Tips from the Pros: Tips for Effective Video Instruction

Videos are the ideal way to deliver content in an online course because the web is a fundamentally audiovisual medium. But while many faculty assume that videos require high-level technical skills to produce, they are actually not beyond the means of the ordinary instructor. They just require understanding of a few basic production principles. This check list will get you started with effective video instruction. 


Always start by outlining or writing a script. Break your script or outline into sections that will become separate but related video segments—this is called “chunking.” Instead of delivering a 50-minute lecture to a camera, record shorter segments of less than 10 minutes each. Each segment should focus on a specific topic, and learners can go back to reference each video instead of scanning through a longer 50-minute recording to find what they want to review. A typed one-page, double-spaced, 12-point font script equals roughly two minutes of video, so plan your content accordingly.


Now that you have completed your materials, it’s time for you to prepare for filming. This means reading through your script or materials several times before delivering it to the camera. We recommend running through a practice recording and watching it to target your strengths as well as areas you’d like to improve upon. Ask yourself the following questions as you prepare:

  • Do you know where you’ll be filming? Become familiar with the environment and prepare with it in mind. If you are filming outdoors, you may wish to consider the weather or ambient noise, including wildlife, traffic, or nearby conversations. If you are filming indoors, determine the background and dress accordingly. For example, if using a green screen, you should avoid wearing green. This makes it difficult for the editors to separate you from the background.
  • Will you be working with a film crew or will you be on your own? Working with a film crew can be intimidating, but it can allow for the creation of high-quality videos, because you are working with experts. Get to know who you’ll be working with and don’t be shy to ask questions ahead of time. If you’re working on your own, be sure to do test runs with your equipment.
  • Will you need props? Props can allow you to demonstrate concepts easily without the need for on-screen graphics. For example, if you’re discussing a piece of equipment a student will encounter in their field or demonstrating how to perform a specific activity, bring it on camera. Props also break up the “talking-head” effect and keep the viewer’s interest. 

Also keep these considerations in mind before filming:

  • Don’t forget a bottle of water. Filming will likely take longer than you think, and lights can get hot.
  • Select your outfit. Avoid all black or white, as well as intense, loud patterns. Think about what you would expect an instructor to wear. Be sure your clothes are clean, pressed, and lint free.
  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before. If you are sleepy, you will look sleepy on camera. 


Your first time teaching to the camera can be intimidating, but once you have an understanding of the process, it’s much easier to be comfortable. Let’s quickly get to know some of the equipment that may be present on your video shoot.

  • Lighting
    The DSLR cameras of today require less light to capture high-quality video than older cameras, but some lighting is still necessary to create an ideal composition and give you the most flattering look. If you’re working with a film crew, expect several lights to be on set. The location will determine how and where the lights will be placed.
    Contrary to popular belief, bright sunlight is actually the enemy when filming outside because it produces shadows and tends to wash out colors. It is better to shoot on a cloudy day, as this allows for more balanced lighting and less contrast between shadows and highlights.
    If you are shooting indoors and you don’t have professional lighting equipment, a lamp with a shade or a soft light bulb will work. Avoid placing the light directly in front of you or to you side. Rather, it is best to place the light at an angle. For example, placing the lights at the 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock position in relation to the speaker allows the rays to cross and create even lighting. Additionally, lights are better when placed in a higher position relative to you rather than in a low position, which can create unflattering shadows.
  • Microphone
    Microphone choice is critical, as nothing will drive your viewer away faster than poor audio. There are several kinds of microphones used by video and audio professionals, but for video shoots, the lavalier microphone is a common choice because they are discrete and wireless. “Lav mics,” as they are called, are small and can be clipped onto your lapel or inside your collar to get good close-range sound.
  • Teleprompter
    You can try to speak from memory without notes, but this can be hard to do when you are in front of a camera, and you may find yourself constantly having to restart because of errors. Thus, if you can get your hands on one, a teleprompter is a very useful piece of equipment. If not, you can use cue cards, but try not to look as if you are reading from them.


Of course, even with a teleprompter, your delivery may not be perfect. You may stumble on a word or lose your place in the script. In this case you can either start from the beginning, which can cause the shooting time to explode, or restart from a logical break in the action. The magic of video is that these mistakes can be edited out. To conceal a cut, the segments can be separated with an image. Another option is to shoot with two cameras simultaneously and then just switch to the other camera when inserting a cut. Regardless of how it’s done, any hiccups that occurred during recording will be nonexistent after editing.

The length of shoots varies for everyone, but it can take hours to film minutes of video instruction. Prepare yourself both mentally and physically for this kind of schedule. Drink lots of water before and during the shoot, and take breaks between segments to relax and refocus yourself.

If you prepare properly for your shoot, you will produce exciting and engaging videos that will make the effort all worthwhile.

Stephanie Parisi is an assistant director of online education and Dina Thornton is a video production specialist at Emory University.

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