How do I create a series of online class videos that are How-to’s, but creative and interesting, while also teaching?

My upholstery course videos are pretty wide shot/closeup. I know I can do better.  I’ve asked every video and film maker I know if they can think of a clever technique for doing these classes. They’re all going to get back to me on that. (ha!)

–Shelly Leer

Before we get to the “creative” how-to video, let’s look at the basics- the marks a how-to video must hit.

How-to videos helped me save $200 replacing my own sump pump, figure out how my smoke alarm worked, and remove a tumor with a pencil.  Okay, not that last one.  But they’re invaluable when you need them.  “Need” being a key word.

We come to a “how-to” video in extreme need of information. And we are very grateful when our need is satisfied. This makes “how-to” videos great brand image builders for “the helpful plumbing supply company,” “The easy-to-use-smoke-alarm source” or “The ultimate surgical pencil company.”  Help your customers, “Shelly, the furniture-building teacher” and they’ll remember you.

The trick to making how-to videos work better is in the balance between these two goals:  get the information to the customer fast, and add just enough of your own personality and world-view to make it memorable and entertaining.

Your video, posted below, is a good basic how-to. You inspired this list of how-to make how-to videos better:

  1. Plan your information into bite-sized videos. Re-building a helicopter engine takes days.  But nobody will sit through a sixteen hour video of the whole process. I only want to see the stuff I’m not sure how to do.  If I want “how to replace the coolant,” I shouldn’t have to sit through 10 minutes on “how to machine pistons” to get to it. Your video should last as long as it takes to get this one piece across. If I need another piece, I will look for it in another video.
  2.  Get to the point. If we’re learning a crochet stitch, get right to the stitching. Please don’t bore me with a three minute introduction to a process that only takes 2 minutes to do. If I need special needles, or a certain kind of yarn, let me know. Otherwise, the words “Here is step 1” should be in the first 10 seconds.
  3. Stick with a Structure:  For example:
    (a) Here’s the first step to doing the thing.
    (b) You might notice these points as you’re doing this step so as not to break a part, gouge out an eye, or blow up the house.
    (c) Here is a VERY SHORT observation or joke that adds information the viewer can use.
    (d) Here is the next step.
    Delete (b) or (c) if you have nothing to say.  Keep everything tight.
  4. Show us closeups of the important stuff.  How-to videos need to show me how to, not just tell me. Get right in on the operation. Make sure it’s lit well and easy to see.
  5. Resist redundancy. During week one at my first professional radio job, my boss went over a tape of my show.  His first piece of advice: “Anything you say after the word ‘so…’ is redundant.”  So just stop talking whenever you get the urge to say it (see what I did there?)
  6. Edit. Cut the bad stuff. Cut the mediocre stuff. Cut the stuff that’s good, but feels kinda long to you now that you’re looking at it again.


In Part II we deal with Shelly’s question “Can how-to videos be creative?”

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  • Trond Kristiansen says:

    Very interesting. But what do you think of first-person viewing? There are some indications that students learn some task better when the video reflects a first-person perspective:

  • Sean Johnson says:

    I teach at the college and am rewriting my curriculum to opine and want to make really good instructional / learning videos . This is exactly what I was looking for! Thanks for sharing

  • Veronika says:

    Great points, Steve, thanks! I am just doing tutorial video and struggle with its length. I have to cut it a lot more as I see your points now. Cannot wait for the part two, thanks.

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