Expert Tips on Making Instructional Videos

Mike Nelson, our Chapter President, shared expert tips on making award-winning instructional videos at a briskly paced May program meeting.

Mike Nelson, STC New England President, is Product Documentation and Training Manager for KVH Industries, a global leader in mobile connectivity and inertial navigation systems. Since joining the company in 2000, Mike has developed numerous user and technical manuals, help systems, video tutorials, eLearning courses, and configuration wizards. His work has won numerous STC competition awards. His videos in particular are popular with customers, some reaching a quarter-million YouTube views.

Screen capture of Mike Nelson presenting at STC New England Map 2021 program meeting on instructional videos
Mike Nelson has created numerous award-winning publications and instructional videos for KVH Industries

At the program on 26 May 2021, Mike reassured attendees at the outset that “you don’t have to work at Pixar to do good work.” He then offered a series of excellent practical tips, focusing on Camtasia, including the following:

  • Cover a single subject and limit your video to just a few minutes. Shorter videos are more popular, and they’re easier to make and update. But they’re by no means easy—it can take three days to produce a three-minute video.
  • Storyboard the video first and have it reviewed and approved. The worst thing you can do, Mike warned, is to make the video first and then review it.
  • Write a script that sounds the way you’d talk to someone. Avoid the urge to pack your script and rush through it. Speak slowly instead. For a smooth presentation, rehearse what you’ll say and also how you’ll mouse around the screen as you narrate. Don’t overmodulate (get too loud).
  • Record audio and video separately. If you’re recording yourself or objects, pay careful attention to the lighting and background. If you’re showing browser pages, use a private window and remove all extraneous information, because you don’t want to record what’s on your desktop or what sites you’ve visited. If you’re using images, use animation, because a static image is dull. (The “Ken Burns effect” can animate even still photographs.)
  • Use overlays to achieve open captioning simply. But avoid overloading the screen, which becomes distracting.
  • Create multiple tracks and snippets. With tools like Camtasia you can can move them around on a timeline to synchronize everything.
  • If you publish to YouTube, be sure to include metadata like a description.

The highlight of the program was watching a “bad” video Mike prepared, followed by the original version, which won an Award of Distinction at the STC Alliance competition. Mike’s tip-packed program was well received and followed by a good Q&A session.