Making a tutorial video for the first time can be a little daunting. Even if you’re an expert on your topic, iit can be hard to know where to start. Maybe you’re unsure of exactly what to include or how fast you should talk through your information.
No need to worry!
At TechSmith, we know a thing or two about making video tutorials — including the essential elements that help make any tutorial video, instructional video, or software demo a good one.
We put together a list of seven essentials of a good tutorial video, along with key questions that accompany each one, so you can simply go down the list and double-check that your video is ready to educate and engage your audience.
Key Question: Is the instruction clear, easy to follow, and to-the-point?
Tutorials must be easy to consume, and learning is best achieved when information is delivered clearly.
Ensuring your tutorial meets a high standard of clarity begins with planning. When you start working on a tutorial, set specific learning objectives for the viewer. Write these objectives out and ensure that they identify the actions or concepts that users need to know to be successful after watching your tutorial.
Use a phrase like “Viewers will know…” or “Users will understand…” to express your objectives.
Here are a few sample tutorial objectives:
- Viewers will know the equipment needed to build a bench.
- Users will know how to start a screen recording.
- Viewers will understand why file format is important to completing a project.
While there’s no universal limit on the number of objectives a tutorial should have, keep the number to a logical amount and remember that, in many cases, less is more. You don’t want to overwhelm your audience.
A short tutorial should have one to three objectives. If you find yourself getting to five or more, review your objectives and determine if all truly are objectives. While there are often a number of elements that need to be covered in a video, not all of them are learning objectives.
Once objectives are finalized, use them as the guides that help construct the tutorial. Each part should be designed to ensure that the learning objective is achieved without meandering from the focus.
Having objectives and a focus on clarity allows you to move to the next essential: Flow.
Key question: Do the ideas flow smoothly from one to the next?
In all good tutorials, each section flows naturally from one to the next. Design your tutorial so that you present things in the order that a viewer would need to use them to perform the task.
Where no set order exists, group together similar concepts or processes. Are a few steps normally done in conjunction with one another? It’s likely that they should be taught in succession. Setting up your tutorial this way helps you show how different steps or features relate to or even depend on one another.
Once you have the flow of your tutorial figured out, consider the pacing.
Key question: Is the instruction delivered at a comfortable and appropriate pace?
Pacing is the speed at which you deliver the instruction. There are three key factors in pacing.
First, when writing your script, make sure each step gets the right amount of attention. If a step is more complex, spend a little extra time (maybe a sentence or two) explaining the context. If it is simple, don’t go into too much detail.
Second, consider your voiceover. Many people (including myself and most of my colleagues at TechSmith) prefer to record narration separately from screen recording. This allows more flexibility when setting the tutorial’s pace. Speak naturally as you record, but be aware of your speed. Many people accelerate as they read, so you may need to be deliberate about slowing down and maintaining a consistent pace. Don’t worry if it feels slow; that’s normal.
As you record the script, consider how you want each part to sound in the video. It often takes longer to demonstrate something on-screen than it does to describe the action.
The big challenge here is inflection.
While you may normally read a sentence as though it leads right into another, the video may require more time to show the action. This can make for awkward pauses or the need to rush the video. Take a pause at the end of each sentence, step, and sub-step. This makes it easier to add time into the narration when you edit the video.
The third element of good pacing happens when you record and edit your video. If you plan to use screen recordings, make sure to use smooth, easy-to-follow cursor movements when recording. They can always be sped up in the finished recording.
When you have a draft or even a portion complete, watch your video. Stop to listen to each part and consider if it feels natural. The cool thing about video editing is you have full control over pacing and can always change the amount of time between sentences, steps, and even sections.
4. Cognitive load
Key question: Does the cognitive load seem appropriate for the audience?
Cognitive load, simply put, states that working memory is limited and can be overwhelmed. When this happens, learning new ideas, concepts, or processes becomes difficult — or even impossible.
Imagine a glass that’s being filled with water. The glass can handle up to a certain amount of water before overflowing. The information in your video is the water, and your viewers are the glass. Don’t overflow their minds to the point where they miss critical information.
Assessing your audience’s appropriate cognitive load requires determining their familiarity and skill level in relation to the topic. Novices will likely need more context and groundwork to cement key concepts. More advanced viewers can likely handle a higher cognitive load with regard to the subject.
Keep in mind that you can also make the mistake of not providing enough information, leaving your viewers thirsty for more or, worse, unprepared to move forward with their learning or unable to complete the task.
Ultimately, getting this concept right requires a solid understanding of your audience. Knowing their skill level, prior knowledge, and even the level of interest will help you assess the appropriate cognitive load and provide the proper amount of content.
If this has you interested to learn more about cognitive load, here is a good read that goes into deeper detail.
Key question: Does the content speak to a broad audience?
We need to use the word ‘appeal’ here loosely. Appeal really means, “Is this a topic many people want or need to know about?” A lot of tutorials are created based on demand. Others are created by companies for compliance purposes. In either case, the key here is making sure that the content is useful to a broad audience.
If you’re making a tutorial based on demand, this is an important step. Study the information indicating a need for the tutorial and be sure to address the interests presented. This is an important check, as it helps to ensure the tutorial you create and time you invest in it is valuable to your viewers.
Key question: Does the content have a neutral, informative, and inviting tone?
Make your tutorial inviting and comfortable to watch. Narration that’s overly excited or delivered in monotone will distract from the learning content and may lead some users to tune out. Tone comes through most obviously in the way the narration is read, but start by setting the right tone during the script writing process.
The script plays a central role in determining tone. Word choice demonstrates a lot about what the narrator wants you to feel. When you write, describe things as they are. Don’t go over the top with descriptions of how amazing a tool or process is. Simply say it is good or great. The same is true for saying things are “simple” or “easy” instead of “incredibly simple.”
State facts and don’t embellish. Your audience will appreciate it.
The second half of the tone comes in the narration. Read your script calmly and clearly, adding the inflections you normally would if saying it to another person. Unless the situation calls for a particular emotion, a general feeling of happiness is a good idea. Pro tip: To help ensure a happy tone, try smiling as you read.
Getting the tone right can be tough. To make it easier, have another person sit with you as you record or listen to your recording and give you feedback.
Key question: Does the final piece have quality audio and video? Is it sufficiently polished?
Finally, we get to the part of a good tutorial that most people think of first: Presentation. The presentation is, of course, very important. It is also easy to focus on and forget everything that comes before it, like designing a beautiful book cover before writing the book.
Presentation constitutes the way the video looks, the way the audio sounds, and how the entire package is delivered and displayed to the audience.
Once in the video editor, zooming and panning features allows you to get close-ups of different parts of the screen to highlight important information. Just make sure to have the best picture possible to ensure a quality video.
The audio should be easy to hear at a mid-level volume setting. If you record narration separately, audio editing software like Audiate will allow you to raise or lower the volume, or you can do it in Camtasia.
Use transitions, annotations, or additional effects in the video with care. Don’t add effects just for fun or simply because you can. Make sure they’re only used when they add to the learning experience.
Finally, share your video to the platform where the audience who needs or wants it will access it. For many tutorials, this means YouTube. However, for some companies, it might be their own website, team page, or knowledge center.
Keep in mind, too, that your video may need to reside in more than one location.
At TechSmith, we place our tutorials on our website, YouTube, and a number of social media channels so they are easy for customers to access. We also have some great ideas about video hosting to help you out.
Try using the 7 essentials
Now, it’s your turn to get out there and make some high-quality tutorial videos! You’re armed with some great tips that can help keep your video on track to be engaging, informative, and polished. Try using the key questions presented here when you go to create your next one, and we’re confident that your finished product will easily achieve your goals and more.
For a great video walkthrough of how to make a tutorial video, check out the link below!
Frequently asked questions
Not necessarily. If you’re making a quick, off-the-cuff walkthrough, you can use a basic screen recording tool like TechSmith Snagit. For more polished presentations, we recommend Camtasia. If a tutorial will be shown to external users or customers, upgrading to better camera equipment for capturing demos or other footage not recorded on your screen is worth considering.
We recommend following the “Goldilocks” method: not so long that you give your users unneeded information, but not so short that you didn’t cover all the topics in the lesson. Aim for that “just right” spot. If you really need a number, 3-5 minutes is a good target. If your video is much, much longer, consider trimming it or splitting it into smaller videos.