There are three essential elements that go into making a successful video. The first of these is understanding the reason you are making the video: the objective and the viewer’s situation. The second element is the three phases of video development and what has to happen in each. The third element is the appropriate production values that you layer into the video. All of these are related and linked to the final product.

What type of video are you making?

For the purposes of this article, there are two kinds of videos. There are tutorials, in which you going to show a user how to do a task. And there are instructional videos, which will address interpersonal communication skills, leadership, and analytical tasks. There are some situations in which you may want to do a kind of combination of the two types. The exact names (tutorial and instructional) are not really important, but the purposes are.

Guidelines for all videos

Across both types of videos, there are some common tips and guidelines.

  • Give your video a good title; there is nothing wrong with having “how to” in the title, and there is nothing wrong with a title that names the outcome for the user.
  • You are going to tell a story using scenarios or demonstrations, not give a lecture; keep it simple. Resist doing a “brain dump” that covers everything you or the subject matter experts know about the topic.
  • Write a script and then create a storyboard based on it to guide production. If you are bringing in someone to do the video production, use industry-standard formats for the script, and industry-standard terminology in the storyboard.
  • Use the right equipment the right way. Use a USB mic and enunciate. Pace your delivery so that users can keep up. Give the user a standard video playback interface so that the user has control over the playback. Use lenses and mounts that provide the right kinds of shots: establishing shots, "two shots", overheads. Set your lighting up so that the focus of attention is lit correctly.
  • Keep in mind the type of devices that users will be using to view your video.
  • Include captions—or transcripts—of videos as an easy way to enhance accessibility and make videos usable to more learners, including those who need to view them without sound. Use "show notes" to help users find the exact content they need, even in short videos.
  • Pick a location for recording that is not noisy and where there are no distractions.
  • Make two or three versions of each video with different introduction and conclusion for each. Use Google Analytics and xAPI to gain insights into the user experience.


High-quality tutorial videos that are great learning experiences require more work to create than preparing to teach a live class. Start with simple tasks and simple presentations, and add features as your skills improve.

  • Users prefer tutorials to reading or listening to the instruction manual.
  • Screencasts work best for tutorials, or a combination of a talking head delivering the context. Use B-roll to fill in details.
  • Use screencasting software. Your production template must include the steps from the storyboard.
  • Keep the focus of the tutorial on the one task that is important to the user.
  • Audio quality in tutorial videos is important. To reduce or eliminate hissing sounds and vocal "pops", use a pop filter on your external mic.
  • Rehearse before recording. How you speak matters in a tutorial. Make sure you’re not speaking too quickly or coming across as dull, impatient, or tired.
  • In post-production, add elements that will make the tutorial easier to use such as annotations, chapters, and closed captions. Chapters function like show notes in podcasts; they allow users to go directly to the parts of a video that they are most interested in.
  • Use Google Analytics to track viewer engagement. Tracking the number of views, paying attention to comments, and using analytics to determine viewer behavior will help you see where you can improve.

Instructional videos

These range from scenarios that teach "soft skills" such as interpersonal communication, as well as more academic presentations of theory and context.

  • Instructional videos are not intended to be lectures; they should engage and involve the viewer with questions, a problem to solve, a conversation, or procedure to implement.
  • Instructional videos often use multimedia presentations lasting a few seconds or minutes. They can provide interesting images, text, and narration to show the benefits of a product, service, or idea.
  • Instructional videos can also involve scripting, a cast of characters, and a story. In the case of skill development (such as dealing with customers or with leadership) there is usually a set or series of video scenarios and interactions that address the steps one at a time.
  • Application of instructional videos include onboarding, training, and procedural walkthroughs. In addition, development of virtual reality training can follow the same process as development of instructional video.
  • Other formats can include animated "whiteboard" simulations, Short Sims, branching scenarios, product presentations, and narrated slideshows. Keep these short (only one objective), interactive, and engaging.

The choice of format is yours once you relate the essential elements to your project.