional Technology. As a former high school Business and Technology teacher, Cutler has taught everything from accounting and computers to graphic design and video production.

He transitioned into educational technology as a product expert, then a content creator for Classworks before moving to Skilljar.

This episode is packed full of advice on creating educational content and what you need to know before you get started. We hear about Cutler’s successes, the challenges he’s faced when creating content, and his best advice for others.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

Defining customer education

Customer education, at first glance, seems an obvious thing to define. Surely it’s just learning, right? But Cutler likes to view it slightly differently.

Rather than just being about learning, customer education should equip the audience with the skills and tools to take action. Just because you learn something doesn’t mean you know how to apply it, and that’s where Cutler’s work bridges the gap.

“With customer education, I want to not just show you how to do something. I want to give you the opportunities and the tools you need to be able to do this on your own.”

The value for businesses that’s hard to ignore

Offering helpful content provides a clear value to customers looking for answers, but what about the business itself? Customer education goes beyond just having happier customers. It can also improve customer adoption and retention.

Solid educational content can help in the sales process because people are getting value before they’ve even signed up. Once they’ve been a customer for a while, your content can also keep them on board.

In this case, customer education should be a focal point for anyone trying to protect their profits. It’s not just a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.

“Customer education plays a huge role in not just the adoption, but also the retention of customers.”

Remember, customer retention is often more cost-effective than customer acquisition. So, if you’ve been looking for a way to improve retention, try looking at your educational content.

“Customer education plays a huge role in not just the adoption, but also the retention of customers.” - Cutler Bleecker

Deciding on a format

Lots of different factors play in the decision to make a video versus a graphic. But Cutler says that the main one is time.

A quick placeholder graphic, screen-sharing video, or text instructions will do if you don’t have much time. If it’s for internal content for the team, there’s even less pressure to create perfect and polished content.

With more time, polished videos and graphics definitely have their place.

However, the key thing that Cutler wants us to focus on is our ultimate goal. Did the content make it to your audience? If it doesn’t land well, the good thing is you can always change it up, improve, and test out different formats until it hits your goal.

Video tips for newbies

If you’re now fully convinced that creating educational videos is the way to go but have no experience, where do you start?

Cutler has some simple advice – just use what you have and improve where you can.

“If anyone, me included, goes back and look at some stuff I did six months ago, a year ago, I’m going to cringe at like, oh man, I’m still using that, or I had that lighting. It’s an iterative process, and you just improve the little things where you can.”

One thing that he’s learned from TechSmith’s videos is to make sure your audio is good because that can make all the difference. Other than that, experiment with the resources you have, practice, and your videos will definitely improve.

Keeping your videos engaging

According to recent TechSmith research, one of the top reasons people stop watching videos is because they get bored, or the content wasn’t interesting. That accounts for 16% of people who stopped watching a video.

No one likes to hear that their videos are boring, of course, but there are some things you can do to make them more engaging. But first, try not to take it personally.

“It’s not that you’re boring. It’s maybe this content just wasn’t the right fit for that person. So being able to provide content in more than one format can sometimes help.”

Experimenting with different formats can help because not everything needs to be a 30-minute video. Sometimes it only needs to be an infographic or a blog post.

If you’re scratching your head, wondering why no one’s watching your videos, ask for feedback to get to the bottom of it. Another thing you can do is mix up your videos, so you’re not just sitting there for 20 minutes talking to a camera. Try to add more excitement into your voice, talk to subject matter experts, and try scripting versus not scripting. You could also add an element of interactivity with polls, for example.

“If the content varies, it’s because your audience varies. So the first thing about any video production is just knowing your audience.” - Cutler Bleecker

The importance of accessibility

One of the challenges in creating educational content is ensuring that it’s accessible for everyone. Creating content in different formats is helpful because it reaches more people in different places, but it’s also important for another reason.

Not everyone learns in the same way. Some people are hard of hearing or visually impaired, so certain mediums are either not suitable or need to be adapted. For example, you could include a transcript for videos or subtitles.

“I’d say accessibility is probably a good place to start. And you don’t have to be an expert in it. Maybe you start by providing transcripts of your videos, as you’re publishing them to different places. So that way, at least that option is there for those that need it.”

For more advice like this on video creation, learning design, and customer education, you can find tons of resources in TechSmith Academy. Alternatively, to hear all of Cutler’s tips, scroll to the top and watch/listen to the full episode. 

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

Audio Production Mastery Tips from a Grammy Winner | Justin Proctor

What does it take to record great audio? A recording studio? A degree in sound engineering?

You may be surprised.

Justin David Proctor, audio recording master and two-time Grammy Award winner, joined this episode of The Visual Lounge to share his expertise in creating great audio.

Justin takes us through his advice on getting the right equipment, preproduction and planning, preparing the room, dealing with background noise, software, and much more.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

Justin has worked in professional audio and music recording since 2005, engineering in multi-room large format commercial studios and cutting albums for major label record companies. He began managing a private record recording studio with his college records production partner a few years into this work while running Delivery Room Studios.

Justin has won two Grammy Awards for recording engineering and composes original music, which can be heard on television networks and streaming services in the US and overseas.

Why audio recording is easier than ever

A common misconception in the audio and video recording world is that you need to be at a certain level of experience to produce something good.

The good news is that modern technology, equipment, and software have made it easier and more accessible than ever for anyone to learn how to record good audio.

“Technology is a lot more accessible for a lot more people. And it does a lot of those complicated or challenging things for us. It’s pretty remarkable how sophisticated technology has become so that our experience as recorders is not complicated at all because it’s been handed over to technology.”

Don’t skip the preproduction stage!

One of the mistakes that a lot of people make with audio recording is they skip the preproduction stage. But according to Justin, this is an unmissable step that will save you a big headache later on.

The last thing you want to do, especially if you’re working with others/hiring people, is to find out that something doesn’t sound right on the day. The best way to avoid that is to practice and prepare beforehand. Test out your equipment, microphone positioning and see how it sounds before you press record.

“Any preproduction you can do before the day of the session, before you hit record, any kind of planning you’re doing ahead of time, including testing technology, is going to go a long way.”

This can save a huge amount of time on the day because there’s going to be much less setup time. You have everything ready from the get-go.

How to choose a microphone

There are so many microphone options out there, it sometimes feels impossible to choose. Luckily, Justin has some advice for getting started in your search.

One of the first things to know is the difference between condenser and dynamic microphones. Condenser microphones are the ones that tend to be larger with a large capsule in them. They’re more sensitive because they get a little boost of electricity called ‘phantom power,’ and that allows the diaphragm to pick up more sound in the room.

That doesn’t mean the dynamic microphones are necessarily worse or less sensitive. It just means they might need a little more power or the volume cranked up to pick up what you’re recording.

With dynamic mics, it’s a lot easier to hide your room. By this, Justin means that if your room is not treated well for audio, a dynamic mic is a great choice for that.

Another consideration is polar patterns. This is the direction in which your mic is most sensitive to sound. Dynamic mics only have one polar pattern usually, and condenser mics have switches that let you choose which direction you want to pick up sounds.

Finally, dynamic microphones are super durable and might be better for those who need to move about a lot.

Invest in quality

While Justin says it’s a lot harder these days to find a bad quality mic, he would still advise people to avoid the cheapest options. He would personally not go below $100, so it’s a bit of an investment upfront. However, something that’s better quality will last longer, and you won’t have to replace it in a couple of years.

He’d recommend Blue Microphones, Shure Microphones, Audio Technica, or Sony as great brands to start your search with.

"If you want to extract that emotional response from your listenes, it's got to be clean and clear audio" - Justin David Proctor

Producing great audio in not-so-great environments

We can never have 100% control over the sounds in our environment, and most of us don’t have the luxury of a recording studio. So, what can be done about background noises?

Perhaps surprisingly, Justin does not have a dedicated sound booth. He lives in a 100-year-old house and uses attic space to record. His space is not heavily treated because he believes you don’t really need it to be.

“I don’t think I really need it. And also, I rent, so I don’t want to make permanent modifications to my environment. So I’m all about super practical, easy stuff.”

His first tip is to invest in a good, solid boom stand. If you buy a good one, it’ll last you forever. You can get either a floor boom stand or a desk one. However, with the desk ones, you’ll probably want to muffle the noise through the table with foam or even a rolled-up towel. That’ll help to absorb any vibrations.

Rather than going overboard with soundproofing and foam all over the place, Justin prefers to keep things simple. He instead thinks that overtreating a room can do more harm than good.

“A little air is good. Sound is moving air, so let it move and pick up a little bit but not too much.”

Another tactic he has is to buy packing blankets from Harbor Freight for a few dollars. He just hangs them up around the room to treat a room quickly and cheaply if he needs it.

When it comes to external noises like traffic, dogs barking, and so on, the above tips can help a little. But sometimes, you might have to get a bit flexible with when you record audio. You may have to pick a time of day that’s naturally a bit quieter to avoid the bigger sounds being picked up.

Electronic interference

Another thing that many beginner audio recorders overlook is electrical interference. Nowadays, we’re surrounded by technology, and it makes sense to have your audio set up next to your computer. But Justin suggests moving your setup away from other electronics if you can.

Electronics generate noise and introduce EMF into your audio. That’s like the buzzing, beeping sound you hear if you have a cell phone next to a speaker.

“I use extension cables for my power and my USB as well as a Bluetooth keyboard. And I back away with my microphone so that I’m not sitting on top of my computer. I just create a little distance, and it means I’m not bringing any of that EMF noise into my recording.”

Where to address a microphone

One of the biggest things that influence your audio recording quality is the positioning of the microphone. This takes a lot of experimentation, but the first thing to know is how to address the type of microphone you’re using.

It’s a bit easier with dynamic mics because they’re shaped like an arrow towards you. Condenser mics are a little more ambiguous because they’re shaped differently. Also, when you change the polar pattern, this changes how you should address the microphone because it’ll be picking up different areas.

“Generally speaking, most companies will often put their logo where you’re supposed to talk. So if you’re looking at the logo, you know the mic is pointing in the correct direction. But read the manual on that one because it’s not too hard to figure out.”

Always do a test run

When you’re preparing to record some audio, or you’ve just purchased a new microphone, it’s always worth doing a test first.

Sampling your audio will help you work out the best way to address your microphone and where to position it for the best sound quality.

"If you're wonder how to address a microphone, and you don't really know how to talk into it, make a couple of test recordings." - Justin David Proctor

“If you’re wondering how to address a microphone, and you don’t really know how to talk into it, make a couple of test recordings, and listen to them. And then choose one. Give yourself ten minutes, 15 minutes to experiment and play around a little bit.”

This falls under the preproduction stage and is always worth doing, no matter where you are in your audio recording journey. It can save a lot of wasted time from re-recording audio that didn’t work well the first time.

To hear more tips from Justin, be sure to check out the full video or podcast at the top of this page. For even more tips and advice, head over to TechSmith Academy, where you’ll find plenty of handy resources on audio and video recording, editing, instructional design, and much more!

For more expert advice and tips visit TechSmith Academy on YouTube or listen to the Podcast.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr