Howto Videos - Howto Create Your Own Howto Videos!

Version 3

    We've gotten lots of questions on how to make a "how to" video, so here's a video on how to do it!



    Here's the script:


    Hi, my name is Sean Berry, and I work in the customer engineering operations group, specializing in data center automation and cloud.


    Today we're going to spend a little time talking about how to make a how to video.  How to videos are a quick and easy way to guide our users through  successful execution of a specific use case.


    Here's the situation: a customer is trying to accomplish a specific task, perhaps something they're unfamiliar with.  They're always working under time pressure. 


    The complication: it may have been a while since they'd been to any training, and they might not be successful using the product to solve their problem. 


    As a result, they may miss out on getting value from a use case that our software is particularly helpful for.


    I believe that, armed with the knowledge of how to use the product correctly, our customers can be very successful, with fewer support tickets and pain.


    I'd like you to think about what you know how to do that our customers could use help with.


    The benefits to your customer: successful use of the product drives confidence and adoption, reduces support interactions, and ensures their and our success.





    The howto video or writeup is not a replacement for education or professional services consulting.  It's one idea: how to set up a particular product component, how to do patching a particular way, that sort of thing.


    It's typically five to seven minutes long, and is free of sales jargon.


    These ideas come from a couple of different places: first is the customer issue: you're on the phone or a webex with a customer and they're asking a question or having a problem related to a knowledge gap, something that they can be successful with once they figure it out or someone walks them through how to do it.


    The other common way: you learn how to do something new: either a different technique for approaching a particular issue, or you solve a problem a

    customer is having: how do you help everyone else figure out how to do it right in their environment?


    I'll start by sitting down and writing out a short outline of what I want to cover and don't want to cover: this helps focus the subject down to something that can be covered quickly and clearly.


    For my run-through, what I'll do next is sit down with the product and run through how to do the use case, making sure I know how to do it, that I haven't forgotten any setup steps that another user will need to do.  We're going to eliminate all those extra steps where we sometimes click around within the product when we're learning how to do something for the first time.


    We're going to make sure we have the fastest path through the product.  I'll usually make some notes as to what to click on, and in what order, to make sure it's as easy as possible.  Our customer's going to be doing the same thing, so I want to make them successful the first time.  For time I may not

    explain every step, but I'll make sure to show every step required and make sure the customer understands what needs to be done. 


    Once I'm comfortable with the flow, I'll either make myself a script, or record myself talking through it, like I have here, and then write down the script from what I'd said.  For some people, it may be easier to write it down first.  Either way, I want to write down the important ideas, in the right order, and make sure it all makes sense. 


    I'll also make slides at this point, at least an intro slide with my name, group, and the subject of the discussion.  I'll also build an agenda slide that covers the subject in 3-5 bullet points.  I'll keep them up for at least 5-10 seconds at the beginning of the video to make them easy to find.  If an arhcitecture slide or diagram will make it easier to understand, I'll make sure to include that as well. 



    Our audience learns through multiple channels, by reading, listening, seeing it in action, and by doing it themselves.  Different people will learn better through one method than another, so I try to include the message in written, spoken, and action form.  The best way to learn is to try it themselves, and that's what I want them to do after watching a how-to video. 


    Once I've got the basic materials put together, I'll run through it once with the recorder on, making sure the script works and that I didn't miss anything important.  I usually throw this recording away, and record again.  It's actually faster than trying to edit it together when it wasn't quite comfortable with it yet.  However, you may just stop here, and send it over to the customer for expediency: this is what I did with my very first video. 

    Our goal is to make it easy and clear for our customers and users.  Remember that the average user may not know as much as you do about the product, so it will be a lot easier for them to get lost when you're walking them through something.  You're only going to get one shot to show them, so you want it to be the smoothest, cleanest possible walk through that you can have.  Sometimes I'll take a snapshot of the VM my demo environment lives on, and then revert it after the dry run: this can be easier than rolling back everything you've done by hand.



    If it's something important, or that a lot of people will see, I'll record the sound track separately and sync it up with the video afterwards.  It's easier, and you get better sound quality than trying to record while thinking, typing, thinking about what to click on next, etc.  I use a quiet rooom without distracting noises or visuals: an unused conference room works great, as does an unoccupied office.  Put your phone on silent or vibrate, mute your computer speakers, and turn off any music.  Clear your desktop or application workspace: I put all my icons into a single folder while I'm recording.


    For sound recording, there's a range of great equipment, from semi-professional lapel microphones like the one I use to record this series, to a $40 Samson "Go" mic that can clip onto your laptop screen and has a USB output.  Avoid very cheap headset mikes and look for a cardioid or condenser microphone.  They're more forgiving of a range of sound levels, and will save a lot of time in editing.  In an emergency, you can use the microphone built  into your laptop, but the sound is rarely good enough to use in our documentation and will pick up a lot of noise from the keyboard and laptop.


    In a pinch, you can always start up a webex and record a live demo: you can't argue with the price.  However, since I'm usually recording things I want to distribute to a wider audience, I use Camtasia Studio & Recorder from TechSmith on Windows.  It'll do live screen and powerpoint recording, automatic zoom in, transitions and editing.  I go easy on the special effects: I don't want them distracting from the message.


    The talk track should be smooth and clean, because it's very easy to hear when it's not right.  You can always pause the video track for a few seconds to catch up to the sound, or cut out a few seconds of a progress bar running across the screen, but it's much easier to get the sound right the first time.


    Once I've got the main track synced up so it tracks together, I'll add bumpers to the front and back of the video, make sure I have the introduction slide right up front, talking about who I am, what I do, and what I'm talking about.  It makes it much easier for the user to understand what the video is about.


    I find that editing can take more time than all the rest of it. 


    Next I'll write up a quick paragraph on what the video is about, and why I'm doing it.  No matter the use case, a short intro makes it easier for the user to figure out whether it'll help them.  I'll pick out a title and identify a few tags to use, like "Server Automation", "BladeLogic", the specific activity, and a version number.


    Once I've put the video together, I'll have someone I trust look it over, give me some feedback, then post it to communities to start sharing it with my colleagues and customers. 


    If you want to post to youtube, reach out to the community moderators, the doc team, or myself, and we can help you get your content into the official channels.  To get into the higher quality channels, you have to have a clean, professional video, it has to be to the  point, and have a clean intro and exit. 


    The goal of these videos is to help our customers and users understand how to use the product and be successful.  We can help them get it right the first time.  So go sit down with your webex recorder and the application this afternoon and record a quick video showing your users how to do something useful. 


    The benefits to our customer: successful use of the product will bring confidence and adoption, reduces support interactions, and ensures their and our success.


    When they're successful using the product, we all benefit.


    Thank you for your time.