The Tactic To Make Your Course Videos Truly Classy Is To Never Shortchange Production Budgets. Even If It’s Your First Small Course, Don’t Spare The Money
Many Knowledge Commerce entrepreneurs, who are tentative about getting into selling courses, think it’s better to start with low-budget course production, and get better equipment and make more professional videos later. But alas, the world judges you by your first impression.
My sincere advice to you is to make your first course small, but make it look nothing less than a topnotch product … or you will never be able to sell pricey courses later.
Your brand cannot afford to give it a shabby look and feel. You must dive into course-selling with at least a $500 -$600 set-up budget. You have to take that risk upfront, and believe you will succeed at selling courses, if you stick with the game and learn what you have to for succeeding.
At Solohacks Academy, we’d like to remind you that courses sell for as much as $997 these days. You can recover your investment with just one customer willing to pay you $1 above what you have spent.
1. Physical and mental preparation you’ll need before course-video production: there’s homework to do
You’d be surprised to hear that even the top-rated experts in course-video production hardly ever just “wing it”. It takes some bit of serious preparation before you produce course-videos. In fact, the more preparation there is the better your final output’s quality. So where do you begin your homework?
Two things to check out thoroughly before you think of your first production steps:
Check out great course-video examples online
Among the first things to do when starting out with the video lessons for your courses is to set your benchmarks high. You can do this by checking out at least ten top video courses by big influencers in your own niche, or in other niches. The important thing to do is to look at them with a critical eye – not just for contents but for the nuances of quality.
Look for quality cues in the background and lighting used. Look to see how the presenter is dressed and the language he uses for his target audiences. Look for the way the opening graphics and soundtracks are used. Notice the fine details by running the videos over and over.
How do you see these course modules if you haven’t enrolled for every competitive course? Most courses have one introductory video, or one module shown free to offer as a sampler of the course. See this video especially, because most course-marketers take a lot of care about the video module that is used to promote their course.
Check out your target audiences’ tastes in course-videos
Think about your target audiences in detail. Imagine them watching your video courses. Try to see how rank beginners to your topic will react to your intended content, and how advanced learners would.
If you have a slightly variegated target audience, see if you can segment all the different personas who may become your students for various reasons. See if the wavelength of your video course will resonate with all of them to suit their expectations.
Also, see what the target audiences’ expectations of your course could be. What are the common minimum ingredients you think they’d expect to see in your course? What extras could you delight them with as unexpected extras?
You may well ask: How do you judge expectations? By listening in to conversations in social groups and forums. People tend to air their expectations either as wishes or as complaints about existing courses. Hear what they are saying – and try to hear the emotions underlying what they are saying.
2. Always think in terms of quality right from your first video lesson: it’s not just your course at stake, it’s your brand
The basic minimum hardware and software requirements for creating video-based course content are these:
- A good video camera
- A good microphone
- Good lighting
- Video editing software that also allows screen-recordings when you demo what you are teaching
Even if it’s your first small course, don’t spare the money and make it ultra-slick
Do make your first branded course small, but make it look nothing less than an above-average product … you must aim to be in the game to sell pricey courses later.
Your cannot afford to give your first branded course a shoddy look and feel. It is going to be a home production, of course, but it should’t be so home-y that it looks like a course in its night pyjamas. You can’t afford to be slack on the initial impression you create, so you must dive into course-selling with at least a substantial set-up budget. You should aim to give it all you’ve got if you mean to be in the courses business for long, with many courses raking in the money.
How I too built my home studio like the one in this video
Like all newbies I tried everything that said “make video courses for low-or-no-budget” till I was seriously worried by the results (especially compared to my ultra-professional-looking competitors). Then I came across a video on YouTube (shown below) that settled it all for me. This video shows how to easily and affordably set up a great home-studio for smart and easy course-video production.
See how simply this idea works … just one central post, with arms added to it can fit on any desk. The three extendable and rotatable arms each carry one device – your camera, your microphone, and your lighting. You just need to adjust these gadgets to the best heights and arrangement to get the most professional-looking videos you’ve ever seen.
Use this video (and its description box in YouTube) to get and set up all the equipment needed (works out to about $391 or thereabouts).
Choose the one versatile tool that helps with all aspects of video-editing and publishing
What about the software for screen capture videos and editing? Camtasia is my first, second and third choice … it’s a hands-down winner. Make sure you get the latest version. It costs $249 or so (one-time payment). Over 24 million people use Camtasia to create videos. You can try it out before you buy it.
Camtasia 2020 for editing and screen-captures
Four things your course-videos can achieve with Camtasia:
- Record anything on your computer screen–websites, software, video calls, or PowerPoint presentations.
- Drag and drop text, transitions, effects, and more in the built-in video editor.
- Camtasia’s free customizable templates can speed up course-videos production time (you get a fairly substantial in-pack library of free screen design templates, video and audio clips, and images you can use).
- Most important of all, their tutorial videos are great, because they teach you to use all the features in their tool, in a way that both rank newbies and experienced video-producers find very useful.
3. Scripting is the platform where you bring course-video quality to life: the flow and sequence of your course-video needs planning
You don’t need to be as good at scripting as a Hollywood script-writer
Most of us, who balk at scripting, do so because we’re thinking we have to be as detailed and precise as movie-writers. That’s not needed at all. There’s no big secret to scripting. It’s just like blogging, except it can be more conversational rather than use stilted “writing language”.
If you’ve done a clear outline for your course content, just write a blog post on that topic, something long enough to read aloud in, say, 4-7 minutes. Once you’ve written it like a blog post, cut the overlong sentences, and make them shorter and smarter. Then read it all aloud to see if it sounds good spoken, rather than reading it mentally as text.
How to convert your content into scripts – the pro-method simplified
Once you’ve satisfied yourself that you’ve covered all ground on the topic, as you wish to, try to visualize the entire video to see where the visual and audio intercuts need to be fitted into your speaking headshots. Where do the screens change and what transitions would you use? Where will you start showing screen captures? Where will the background sounds fit in, if they are to be used? Where will the bullet-points format be useful? Where will you give pauses to show famous quotes or let people savor funny cartoons on their own, without your speaking over them?
Find your own format to insert images, audio or video clips, bulleted text, or other inserts into the script. I started out as an advertising copywriter writing TV commercial scripts, so my scripts tend to look like this one below … notice how easy it is to visualize your entire video, and its inclusions, if you separate the script into two columns as “Audio” and “Video”.
Image courtesy: ScriptWriting.biz
4. Storyboarding is the art of converting textual scripts to visual ones: try to include a variety of enlivening image elements
What is a storyboard? A storyboard is a visual representation of a film sequence and breaks down the action into individual panels. It sketches out how a video sequence will unfold. A storyboard is similar to a comic book-like form.
Below is an example of a storyboard for a video course module …
Image courtesy: Storyboard That
What this series of sketches above show you is that a “storyboard” usually is a sequence of sketches that describe the visual flow of your script. The written script is brought to life to see how a viewer may view the goings-on in the video, step by step.
You can make storyboard as simple or as elaborate as you like. Many of us may not be able to draw well, but we could draw stick figures to show people and speech bubbles to show what they are saying. We could also use stock images for backgrounds if we need to detail these. We could also include some starbursts for showing sound effects.
In short, we have to try and see if we can demonstrate when we need long shots or close-ups; what will happen in the video, screen after screen; and what can or needs to be shown as text bullets or visual intercuts (in-between sequences of product demos or instructional fine points).
A starboard shows you exactly where your course video is getting too monotonous
Many of us may be planning scripts that are too monotonous in parts, without realizing it. A storyboard gives us a chance to see if there are too many bulleted lists following one other, or there isn’t enough visual variety to keep the student of the course always absorbed in the on-screen action.
Whenever the presenter’s speech is too long and rambling, without intercuts, or a piece of on-screen demonstration is getting too long for people to maintain their attention spans, the storyboarding process will tell us that we need to introduce some changes. Reading a textual script may sound okay, but a visual sequencing of what will happen on the screen will show up the areas where we need to include some more interest-reviving elements.
What these interwoven visual elements can be is the creative task to think about. A storyboard will force you to visualize different ways to keep the audience engaged. That’s why storyboarding, however amateurish your sketches may be, is such an essential part of producing high-quality course videos.
5. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse – and then rehearse some more: if you’re a newbie to course-video creation, don’t cut on practice time
We hear so often that “practice makes perfect” but it’s easier said than done with video-courses. Especially if you are a beginner to course creation, you will tire out easily after the first few “takes” because rehearsing calls for speaking the same script over and over again till you are perfect if you are the presenter. Plus, you have to make everything around you and behind you perfect as you do your many, many retakes.
There are some common mistakes presenters make in course videos – learn how to avoid them:
Videograph short takes because they are easier to get right
Not even a seasoned professional script reader or TV anchor is perfect with long sentences or long paragraphs of non-stop reading. In the beginning, when you videograph your speaking-on-camera takes, try to make your clips shorter – say, two or three sentences long only. This is to avoid the potential to make a number of mistakes that creep in, when your face, mouth and voice get tired.
Always use a teleprompter, even if you know the script by heart
Most experts on camera read off a teleprompter. A teleprompter is a screen with the script scrolling on it slowly, so you can read it as naturally as if you were speaking it.
A teleprompter can be any screen with your script on it, that is placed at eye height very close to your camera lens. It can even be your tablet screen or your laptop screen. Adjust the way you place it so you look like your eyes are looking at the camera lens and not the text.
Generally, it’s a good idea to hold in your hand a wireless mouse with a scroll wheel, so you can subtly scroll the text as you read it. Again, practice a lot because there’s so substitute for practice.
6. Lighting can make or break a course-video: the right lighting is that which never distracts the learner’s focus and attention
Lighting is rather simpler than you’d expect. But it has wide-ranging emotional effects on the course learner. Poor lighting is not only a strain to watch, but sometimes affects the mood of the person watching. Too dark lighting makes people fall into a sombre mood, and too bright lighting forces an artificial ebullience that is very uncomfortable. Lighting that feels comfortable and congenial to the eye is what you should be aiming at.
You have to understand why experts ask you to follow certain lighting principles and how they benefit the quality of your course-video. Here are two tenets to always follow:
Always begin by checking the white balance of your camera
What is white balance? Well, we may think that all white is white after all. But look closely and you’ll never find a pure white. You may get anything from a greyish white, to a warm creamish white, to even a bluish white under fluorescent lights. The kind of light you use affects the quality of the white that is in your pictures.
Now if you adjust your camera’s “white balance” under the exact lighting you will be using, you can check if you can get the whitest white under that lighting. If you aim for such a setting on your camera, all your other colors will be at their best too.
So, first set up your lights. Then point your camera at a pure white sheet of paper under the same lights, and adjust till the image on camera is a good white.
For any course video, set up 3-point lighting
The most popular setup for lights is the 3-point lighting. It works beautifully for most course videos. You need three lights like this – a key light, a fill light, and a backlight.
- The key light should be the brightest of the three and provides the bulk of light to your subject (if you’re the presenter, this is the light that brightens you up).
- The fill light is intended to brighten and eliminate all shadows thrown on the background by your key light. Otherwise there will always be your shadow on the wall behind you. Your fill light should be less intense than your key light. It should remove shadows, but if it is too bright, it will create a flat looking shot.
- The backlight separates your subject (you) from the background to create a sense of depth. It is usually light that comes from behind you, so there are no shadows that fall within the camera frame.
How you place the lights should be scientific. See the diagram below, for a really good setup that works in 99% of all videography.
Image courtesy: Techsmith
7. When shooting time begins, there are many things to take care of: be steady, be authentic, and most of all be brand-fastidious
When it’s time to start shooting your video, all your preparation is going to be tested. It will never be perfect and may need a lot of tweaking to get absolutely right. At this time, the three mandates you must hold in mind are to be steady, be authentic and be brand-fastidious. Let’s examine how …
Be steady – keep the camera fixed, and frame your shots by the rule of thirds
Your camera – whether it’s an expensive one or just your iPhone – needs to be affixed to a steady tripod, so it will not shake. Make sure it is fixed at the right height and position to frame you well.
In this connection of framing, we have to discuss the “rule of thirds” to see that you get a good frame for yourself and anything you teach. Photography experts speak of the “rule of thirds” as the best composition any camera shot can have. So, what is the “rule of thirds”?
The “rule of thirds” is the basic composition that most photographers use. You should imagine a nine-square grid on the frame of the picture, and then place the most interesting item in the frame on the intersection of those lines.
For example, in the first picture below, of a landscape, the millhouse is placed on the one-third intersection line to draw the eye in. The second picture below is the same “rule of thirds” applied to a course video situation. See where the presenter’s face is positioned to draw the eye.
Images courtesy: Improve Photography
Be authentic – don’t try to be someone else, a different personality, on camera
The camera catches fakeness with lightning speed. Better to be your fallible, but natural, self than an imitation of Richard Burton in Cleopatra with dramatic flamboyance. You’ll impress more with your script content than with any dramatic flair.
Be brand-fastidious – dress to suit your brand personality
Now before you think I’m recommending a formal shirt or even a suit for serious, authoritative course-videos, here’s my favorite on-camera expert, Pat Flynn, dressed “on-brand” to match his motto of how “Everything Is Teachable”.
Notice the tagline on his T-shirt, the seemingly homely background where (trust me) everything has been meticulously planned and set up to a T. He takes a lot of care to create that look of being a casual yet completely self-confident authority, even without a neat office desk and pin-striped suit. Perfect for student-friendly course-videos!
8. In your eagerness to get the video right, don’t let go of the audio quality: the right audio drives home the lesson without discomfort
Audio quality not only enhances your course videos but also helps cover up flaws in editing or filming. You have to learn how to get audio right for maximum “comfort” for the listener and course viewer.
There are four tenets I’d recommend here as basics:
Ensure purity of recorded sound by using a top-grade microphone
Usually, the quality of sound is what separates the really professional course videos from the so-so ones. Have you heard the absolute purity of voice recordings that expert course-creators achieve? This happens because they focus on two things:
One, they use a pro-quality microphone to speak into – not the mic that comes with a laptop or headset or mobile phone. You may hear a lot of jargon about dynamic and condenser mics, but I’d recommend a USB microphone that simply plugs straight into your USB port in laptops or tablet. USB mics are just plug-and-play – and there is no requirement to purchase any additional hardware.
Two, after recording, the pros usually use the noise-reduction feature on their editing software to cut out any hisses and other distortions to make the sound even purer.
Beware of background home-y noises “sound-bombing” your course videos
When shooting home-based videos, you have to be extra careful of extraneous “home-y” noises that totally nullify the professional feel of your video. You will, no doubt, hear the loud doorbell, or the phone that rings at the wrong time, and cut out such big noises. But your fussy ear has to look out for things like street dogs barking in the distance, or automobile noises on the roads behind your home, or even clinking cutlery as someone at home doing the dishwashing in the kitchen. Sometimes even the hum of a ceiling fan or air conditioner, or a gadget nearby, can be a sound you are so used to hearing at home, you don’t notice it has crept into the video.
Choose your opening music score carefully – it’s part of your brand
Make the signature opening music score of your video short enough, but also realize it’s one of your brand elements, so choose the music wisely. Match it with the opening title graphics of your videos. There needs to be a bit of smart elegance here, but not a tacky flamboyance that’s out of place. It’s hard to describe the perfect opening music score, but if it is too wrong, trust me, your intuition and your ear will abhor it.
It helps to keep low music on under your voice to cut out speaking flaws
There is always a debate among experts on whether course-videos should have light background music under the voiceovers. Many experts don’t have this, but I am one of those who do. And there’s a good reason why.
I find that background music set at 5% sound level is low enough not to disturb the voiceover, but its presence helps smooth out any flaws in the voiceover. The breaks between sentences feel harmonious, and when you want to up the music level when you are not speaking you do this – and fade it down again when you begin to speak. It creates a sense of continuity and flow.
9. Editing your final course-video is about finessing: neither should you be too casual nor too ruthless with what you include in your video
Hopefully, you’ve created a script that is intended for a duration of video between 4-6 minutes and not more than that, because student fatigue seems to grow at that point. So keep your course videos short enough not to challenge student attention spans.
Besides, there are three other rules that can help you with your editing process:
Use your best 8 seconds first – pack impact into your opening spiel
When your video begins, what you say in the first 8 seconds of your voiceover has the maximum impact, because it sets the tone of the video. A very silly mistake even the best of presenters make is to hum and haw a bit, crack a joke, or say things like: “Are we ready? Looks like it. Oh, one second and let me adjust my lapel mic just so, and here we go.”
They think this kind of talk makes the video sound more “authentic.” But they’re wasting precious attention-time of their viewers. What is the best thing to say instead?
Something as straight and bang-on-target like this: “Welcome to this 6th video in the series on ‘Content Marketing Basics”. In this video, I am going to explain three powerful ways to make your content more valuable to your readers” … and then read out the three bulleted headings of what you’ll be covering. Getting to the point without self-consciousness is an art!
Use simple graphics and text-on-screen that supports voiceovers
Whether you are using text-on-screen to support your voiceover, or you are cutting away to demo a process, by actually going through the steps – clean and simple graphics does the trick every time.
Use simple and clear fonts and colors, and remove all extraneous elements on-screen during demos when you have to show close-ups of procedures.
Always see the video and its flow with eyes of a viewer when you’re doing the final editing. Don’t do sudden jumps from one topic to another. Give some breathing space and use an intercut sub-title slide when the topic changes.
Don’t overdo those fussy transitions and over-the-top special effects
Arrrgghh! Stay away from those fussy twirls, jumping fonts, jazzy dissolves into large granules, checkerboard transitions, and all such “special effects”. Nothing kills a video as ruthlessly as overdone or garish screen “effects”.
No pro will ever touch these types of transitional effects with a barge pole. Use subtle underplayed transitions that blend into the video harmoniously, without calling attention to themselves.
These pyrotechnics do no one any good when making a video – although they do help video-editing software guys declare that they have “over 200 ready-to-use special transitions and effects” and charge more for the product.
10. Accept all feedback as valuable, the good and the bad: in fact, invite opinions on your course-videos so you can improve constantly
There are many ways to check the feedback of students to your course-videos, so you can constantly improve their effectiveness. The wrong thing to do would be to pounce on the student who completes the course for a testimonial, or for a star-based rating of your course.
Instead, this is what you can do. You have to ask leading questions that elicit pointed feedback and not an overall perception of the course:
Ask what the student was hoping to gain from the course, and whether the expected gain was achieved?
Reminding the student of why he took the course is a great way to help him see if his goal is achieved or his goalpost has shifted. Many students evaluate courses after changing their initial objectives – which always will leave them dissatisfied. Reminding people of their original goals is a good way to make them see what they have truly gained since they signed up.
Ask what was most valuable in the content of the course … what did the student learn that he did not know before?
This is a smart way of allowing the student to think through all the facets of what he has learned and appreciate the depth and breadth of your course. This service will also allow him to show you what he valued most from the modules of the course. You’ll get better insights you can use to woo future students.
Ask if the production values were comfortable – were the picture quality, sound quality, and quality of graphics easy on the eye, ear, and mind?
The operative word here is “comfort”. By asking this question you reiterate to the student that you are not in the game of impressing him or trying to outsmart the competition. Instead, you are customer-centric and the production values of your video have been aimed towards giving the student a comfortable and pleasant experience through the course, so that learning is fluid and easy.
Ask what else the student would have like to see included in the course, and if he would like to be alerted when that feature is added?
This is another smart way to see what the student was expecting to find in the course that he never got. If many students have common feature requests, you should consider adding the feature to your future versions of the course. And if existing students would like to avail that new feature, you should use the opportunity to alert them that they can now get the new version of the course – either without extra fees, or with a small additional fee for upgraded content (if the quantity of upgraded content warrants it).
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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