Following this simple process will ensure you don't miss anything vital during the production of your own software system training videos.
I'm quite a creative so-and-so, but over the years I've discovered the value of a rigid process. Maybe it was drilled into me as a seventeen-year old working his first real job. Repeatedly hearing the words "You forgot to check how they want their steak cooked again?" from an angry chef has that effect.
One of the most important messages in The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right was the obvious yet commonly missed step of defining a clear process and then following it. (Thus freeing our minds to focus on creativity).
Whilst the concept seems like a simple one i.e. 'use a checklist when following a process', it's easy to be swept away in the enthusiasm of a new project and bypass process in favour of rolling your sleeves up and getting started.
In this article I lay out our exact process for creating video tutorials on software systems - whether that's for a client or for your own business.
This process has been refined over almost 15 years of building tutorial videos - and continues to change as we discover and develop more efficient ways of working.
The process is broken into five key phases, but each phase has some critical steps:
The scoping phase is essentially a list of questions. Asking the right questions about why we are doing this project let's us focus on the reason for creating videos in the first place.
In a client project, we will often ask these questions before entering into the project, often as part of a roadmapping session where we have more time to dig into our clients' requirements.
Why are we doing this project?
Before starting any type of training project, it's essential to take a step back and identify the objectives for what you are trying to achieve.
- Onboarding new users who have never used your software system? (training)
- Creating videos to support current users? (performance support)
- Looking to improve the efficiency of how you direct confused users to a specific video helping solve their queries? (performance support)
You might be looking to do all of these, which is one of the benefits of building a library of short videos like this.
But a full training course that a user sits through from start to finish needs to be approached differently than a series of bitesized videos that will be dipped into randomly - and therefore identifying this at the beginning is essential.
Who is our audience?
It's critical for us to understand exactly who will be watching these videos.
- Where are they?
- What is their level of expertise?
- What challenges do they face when using this software?
- What language do they speak?
- Where will they be watching the videos (on the bus? in the office? on their phone? on a computer with dual screens?)
All questions we need answering during the scoping phase.
How will we measure success?
Yes... we can make a library of awesome videos - but if the videos don't have a return on investment, is there any point in making them?
We only want to develop videos that have a positive impact on our client's businesses.
We help clients identify key metrics that can be measured after the videos have been launched - which may include the amount of videos watched, reduction in support queries, behavioural change or performance improvement.
Where will the content be hosted?
"Right, we have some videos - now what?" is not a question you want to hear after you've exported your videos.
During the scoping phase, we think carefully about the platform on which the videos will be hosted.
Some clients will have a Learning Management System (LMS) upon which the videos will be hosted, while some will ask us to provide a platform.
(The benefit of an LMS is that you can track exactly who has accessed which videos. We can also add additional functionality, such as quiz questions after our series of videos).
An alternative option is to use a static site such as Wordpress, which still gives you the option of providing login access but will have less analytics than an LMS.
You might even be happy for the videos to be hosted as unlisted videos on a public platform like YouTube, Vimeo or Wistia.
Some are even looking to embed the videos into the software being trained, so they are directly accessible as the user needs to know how a feature works.
Understanding the platform during the scoping phase allows us to tailor the perfect strategy.
How would we access the software? (I.e the system which we are talking about)
- If the software is a local installation i.e. can we install it onto our own computer?
- If it's cloud based, will we use a test account or have access to a live account?
- If we use a test account, how much generic information will need to be added to make the videos realistic?
- If we use a live account, will we be able to perform functions without causing havoc?
Once the why, what and how has been defined, we will itemise exactly what we plan to deliver and when we plan to deliver it.
In a commercial agreement, this is often directly with the client. But if you're creating these videos internally, you will want to ensure the SME is happy with exactly what you will be including in each video.
Will include a list of videos but also outline whether any of the following accompanying services are required:
- Support documentation
- Platform implementation
- Translation services
- Web optimisation
- Thumbnail images and video descriptions
Most of the videos we create are 2/3 minutes in length. So after a trial video to test look and feel etc., we always try and batch video production to decrease production time and make the process more efficient.
The number of videos per batch depends on many variables, but most importantly how quickly we need to deliver videos and amount of research required.
An ideal batch size wouldn't be less than 10 videos.
One of the most important reasons for using a service like Videobites is being able to hand off responsibility of the project with confidence that the project will be delivered without your involvement.
In order to do this, we have intentionally created a phase of the process to research the software. This guarantees the end product delivers maximum value to the audience and doesn't just have that 'off-the-shelf' feel that some training offers.
This may involve training from the subject-matter expert (SME) in the form of web training or previously recorded classroom or webinar training.
If recorded training isn't available, it may simply require us to go away and spend time playing with the software, going through each of the steps in the proposed videos and becoming familiar with features and functionality.
During this phase, we will ask for access to our clients SME in order to ask questions and ensure we understand the complexities of the software.
Final video list
Using the deliverable list outlined during the scoping phase and the knowledge we have garnered from our research, we will agree a final list of videos with our client.
This may include suggestions for videos that weren't initially mooted (having a fresh pair of eyes on a client's software often means we notice features and functionality that had been missed by our clients!)
Begin with an outline
We always start each video with a high-level outline of what we plan to include in each video. This is usually a collaborative effort between ourselves and the SME.
The outline can simply be a list of bullet points, with a description of what will be taught and why this is relevant.
At this stage, we might also add some other notes - for example, suggestions for on screen elements or items to be mentioned in the voiceover.
Once the outline has been completed, this will be signed off by the client or SME.
Create a storyboard
Once the outline has been approved, we will write a storyboard which includes a full script.
You might scoff at the idea of writing a script for a software system that you know inside out, but take a look on YouTube and search for some software training videos that haven't been scripted (you can tell immediately from the number of 'umms' and 'errs' you hear in the voiceover!)
Writing a script allows us to outsource our audio recordings to professional voiceover artists and translate into other languages where necessary.
Our storyboard is a very simple document - we have three columns, In the left column is the scene number. The middle column is what will be read out by the voiceover artist.
In the third column, we add some ideas for what will be shown on screen - we often leave this blank if it is self-explanatory (i.e. if it is simply the feature being demonstrated). But sometimes we might add some on screen graphics etc. to help explain a process - we also sometimes use other tools like Videoscribe to help us do this.
Run a script read-through
After we have written a script, we will always sit down and read through the script as if we were talking to someone,
It sounds silly if you've never done this before, but this is the best way to make sure the words flow naturally.
You will immediately realise if there is something amiss, and you can correct it in the script before you start recording audio.
We also tend to add highlights to words in the script which need emphasis - this speeds up the voiceover recording process.
We always ensure our clients or the SME have reviewed each script before we enter production - this means there are no surprises once the final videos are delivered.
Because we batch the production of our videos, we often request ten or more scripts to be reviewed together. Because the videos are bitesized, this is usually only one side of A4 per script - which means there is less resistance from the
We always record our voiceover first. Sometimes we do this ourselves, sometimes we bring in a voiceover artist - depending on the look and feel we are going for.
Once we have the audio file ready, we can import that into our screen capture software (we use Camtasia), Having the voiceover ready to go makes the recording process very simple.
We will create an intro which usually has some onscreen text, animations and music. This gives the video a professional touch and gives the viewer some confidence that they are watching something official, from which they will get value.
We will use the same intro for all our videos and then just change the title which means there is less work for us overall.
Add cursor effects
We always try and add a simple cursor effect so that the viewer can see exactly which operations are being performed as the story unfolds.
We like to use the Highlight feature, and add a small fade and opacity so it's not too prominent.
Add Zoom and Pan
A caveat to using Zoom and Pan is to use them in moderation.
But adding some gentle zoom and pan animations to your video will enable users to focus on exactly what is being discussed without getting bored by a lack of activity.
To help focus the viewers attention, you can use simple effects to draw their attention to certain parts of the screen.
This is also really useful if you are using Keyboard shortcuts. The viewer can't see these when they're focused on the screen, so adding this effect is really useful.
We often use the blur feature too if there is sensitive information within the software.
We will copy the design format from the intro to create a smooth, professional outro.
In Camtasia there is an option to publish directly to YouTube as an Unlisted video. This generates a YouTube link that we share directly with our team for internal review, or with our clients when we're ready for their input.
Using this feature drastically reduces the amount of time it takes us to publish videos and means we can quickly get feedback from others without going through a full export.
Once the videos have been published, we invite our clients to review each video online.
Once we have approval on that video, we will use custom production settings to export a high resolution HD version of the video.
This can be zipped and emailed or uploaded to a Dropbox-type service.
I hope seeing our process in black and white has been useful for you - feel free to adapt as you see fit.
If you have any suggestions on how we could improve or questions on why we do it this way, then please leave in the comments section below.