Last Tuesday, we enjoyed a terrific presentation from Bonni Graham Gonzalez on creating high-quality video. As some of you may know, Bonni is a seasoned tech comm veteran with over 20 years’ experience as an instructor, speaker, staff writer, and owner of Manual Labour, a technical documentation outsource provider based in San Diego. She is currently a lead writer at Scantron and is responsible for creating all training documentation for test scoring machines.
We are thrilled that Bonni took time out of her busy schedule to make the trip to visit our chapter. As always, she provided a lively, informative, and humorous presentation to our group. Below are the highlights.
Creating videos is a natural extension to what we do as technical writers. Though a video may not always be the first asset to deliver, it definitely makes the most sense for certain types of audiences.
Our example is the Scantron machine. The primary user is a school teacher who typically does not have access to a computer for PDF or WebHelp viewing of user help documentation. The teacher may not even receive a copy of the original user guide provided with the unit. Through audience analysis, Bonni found that most teachers prefer learning from other people or viewing live demonstrations.
In initial response to this, Bonni’s team helped create several modifications to the Scantron machine. This included creating a user-friendly front panel with instructions in a table format, large buttons with distinct coloring, a how-to poster, and a (nearly) unremovable back pull-out panel with step-by-step instructions. Of course, the Scantron unit also comes with various forms of traditional documentation such as WebHelp and printable PDFs, which are all available from Scantron’s website.
However, Bonni’s audience analysis showed that the primary user of the Scantron machine is a “watch and learn” individual. Therefore, Bonni and her team thought it best to create a set of high-quality videos capturing a live demonstration of the most important functions of the machine. Once completed, the videos were published to popular social media channels such as YouTube. Though there are some real costs involved with creating videos, publishing to social media sites is free. The initial investment in equipment and software is quickly recouped by producing and distributing future versions of training videos in-house as compared to hiring a videographer.
Since Bonni was new to the field of creating videos, she had to learn, practice, and do a lot of trial and error as she honed her skills. She learned a lot from those early days and provides the following tips to help fledgling technical communicators get up-to-speed on creating high-quality videos that will impress even the most discerning client.
- Keep the videos short.
- Find a good hand model early. (Invest in a manicure as most of the shots are close-up images of hands performing some sort of function!)
- Plan on several takes for both audio & video.
- Record audio separately.
- Have a visually accurate and properly operating unit (the Scantron, in this case) is a critical dependency.
- Purchase the best video editing software you can and take the system requirements seriously.
- Allow plenty of time for script writing and review.
- Live sets are cheaper and easier than green-screening.
- Spend the money on decent music. This can make a huge difference in the quality of your video.
- Decide on an output size and video ratio and keep it consistent.
To get started, Bonni suggests spending the most on a camera. A decent camera will cost roughly $1,000 (or more), but will provide the greatest return in terms of overall video quality. She also discussed tripods, lighting systems, AV monitors, microphones/headphones, editing software, music, set design and distribution (YouTube). For further information on specific equipment and costs, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will email you a copy of the presentation.
Bonni concluded the presentation by showing several sample videos from her library (along with a few blooper reels)! We thought they looked excellent and appeared entirely professional. In fact, with a total initial investment of just under $3,000 and roughly 360 hours of production time, Bonni produced the Scantron Operator’s Guide, which now serves as a landmark training vehicle for thousands of customers worldwide. Click here to view an example of the Scantron training video.
We would like to thank Bonni again for presenting at LASTC’s June Chapter Dinner Meeting. We hope you get a chance to put these skills to use on one of your future projects.