It seems like everyone is looking for that elusive YouTube niche that’s guaranteed to attract a loyal audience. Here’s a question to ask: What knowledge or skills do you have that sets you apart from the rest? Just maybe you have what it takes to produce instructional videos that teach.

What you have might be something big, like being the highest-ranked player of an online game who can teach others how to excel at that game. Or it could be something smaller, like the ability to show people how to fix frayed iPhone cables. Both skill sets have the potential to draw an audience, albeit of different sizes.

Once you identify your unique teaching topic, you will need to produce videos that keep the interest of your viewers. One sure-fire way to lose viewers is to stray off-topic. So, how do you avoid this dilemma? Read on.

a keyboard and writing pad being used to plan a production
Planning your video will help you keep it concise. Define your learning objective early and then write your script accordingly.

Instructional Design 101

A powerful way to stay on topic involves a critical pre-production step that clearly defines the goal of the instruction. You’ll need to answer the question, “What do I want viewers to be able to successfully accomplish after watching my tutorial video?” It’s good practice to write down the answer to the question in a short sentence — instructional designers call this a “learning objective.”

Here are a few learning objective examples: “After watching the instructional video, viewers will be able to prepare vegan lasagna while camping.” Or, “At the end of this video lesson, learners will be able to use the ‘Format’ menu in Google Docs to design an attractive resume.”

The learning objective is not only a pre-production must-have; it is also something that absolutely must be communicated to the audience near the beginning of the production. Ideally, you want your viewers to feel a tacit commitment to viewing your entire video. They are unlikely to make that commitment without knowing what they will be able to do after watching the tutorial.

There are a handful of personalities that can wing an unscripted production. But most can’t.

Once you develop the learning objective, you’ll have a roadmap to help you stay focused on your instructional goal and avoid going off message. Straying from your stated goal is a guaranteed way to have your audience dashing toward the digital exits. You need to convince viewers that spending time watching your instructional video will benefit them.

Scripting necessities

Another critical pre-production step involves writing a script. There are a handful of personalities that might be able to successfully “wing” an unrehearsed and unscripted production. But most can’t. Most folks need a script or at least a very detailed outline. Your favorite personality might appear to be unscripted, but chances are they have figured out the delicate dance that makes a carefully planned production appear fresh and spontaneous. 

A few years ago, popular YouTube personality PewDiePie argued that YouTube algorithms reward videos over 10 minutes with enhanced ad revenues. Whether or not that’s true, most will agree that the short attention span of today’s digital citizens is real. One way to get around the limited attention span issue is to produce short works strung together through a playlist — this allows viewers to binge-watch a series of videos on a related topic.

What is the ideal length for a script? A great question, with an answer no one likes to hear: It depends. Some topics just can’t be covered in 10 minutes, like building a treehouse or replacing a car’s transmission. Other topics, like how to attach a Bluetooth keyboard to an iPad, might only take a minute or two.

a man cuts a lime while a woman observes as part of an instructional video. the camera is visible at the edge of the frame.
Make sure your video is only as long as it needs to be and stick to the learning objective you laid out at the beginning of the lesson.

Stay on topic

Avoid tangential topics that — even if they are funny and interesting — don’t add information that addresses the learning objective. Ask yourself, “Does the content help viewers reach their learning objective?” If not, eliminate it from the script.

One way to determine if you are staying on topic is to ask your audience. Asking for, and paying close attention to, audience feedback is a great way to keep your videos relevant and watched. Also, check statistics on individual videos to gauge the success of videos of different lengths.

Here’s the bottom line: The video absolutely cannot be longer than it has to be. There can be no content that doesn’t further the goal of the instruction. The only place for repetition is at the conclusion of the video where a quick recap of key points may be appropriate.  

Cashing in

It’s time for you to cash in on the reputation YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitch have as a digital library of tutorial videos on virtually any topic. Maybe you have what it takes to make an instructional video that others find valuable.

Like most undertakings in life, knowing the ultimate goal of the task helps inform the steps required to achieve that goal. This is especially true when designing instruction. Staying true to your learning objective is a great way to ensure that your audience will stay with you until the end.