A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Instructional Videos with Jonathan Halls

So, you want to start creating instructional videos…but where exactly do you start?

Instructional videos come in many different forms, meaning there’s a style that suits almost every creator (and learner!).

For video creators, this is great news. There’s plenty of opportunities to get an instructional video right – but as there’s such a wide scope for what makes a good instructional video, knowing what to begin with can be a real sticking point.

Jonathan Halls is a business author and consultant who helps people develop their training strategies. His 30+ year career spans a spectrum of roles in the training and communications industry. Jonathan has written several books and numerous articles to help trainers, learners, and organizations improve their talent development.

Jonathan shares the best ways to approach creating instructional videos as a beginner and explains the whys, whats, and hows, behind this broad and increasingly vital subject.

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…

Creating instructional videos: the basics

A very high-level definition of instructional video is a video that teaches someone how to do something. Jonathan believes that what makes an instructional video successful is when it gives the learner enough knowledge to then complete an action by themselves.

In other words, a good instructional video should be memorable enough that the watcher can confidently put that information into place.

So how can you create an instructional video that makes an unforgettable impact? Jonathan says the first step is to be completely clear about what you want the learner to do by the end of the video.

His tip is to set an objective at the very beginning of the video. This will help you (the video creator) stay focused on achieving your video’s goal and not get distracted by adding in unnecessary elements.

The next key step or principle is to think about your learner. Jonathan notes that spending some time considering who your video is for can help you plan out exactly what you need to share (the steps involved) and how you need to share it (what words/stories/analogies will be best to use).

Who are you creating instructional videos for?

Understanding who your learner is and what they want from your video can be an overwhelming stage of the process. Jonathan advises the best way to tackle this is in chunks.

He says all you need to do is answer these three questions to give you enough inspiration to get going:

  • What does the learner need to be able to do after the video to be able to perform that task?
  • What do they need to know?
  • Are there other insights can you provide that can help them do it quickly, easily, and well?

Your answers give you the framework of your content. From here, you can start thinking about other elements and what type of media this content is most suited to.

The best way to communicate your instructional content

This is a good opportunity to carefully consider if your topic really needs to be a video. Jonathan points out that not every piece of instructional content needs to be visual. In fact, if it’s a subject where you’re telling – rather than showing – information, you may want to use a different format, such as a blog or a podcast instead.

“If I’m not actually showing people anything, I say, let’s not waste our time. A one-minute video, takes three to four hours’ worth of production, and a two-minute video can take a whole day. If it’s not a ‘showing’ topic, no one’s going to watch it. So are you wasting your time?”

If your topic ticks the box and can be communicated visually, the next thing Jonathan says to think about is how people are going to watch it.

Knowing whether your video will be watched on big screens in classrooms or on small, smart phone screens will give you some direction on how you should shoot your video. For example, if your video will primarily be consumed on small screens, you may want to prioritize close-up shots or zoom in on screencasts to clearly show details you’re referring to.

How to structure an instructional video

Structuring your instructional video depends entirely on your skills and confidence as a video presenter and also your subject matter. Jonathan states that if you’re creating a quick how-to video that you’re knowledgeable about and happy to talk about off the cuff, then just hit record.

However, if you’re creating more polished instructional videos or dealing with complex topics, then he advises structuring the content to follow instructional design principles.

“Start with the overview, which is kind of like the learning objective. Then explain each step. And then go into detail about each step. And then summarize it.”

A clear structure is important for both the learner and the video creator as it helps everyone understand what the video is trying to achieve. If your content begins to deviate from this path toward the objective, Jonathan urges you to cut out those unnecessary elements.

A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Instructional Videos with Jonathan Halls

Your video’s goal is to get a message across, so you need to be ruthless about removing anything that doesn’t reinforce it. You want it to be as easy as possible for your learner to put into practice what they’ve seen in your video. This is more likely to happen when there are fewer distractions.

Jonathan’s top tips for creating an instructional video workflow

A workflow is an excellent way to speed up your video creation process and ensure fewer mistakes. But when you’re just starting to create videos, it’s important to experiment with steps that suit your style and video’s needs.

Jonathan shared the four key steps in his video preparation workflow that help streamline his process and his top tip for each.

1. Create a storyboard

Use a rough stick-man storyboard to plot out your video sequence and what you want to show.

📚 Recommended Reading: How to Create a Video Storyboard

2. Write a script

Jonathan suggests using short sentences, simple words, and concrete, descriptive language to make your points as clear as possible.

3. Design a “responsibility map”

If you’re working within a team, make sure everyone knows what their role is and what they need to do at each stage to keep the production moving.

4. Prepare to shoot

Check your equipment, if you need permission to film in your chosen location, and anything else that might cause delays or hiccups in your recording process.

Jonathan says he sticks to the 40:20:40 rule when creating video. This means he spends 40% of his video creation process time planning, 20% filming, and 40% editing.

“The more you plan, the fewer mistakes you have, and the quicker it will be to actually do the filming and editing.”

Start developing your workflow from the ground up – that means from the very start of the creation process. Once you’ve got this part smoothed out, the rest will follow!

What really makes an instructional video effective

In Jonathan’s opinion, the effectiveness of an instructional video isn’t ultimately in the video creator’s hands. He believes that the only person who can guarantee the success of an instructional video is the learner.

If the learner can go away and apply what they’ve learned, then the video is effective.

It’s in this repetition and self-guided practice that the learner can truly absorb what they’ve been taught and find success.

That being said, Jonathan suggests that there are some things instructional video creators can do to increase the chances of this happening. First, create a video that’s clear and easy to understand, and second, provide resources that encourage people to practice afterward. Repetition is key.

A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Instructional Videos with Jonathan Halls

You could create handouts or downloadable resources that reinforce the notable points from your video, and you should always try to stick to the same messages within your video itself. Jonathan calls this “creative repetition” and believes it’s the best way to move your message from a learner’s short-term memory to their long-term one.

So, if you’re ready to make an instructional video, why not re-read this post, make some notes, and put into practice what you’ve learned? Or get more information from Jonathan (and hear his best tips again) by scrolling to the top of this post and listening to the podcast episode or watching the YouTube video.

To learn more about creating instructional videos, check out the TechSmith Academy. There’s a wealth of free resources available to help you get started and build your skills from basic to expert.

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

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