Even though you might be a great After Effects artist it doesn't automatically mean you are a natural at teaching. Even though making a tutorial might seem easy there is more to it than meets the eye. Dirk Worring-Ramstoeck was gracious enough to write this brief article with some excellent points and analogies that will hopefully make your tutorial as good as your work.
A tutorial on tutorials
Or how to produce a great video tutorial
First of all, thank you for all the effort and hard work you put into sharing your knowledge and pro tips. It can´t be appreciated enough, by us and the users worldwide. With this article I want to help you by giving you some guidelines on how to make a really excellent video tutorial.
The training basics
Teaching and training is an art, and most of us didn´t get it with the mothers milk. So, us unfortunate guys have to learn some basics about training others. The first problem we run into is the sender and receiver issue. Communication is a very complex matter, which not only deals with culture and language, but comes down to the differing perception of reality. For those of you interested I can highly recommend Paul Watzlawick's "Pragmatics of Human Communication". You will have to think about the different levels of experience in the audience, the fact that most people will watch and do at the same time, how to keep them on track, concentrated and further more. Now that sounds horrible, but don´t click the browser back button just yet. It is not that painful.
The six steps to glory
Making a tutorial has a lot in common with making a movie. You need a story, a script, rehearsal, the shot, editing, post production and the final release.
1. Your story
Finding the topic for a tutorial is in most cases easy. You stumble over it in your daily work, while solving a problem, finding a shortcut, doing projects for clients. Maybe you simply created an awesome piece of art just for the fun of it. All the sudden, the smell of "I want to share this with others" fills the very air you breathe. Or you respond to enough questions from friends, fans and posts in forums, that you finally want to answer in a tutorial. Either way, congratulations, you completed step 1.
2. The script
Here comes a very important part, that most first time trainers miss. You know what you are doing, you may be able to do it blindfolded. Our brain is capable of awesome things and in a routine we do a lot subconsciously. I can drive my car, while hanging on the phone, a can of coke in my hands and puffing a cigarette . Although I don´t recommend doing it, it shows how many things we can do at the same time without thinking consciously about the processes. That makes it likely to happen, that you forget to explain important steps in your tutorial. Try this out, by teaching someone next to you and listen carefully to the in between questions. Things you do in your routine, that you don´t mention, as your brain doesn´t need conscious thinking for the task. So first of all, decide who your audience is. Absolute beginners, intermediate users, god-like professionals? This will have a great influence on the layout of the tutorial and what you need to explain. In your script, include a brief description on what your tutorial is about and on what experience level your audience should be. This will help your audience to successfully follow your training. Make a roadmap. Go through the tutorial in your mind and make notes of what you are about to explain, write down hints for yourself of the necessary steps. This could be some post-its, that you can stick on your monitor, a sheet of paper taped to the wall behind it or a notepad file open on a second monitor. Think about the three parts every good talk has: The introduction, the main part and the conclusion. When you have the layout of your tutorial, you will save yourself a lot of work later on. Ready? Great, continue to the next step.
3. The test drive
Time for the real stuff. Open your desired application, your screen recording software and follow your roadmap. First you will notice, that it takes you less time than usual, as you have the little helper, the string you can follow while doing the tutorial. No matter what audience to are a training, try to speak slowly, clearly and in well formed, precise words. You are not in a hurry. When done, watch it! Listen carefully to all the ahhhs, errrs, hmmmms. See how often you say "oh wait, that was wrong", "no this is not the right file", "ups! I picked the wrong layer here", etc. It might help you to make even more notes on your roadmap about his. Fact is, your listeners try hard to concentrate, and those words and sentences distract them a lot. When you have trouble following the way yourself, how will your audience? You have completed part three and got some great feedback on your own work, by watching yourself teach. Perfect.
4. The final recording
Now comes the fun part, making the actual tutorial. You happily recognize that you need even less time to get through the tutorial, as you are well prepared. You have the satisfaction of reaching out for excellence, oh yes, that feels great! Your roadmap is clear and free of stumbling stones and it runs smooth like a V8 in a '68 mustang. As we have taken so much care about the steps 2 and 3, there isn´t much more to say. Only if you recognize that you still have a lot of fill words and mistakes, just stop recording and start new. Your audience will love you for the perfect piece you present them. But hang in there, we are not done yet.
5. Edit and post
As we are not making a movie, and the special effects are kind of the content of the tutorial, this is a short task to do. The reason why you should edit your final recording is simple. A lot of things shown on the network are hungry for RAM, processor power and make intense use of our graphics cards. So often you will have long render and saving times. Cut that out. Feel free to say that you did that, so the users are not feeling too bad on their older machines, while it looks like you own a super computer. Also look out for other smaller or bigger time wasters: the before mentioned mistakes, errrs and ahhhs. Not only will this improve the flow of the tutorial and keep your audience concentrated, but will save file size, loading time and traffic.
6. Go on air
Thank you again, for your effort and hard work, to share this great piece of knowledge you just made. Bring it online. Copy and paste the brief introduction about your tutorial you already made in step 2. Don´t forget to provide a little bit of information about yourself and a link to your website. People like to find out about people that gave them great advice and made them stun. And your name under a good tutorial is marketing for you - with no need of a single marketing budget dollar.
A word on humor
Should I be funny in my tutorial? Humor is great in teaching others, when used in the right amount and in the right place. A good place for humor is when you start and when you conclude. Some refreshing funny words at the beginning will get people in a good mood, have a good giggle and take out some of the stress of learning and concentrating. A good laughter at the end feels like having accomplished a great team task and everybody is happy about the results. Stay away from jokes in between. While diving into the subject of your training people try their best to concentrate, learn and understand what you are showing. So try to keep them with you and not distract them.
We did it!
Wasn't as horrible as you might have thought when reading about sender-receiver, communication problems and reality, was it? I hope you will find this helpful (and the editors hope so, too), and train yourself to be a better trainer. Don't get upset or disappointed when it doesn't work out immediately. Keep in mind that you are a professional in your area of expertise and not a university professor.
Preview photo by Jim Sneddon used under Creative Commons License.
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