The Beginners Guide to Successful Video Pre Production

Notebook with interface sketches

It All Starts With Video Pre Production

The first video I made was by far the toughest one.

I knew others were going watch it (and probably scrutinize it), and I had no clue what I was doing.

I had done a little research, but I didn’t really have any idea about the process or problems I would encounter.

But here is the good news: I’ve been there. I’ve made a lot of the mistake. And I learned exactly what you need to do to make your first video.

The guide below will get you off to a great start.


Can’t see the embedded Video? Watch the Before Starting Video on YouTube

Start. Pick a Project and Begin

Before we get to some ideas to help you make a video, let’s get something out of the way.

This first video, I’m sure it’s going to be something you love and slave over. You will pour a lot of effort into making something you’re happy delivering to your viewers.

It will be awesome.

Until that is, you look back on your project after having created a few videos, and you’ve grown your skills.

Man standing on rock sunrise

You’ll quickly realize how far your skills and abilities have come. If this is your first video, first videos are difficult. It’s okay to learn. It’s okay to make something that won’t be perfect.

Most importantly: It’s okay to just start.

Once your first video is complete, you can move on to the second video and make something even better.

Even though you don’t have to have a masterpiece, there are steps you can take to make your video a success.

Starting is step one, and nothing else but getting going will get you around it.

Learning Objects vs. Outcomes: Narrow the Focus

I was recently in a conference workshop with Shannon Tipton (Learning Rebels). She made a bold statement, which was to the effect:

Throw out the learning objective and focus on what you want the learner to actually do.

This is key to making a good video.

Looking through camera lens

It’s about focusing on the end outcome. At the end of the day you should be able to say “Yes” or “No” when evaluating if your outcome was accomplished.

And as you’re thinking about what you want your learner to do, narrow it down to one idea, one topic, or one point of focus.

By narrowing your scope, your video will be more focused, and easier to create. Your learners also benefit. They will receive clearer instruction with a more achievable outcome.

Know the End Before You Begin

If you’ve taken the last bit of advice, you know what you’re trying to achieve. Awesome!

Knowing the end now lets you figure out some critical information in your pre production planning:

map, laptop, looking at destination

Where is the video going to end up?

Knowing where the video’s final destination is important and will help you make a ton of other decisions. You should definitely make these decisions before you start creating your video.

Are you putting the video on a public channel?

If you are going public, make sure you think through the context that individuals may find your video. You may want to add extra elements that identify the product, company, or organization. It’s a small detail, but you don’t want viewers to have to guess whether the video is associated with your or not.

Is it going to be accessed through a Learning Management System (LMS)?

If you’re using an LMS, you’ll want to know what video formats your LMS supports. Are there other restrictions like file upload size? Even if you can get the video into the LMS will the end users be able to see it? Do they have speakers or headphones so they can hear the audio?

If in an LMS, do you want to use SCORM or xAPI for tracking purposes?

Not every video will require the same amount of tracking. If you do want to use SCORM or xAPI, it helps to work out what you want to know and what requirements you’ll need. Knowing this before you start making or planning your video can help guide the creation. You want to make sure you’re not shoehorning elements into your video at the end.

What size will fit perfectly in your video’s destination?

What resolution should you create your video at? Size is an essential part of making a video, and as a best practice, you should edit your video at the size you want to produce it at.

So for instance, if your video needs to be 1280 x 720, you should edit your video at 1280 x 720. For recording, you have more flexibility.

However, recordings should be proportional, and larger or the same size as the final video output.

Again, considering a 1280 x 720 output, you could record at 1280 x 720, or record at a size like 1920 x 1080. Both sizes have an aspect ratio (the ratio of the width to the height of an image or screen) of 16:9.

Are there accessibility needs for your viewers?

Do you have Deaf or hard of hearing learners that need captions to access the content? You should write a script that will act as your captions for your video or if you don’t have a script, consider having your video transcribed. This can help viewers who rely on accessibility features. It also provides viewers who don’t have a way to listen to the audio a means to still get the information in the video. If you are posting your video to a site like YouTube, captions can also play into how easily your video can be found by searching.

Learn more about captions.

Is the video part of a series?

If so, do you want to link the viewer to another video or other content? Some sites and video players will allow you to link directly to other videos or web pages from within the video. Linking provides easy access for your viewers to related content. Or if your viewer has multiple tasks to accomplish, this can help the user to find the next video or information in the series.

Make a Plan: Don’t Pick Up the Camera First

There are a lot of other tasks to complete before starting your video. We have a lot of great resources to help you get started.

Script

Every professional video has a script, and you need one too!

I have created a lot of videos without a script, and without fail, I will miss something, say something incorrectly, or stumble and have to redo part of the video.

Scripting is a key guide to helping you to make a better video.

Scripts have a huge influence on the video that will be created. Writing a script can take time, but can save a lot of time when you start creating your video.

By having a script, you know that you will cover everything that needs to be said in a concise and effective way. You get to craft your message and outcome.

As you create your script, try to strip out the unnecessary content.

Be ruthless!

With every sentence and word you should ask: Is this helping me to accomplish my goal?

If it isn’t, cut it. And don’t make this all a mental exercise, you or your talent needs to read the script out loud. Some things just don’t sound right when they are said out loud. The last thing you wan to do is create a sentence that turns into a tongue twister like “Sally sells seashells by the seashore.” (Say that fast 5 times!)

If you’re recording a meeting, lecture, or an interview, scripts aren’t necessary. Even in these situations, you may want to develop a solid outline, questions you’re going to ask, or a checklist to ensure the key points are covered.

Learn more about Scripting

Download a Script Template with Examples (Microsoft Word)

Download a Script Template with Examples (PDF)

Storyboard

Storyboard

If scripts tell you what to say, storyboards tell you what to show.

Storyboards are incredible time savers, and they have an important place in forcing you to think through the visuals of every part of the video.

As you think through the visuals and start to sketch them out (stick figures are perfectly acceptable), you are building a list of shots that you will need to create.

Get started by grabbing a pen and paper to doodle with.

Think of the first thing you want to show. Is it a title slide or animation? Is it an establishing shot, like a location, or your computer’s desktop? Roughly sketch that.

Next, read a little of the script, what should be shown? Maybe it’s a person who is going to talk: do you want the camera close to them, far away, between close and far? Now roughly sketch that.

You can even write down what the shot is, so you don’t forget. Can’t think of what to draw? No worries! Jot down what you want to happen, like, “Close-up shot, Matt turns to face Sara.”

As you go, make sure you note on the script or storyboard how the script and the storyboard correspond to each other.

Especially with camera video, time is precious, and using a lot of time is expensive. You don’t want to be in the shooting stage and trying to figure out what to do for each shot.

Have a plan, and then execute on it. Even if during the shoot you need to change something, it will still be easier to adjust.

Two other key points about storyboards.

  • If you need stakeholder approval, the storyboard can help get pre-buy-in. Your stakeholders can see what you’re planning and make suggestions before the camera rolls.
  • Your storyboard will show you the video you want to create while you are editing. It is like a template for the video you are going to build. Once you have all the pieces created, you can create the final video easier and faster. You will hopefully remove most of the guesswork and can slot into the various parts and pieces to create the video you want.

Download a 3×3 or a 3×2 printable storyboard template.

I don’t know anyone who really loves getting their work reviewed, but when you’re investing in creating a video, it can be a helpful process (and at times humbling).

I recommend that with both your script and storyboard, find one to three people to review your work.

A few things to look for during your review:

  • Is the message clear?
  • Will the viewer be able to take the appropriate actions?
  • Have you left out bits and pieces, that someone unfamiliar with the topic would find confusing?
  • If you tried to add some humor to your video, did it work or fall flat?

When you ask your reviewers for feedback, tell them you want brutally honest feedback. I know it can hurt, but it’s really the only way to get better.

Have a Table Read (Optional)

You might even get a few people together and perform what I call a table read. In a table read you will read the script out loud, and have the reviewers listen and take notes.

Then the reviewers give their feedback point-by-point. Your goal is to not defend your work but to listen for the ways that you can make it better, and improve the video you’re going to make.

If you have anyone in your organization that has made videos before, I recommend you ask them for their feedback as well. Their experience may help you avoid any pitfalls or challenges they have come across in the video creation process.

An example from my experience is when I was creating videos for TechSmith’s web hosting site, Screencast.com. I asked one of our team members, Anton, for feedback. His feedback was very accurate and precise, even to the point of telling me the timing was off by half of a second.

Sometimes the feedback was hard to hear because I thought I knew better, and sometimes because I thought the project was in really good shape. That feedback, after I worked through it, always led to a better, more polished video, and I became a better video creator because of it.

Gather Materials and Equipment

As you’re creating your script and storyboard, you should make a note of objects and information you need to gather, and a few items to arrange before you start shooting.

These can happen in any order that makes sense, but have your list ready before you start to create your video. It will save time, effort, and reduce your overall stress level.

Equipment

It makes sense that you should get your gear together before you shoot, but don’t do it immediately before the shoot. A day or two before (at least) look through everything to ensure you have what you need.

Don’t forget things like spare batteries, cords, tripods, props, or any other gear you’ll need or want with you. You might even want to run through setup to make sure everything is in working condition and will serve you well during the shooting process.

If you are recording voice overs, you will want to make sure you have your microphone, microphone stand, and other audio gear ready to go, and everything is working.

If you’re simply recording your screen, all you may need is a high-quality screen recorder and a quality microphone.

Brand colors

Make sure you know what the approved colors are for your organization, or colors that you are using to brand your work. If possible, have the RGB, CMYK, or Hex values on hand. Being able to access those colors without much thought will speed up the post-production process, and save you from having to go back to correct mistakes later.

Logos and images

If you have graphics you are going to use, create a folder on your computer and put them in one location. When you’re ready to edit you won’t have to think about where you last saved them or spend time searching for them. You can also spot check to make sure that they are going to work together, or if you’ll need to adjust them. Included in this are items like lower third graphics, title animations, brand logo, screenshots, etc.

Learn about sizing images appropriately.

Location

You can’t gather a location, but there are actions you can take to make sure you’re ready to shoot.

First, if you’re doing a camera shoot and you’re going some place that isn’t your workplace, you’ll want to double check on permissions to record in that location.

If you’re recording at your office or your desk, just make sure you have

Beyond the permissions, go the recording location around the same time of day you are planning to shoot.

Scout it out and see if it’s going to meet your needs.

  • Are there obstacles that might get in the way?
  • Are there sound issues, like a noisy HVAC system?
  • Problems that might make lighting difficult, like too many windows, or too dark.

At the very least, go to the location with your storyboard and see how it will match what you are planning. Then make adjustments.

During one video project, we decided to record on the campus of a major nearby university. It was beautiful setting near a river. We were shooting at 6 AM and thought we prepared for most everything.

What we didn’t prepare for was swarms of mosquitoes that attacked us frequently.

It’s hard to shoot video and swat bugs at the same time.

A short visit to the location would have given the team a heads-up to the issue, and we could have been prepared with clothes and mosquito repellent.

Talent

If you are going to have people in your video, who are you asking to be on camera? Are they a Subject Matter Expert? Is it a co-worker playing a part? Are you bringing in professional (or amateur) actors? Or is it just you recording in your office?

Regardless, if you are inviting someone to be in your video, you need to make sure you are preparing them. You will want to talk your talent through the video concept and share the script with them.

Make sure they know what their role is and your expectations for them when they are on camera (e.g. do they have to memorize everything?).

You should also tell your on-camera talent what you would like to them to wear when on camera, or requests for hair or make-up.

You may need to have them sign a release agreement allowing you to use their likeness in the video.

Some companies have built into their policies the ability to use photos and videos of their employees, but it doesn’t hurt to check.

Voice over

Similar guidelines apply for anyone recording the voiceover. You need to make sure you give directions on pacing, style, or scripting. You will also want to ensure the recording space is free of noise and is going to provide the best possible sound quality.

Conclusion

There is a lot to think about leading up to creating a video. All this isn’t to scare you off or dissuade you from making a video.

In fact, the hope is that you make your first video and don’t stress about everything else in this list.

Just make that first one.

Then, before you start the next video, pick up one or two of the ideas in this article. Apply those tips, be better prepared, and make a better video.

After video two, pick up another idea and add it to your workflow. Follow this pattern, and keep making videos that are better and better. It will take time, hard work, and practice, but it’s possible for you to make a great and effective video.

There is a lot to consider when making videos. It can feel overwhelming, but getting some of these ideas in place will make it easier, faster, and less costly.

So my friends – after reading all this how could we not be friends – let’s start.

Let’s make a great video.

Want to learn more about making video?
 Visit the TechSmith Academy for free access to learning materials and downloadable resources that will help you improve your video creation skills.

Posted in Tips & How To's
Author
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