What can L&D professionals take away from successful YouTubers?

When you think of “YouTubers”, what comes to mind? I know many of us have a kneejerk reaction to the title “YouTubers”, but YouTube is a vast platform with tons of content that is actually quite helpful if you’re looking for something specific. Need to know how to unclog a bathroom sink? There are a number of plumbers who have quite a following who can teach you how to fix things in a matter of minutes. Want to learn how to use all the different features that you’ve paid for on your iPhone, cook a quick and easy dinner to impress your partner or need a more visual explanation of how to put together your Ikea furniture than simply following the instructions that came in the box? There are YouTube videos for all of these things.

Recently I had an opportunity to sit down with Matt Pierce from TechSmith (makers of Snagit and Camtasia) to hear what YouTuber best practices he felt people in the L&D field should be incorporating into their training programs. If you have a few minutes before your next meeting, go ahead and give it a listen.

Transcript of the Conversation with Matt Pierce

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, your host. I’m also the Co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning. And before we get to our guest and today’s topic, I just wanted to let you know that today our episode is brought to you by Soapbox, the award-winning, rapid authoring tool for instructor-led training. Soapbox! You put in a few different ingredients, in terms of what goes into your training program: how many people will attend? How long is it going to be? What are your learning objectives? Is it going to be in-person or virtual? And then you click a button and it will generate a lesson plan for you. It is the recent winner of Training Magazine Network’s Choice Award for Authoring Tools. If you want more information, go to soapboxify.com

Today we are going to be talking about the idea of what we can do and what we can learn when it comes to YouTuber techniques, so video used for training. I’m joined here by Matt Pierce, who is TechSmith‘s Learning and Video Ambassador. If you’re not familiar with that name, TechSmith, you might be more familiar with the software that they produce which includes Snagit and Camtasia. Matt, thank you so much for joining us today.

Matt Pierce: Brian, thank you for having me. This is– I’m just thrilled to be here.

6-Word Biography

Brian Washburn: Well, I’m excited. And so like we always do with all of our guests, we like to have everybody kind of introduce themselves with a six-word biography along the lines of the theme for today which is, you know, creating better video for training by borrowing YouTuber techniques. If I was to think of six words to introduce myself with this theme, I would say, “My child’s dream job is YouTuber.”

Matt Pierce: (CHUCKLES)

Brian Washburn: How about you, Matt? How would you introduce yourself?

Matt Pierce: Well, I like your child’s. I think– so I thought about this – I’ve got two endings. We’re going to go with the first one and then I’ll present the alternative. It’s, “I make videos. You should, too.” Or, “I make videos. Why don’t you?” So I was torn between the two endings, but either way, kind of the same message.

Brian Washburn: I love it. And so let’s jump in here. But before we get too far into the questions, I’d love to hear from you about what makes the use of video as a training or learning or teaching tool so compelling in the first place.

What Makes Video Such a Compelling Tool for Learning?

Matt Pierce: Yeah, it’s a great question because I mean, we’ve been hearing for years that, “Oh, it’s the year of the video! It’s the year of the video!” I think we might’ve passed the year of the video and it’s just now part of–

Brian Washburn: It’s like the decade of the video.

Creating Better Videos for Learning By Borrowing YouTuber Techniques

Matt Pierce: Right! And it’s just kind of become part of the way we consume media, the way we consume information, right? But I think what makes it really compelling for training purposes is that you’ve got this multimedia happening, you’ve got the audio stream, you’ve got these visuals, and then there’s a complexity that can be displayed, unlike visuals or images, because things can move around. And– I mean, that’s not the only way you could do it. You could create animations, you can create interactive things, but video is just really good at encapsulating that. And it’s becoming so much easier to create than it ever was, you know? 10, 15, 20 years ago, it was a huge production but now we all have these studios in our pockets that are cell phones that are doing amazing things. And, you know, I don’t want to get too derailed here, but you look at what Apple is doing with their new release. And they’ve got this thing that can, with doing a rack focus – changing focus dynamically based on what it thinks you’re paying attention to. It’s crazy. I just think it’s a very rich medium, conveys a lot of information. And I think we’re getting used to other people just consuming how-to content that way, right? That’s why we’re talking about YouTube because it’s a place where people go to learn, even if it’s not also a place to go get entertained.

Brian Washburn: Now, you mentioned something here that it’s just easier today than maybe it was 10 years ago to create a video, pop it up online, put it into a learning management system. And it’s followed the path of things like PowerPoint that made it easy for people to just do presentations, right? Or Storyline or some of the rapid authoring tools to create eLearning. Now one of the great things is it’s a lot easier. One of the downsides is that it’s a lot easier to make bad videos and put those up there. So before we get into some of the techniques we can learn, what are some of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re trying to create videos for learning?

The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Creating Videos for Learning

Matt Pierce: This is going to be maybe a little bit not where you would want me to start or think of where I would start. But I think the first mistake people make is they think they can’t do it and then they think– they think automatically they’re going to make something bad, so they just don’t.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Matt Pierce: And that’s the problem with anything. My advice is always: just get started. Yeah, you’re going to make a real dud, your first one is not going to be the masterpiece. It’s not going to look like Hollywood. And that’s okay because I think there’s a lot of things that you can still have redeeming in a video. But I think just generally people make mistakes as they– they’re trying to do too much in a singular video. They want to like tackle every single topic and it really should be one topic, one video, right? And that you might need to make many of them. 

The next thing is because they’re trying to do it on the cheap, they don’t invest in the right places. So for instance, if you’re going to use a cell phone or you’re going to use a screen-recording tool, I always tell people there’s kind of three levels of investment in tools, right? 

The first one, obviously you need– you got to have a way to make the video but that– just use whatever you’ve got. But really invest in a microphone. Get a good microphone because good audio can save bad video quality, right? But bad audio will ruin even the best looking project or video that you’re making. So invest in a microphone. 

Next, if you’re going to do on-camera stuff, get lighting. So get something to actually make you look better because cameras, even the cheapo ones like your webcam, love lighting. 

And the third thing is– then once you’ve learned a little bit- then invest in your camera because you’re going to make– then you can know how to use it, learn to make better quality. So I think people invest poorly sometimes because they’re like, “I’m going to get a fancy camera,” or “I’m gonna invest in all these tools.” And it’s like, what you really needed was just a decent microphone. You don’t even have to spend thousands of dollars or hundreds of dollars even. You know, get something that’s not on your computer or not just in your phone or something like that. It will make a world of difference.

Brian Washburn: And when you’re talking about a microphone, are you talking about– like if I’m going to video somebody else and interview them, are you talking about getting like a Lavalier for them? Or what are you thinking about when it comes to good microphones?

What Is a Good Microphone for Making Videos?

Matt Pierce: You know, it’s a good question because it really just depends on what you’re doing. If you’re going to do an interview style, a Lavalier is great because it’s easy, right? You clip it on, hide the wire, you know, get that on there. And that’s going to give you a proximity to their voice and it’s going to make it easy, and they can move a little bit. So if they’re a little fidgety, like I typically am, it works well. 

You could also use what’s called a shotgun mic, which is a longer microphone. You see them– sometimes you see them on TV shows that dips down into the frame. But if you’re doing more narration-style videos, like screen recordings, or you’re recording your presentations, a desktop mic, something like a Yeti could work. I mean, Brian, I’m even noticing you’re wearing a headset, right?

Brian Washburn: Yep. Yep.

Matt Pierce: So a headset mic is still better than the built-in microphone into a computer or the device. So you just go with whatever it is you think you’re going to do most. I, for instance, I do a live stream broadcast for TechSmith. I have a shotgun microphone that I’m using right now because it allows me some freedom to move. And I also– I’m not going to bang anything. But I also have a set of Lavaliers so now when I go out to events, I can have one. So if I want to record something, I don’t have to be standing, you know, super close to my camera. And I can also put it on someone else and ask them questions and let them have the benefit of having good audio, as well.

Brian Washburn: All right. So now let’s get into– (CHUCKLES) 10 minutes in- let’s get into the topic that we came here to talk about.

Matt Pierce: (CHUCKLES)

Brian Washburn: And that is really lessons that we can be taking from YouTubers. So when I think of YouTube, and YouTubers, it was not something that I had growing up. But I do have children in the house now who are big fans of people like Dude Perfect or animations like Odd Ones Out or Jaiden Animations. And so those are really fascinating and they’re very different genres. And so I’d love to hear from you in terms of: what are a few of the biggest lessons that can be learned from YouTube and YouTube content creators for those of us who are in the learning field and looking to take advantage of this medium?

Lessons Learned for L&D From YouTube Content Creators

Matt Pierce: Yeah. So I think it’s interesting. Let’s set a little ground here about YouTube and YouTubers first, because I think we use that term almost kind of as a negative like, “Oh, they’re YouTubers?” Like, “Ugh,” you know? And I want to be clear – the people that I’ve been talking to– and I’ve done a number of interviews with people who are successful. One person has over a million subscribers, another one has over 800,000 subscribers, another one has like 400,000 subscribers. 

YouTube Videos Can be a Valuable Business Opportunity

And so these are people who are very successful on the platform. And the platform has a lot of things to offer. But what I’ve noticed in talking to these folks, it’s not that they’re necessarily the best video creators out there. They’re good but it’s taken them 10 plus years to get really good, right? They’ve worked at that craft. But what I think they all shared in common with everyone I talked to is that they’re all really smart at business. And so they’re looking at this as not like, “Oh, I just want to be on YouTube. I want to be a star.” They’re looking at this and saying, “This is a business opportunity. This is why it’s valuable for me to be on this platform.” 

And what they’re seeing a lot of is that by creating learning content– and it might not be like, you know what we’re thinking internally to our organizations, but they’re seeing that this learning content does really well on YouTube. And I think that goes to the fact that when you look at search engines, Google is number one, YouTube is number two. But I like to call YouTube the number one how-to engine because it’s a place you go to learn stuff. And you go to be entertained and do other things, but a lot of people are going there, you know– think about any home repair, any car thing that’s going wrong. And I’m like, “Okay, YouTube, teach me what I need to know. Am I going to pay for this or can I do it myself?” And so I think that business sense is really important. And so when they’re looking at a video and they’re creating a video, they’re optimizing for things that are going to help them promote their business, get them views, get them advertising revenue or whatever. 

And so I think it’s really important to note that, that people that are successful on YouTube are also really good at business. And I think that’s the first lesson, right? We, as internal trainers, or if we’re doing customer education stuff, we should be focused on the business. What is the business need? Why are we creating these videos? How are we tying it to the broader objectives of the organization? And how’s it going to help us accomplish our goals? You know? And these folks, they’re just so calculated in the things that they do. And they’ll even do things like they’ll see a video that’s successful and it’s like the “10 Best Microphones in 2020”– I don’t know what the topic is but we’ll go with that one. 2021 – what do they do? They update the video. They either change the video or just change the title because it’s still the same: “Best Microphones for 2021.” So I think that’s one thing. 

But the other thing that they’ve learned, that I think we can take a good lesson from, is kind of this idea about perfectionism. We look at YouTube and you look at where a lot of them started and these are terrible looking videos in the beginning – we all make them, right? And they’ve gotten pretty good, but they’re not perfect. They’re not striving to be Hollywood quality, you know? They’ve got what we call jump cuts – you know, when you watch somebody and it looks like they kind of jerk and all of a sudden they’re saying something different. You know they’ll let things slide a lot easier. And that perfection they’ve realized doesn’t matter as much, right? They’re about efficiency and speed. And so they’re going to allow things to maybe not be the best quality. 

Now the other thing that I think they do really well here is that as they’ve gone through these 10 years, or more or less, they’ve taken the time that every video they work on something, right? They’re taking the time to get better – so it’s kind of that 1% incremental improvement. They’re just saying like, “Okay, this video, let’s see if we get up to video quality a little bit. Let’s see if the editing can be a little cleaner. Hey, maybe we want to now introduce like a lower third or some kind of graphic on screen.” And they’re using that so that they’re not worried about yesterday’s video. They’re worried about what today– can we just make it a little bit better? So I think, you know, we as trainers, if we can get over this perfectionism idea that like, “Oh my gosh! It’s not professional to have jump cuts.” Well, there’s probably some videos you don’t want that, but in a lot of them, does your learner, do they really care? And YouTube has done us a favor and has made it stylistically a choice now so we can be like, “Hey, we’re going for the YouTube vibe!” (CHUCKLES) Or whatever we want, however we want to justify it. 

Brian Washburn: I love it. And you’re right. I mean, there’s always a first time, right? We can’t get to the second or the 10,000th until we’ve done it the first time. And then figure out what we’ve learned from that. 

Now I am fascinated by this conversation. And I’m sure that other people who are listening are as well. And for those who are thinking, “Yeah, I’d love to integrate more creative, more higher quality video in my learning but I’m not a techie. I’m not an editor. And I certainly don’t know much about special effects, lower third, putting banners down there and things like that.” What are one or two initial steps that you think someone could take to either begin this in the first place, right, do their first one? Or maybe just up their video production game?

Steps Towards Better Video Production for Learning

Matt Pierce: Well, I think the one secret here is to go and watch what other people are doing. What do you like about what they’re doing? And then depending on what it is, is that really that hard to do? There’s you know– and I work for a company that makes the tool, Camtasia, that will allow you to do this, we think pretty easily. But regardless of what tool you’re using, just go see – can I do something like it? And you might not like the visual styling of it. You might not like the way that it came in – it wasn’t perfect. But I think just go in and see like, “Oh, I really like what Brian did in this video.” So now I can go and say like, “Can I do that? Can I make a lower third come across the screen?” And then find tools that are going to help you to do that. 

But I think knowing what you like and what stylistically you would like to try is the key. And that means you’ve got to go watch some videos. So here’s the assignment: everybody take half an hour, an hour, go find people that you admire and see what they’re doing. And just say it’s like– steal their best ideas. You know, I think Steve Jobs stole from Pablo Picasso that “Good artists copy and great artists steal” or something like that. And you know, it’s such an important concept in our industry is that like I am not precious about my ideas. If you see something that I do and you think, “Oh, look, that looked pretty good.” Go take it and try it and make it your own. 

Simplicity in video is key

The other thing I’d say is there are ways to learn this stuff. This is not like– first of all, if you go to YouTube and search how to make a video, the kind of pinnacle YouTube credential is that you’ve gotten so successful on YouTube you start teaching people how to be successful on YouTube. So there’s tons of stuff out there. Even TechSmith we offer– it’s a free offering called the TechSmith Academy. We teach these basics like: how do you write a script? How do you create a storyboard? You know, what are some of the other things that you can do if you’re just getting started? And again, these things don’t have to be complicated because I think simplicity in video is really the key. You know, the more complex you try to make things, the more animations and flying things in, it is like any good visual design medium – the more you add, the worse it gets.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Matt Pierce: And so simplicity is the key. Cut out everything that you don’t need there – cut out everything your learner doesn’t need to see or hear or do. And that’s how you’re going to get a better video. But I don’t think you have to be particularly like visually creative or, you know, editing – it’s just a skill, it’s not hard. Anyone can do it. Literally – anyone can do it. My kids have done it. It’s just a matter of taking the time to kind of learn some of the metaphors, right? Learn the language that video editors use – how we talk about cutting, splitting, trimming. What does it mean to add– what is a lower third, right? Once you learn those things, and even just generally, you can make pretty good videos that are going to be effective at helping people to learn.

Get to Know Matt Pierce

Brian Washburn: I love this conversation, Matt. And I want to have another conversation sometime soon just in terms of advanced video production. Because this is a great conversation to get started but I think you have so much more to offer. We’re out of time here, but before we go, I do have a speed round here so that people can get to know you a little bit better. Are you ready for the speed round?

Matt Pierce: I’m ready.

Brian Washburn: All right. So first question: Twitter or LinkedIn?

Matt Pierce: Lately, LinkedIn.

Brian Washburn: How about webinar or podcast?

Matt Pierce: Podcasts, all day long.

Brian Washburn: How many things have you posted to YouTube?

Matt Pierce: Personally, about 15. But for TechSmith – hundreds.

Brian Washburn: Have you ever left a comment on something that somebody else posted on YouTube?

Matt Pierce: Yes. Almost weekly. (CHUCKLES)

Brian Washburn: So with that in mind, would you consider YouTube to be, you know, “social media”?

Matt Pierce: Mostly. (CHUCKLES)

Brian Washburn: Yeah, it’s kind of one of those things that, kind of, falls between because it’s not necessarily the primary function, but there’s lots of comments going on.

Matt Pierce: It doesn’t have to be, but it can become some of that. Like we get customer comments – people both praising and degrading us. Like people that love our– like, “Oh, this is so great!” And other people like commenting that I’m wearing AirPods or doing other things and that– they’re just like, “We don’t like this.” So, it is social.

Brian Washburn: I don’t know why anybody would so– and you didn’t ask me to say this, but I will say TechSmith, their product Snagit – which is fantastic for screen captures and more. But also Camtasia, which you mentioned before, which is great for just basic video editing. You can put effects in there but you can also put questions in there, right? So it’s more– it’s like a video on steroids, which I think is a really cool learning tool.

Matt Pierce: Thank you, thank you.

Brian Washburn: Anyway, let me get back to my speed round here. What’s the best piece of advice that somebody has ever given to you?

Matt Pierce: This might be a little bit weird without context but my mom actually told me once, “If you’re going to do this, stick with it.”

Brian Washburn: I think that’s good advice for any context. What should people in the training field be reading or listening to these days?

Matt Pierce: Oh gosh! There– I mean, there’s so many good things, it’s hard to pick. I’ll give a shout out because I know she shouted out me, but Betty Dannewitz’s If You Ask Betty podcast is always good. Listen to Brian’s podcast. TechSmith, we run a weekly podcast that I’ll just shout out – The Visual Lounge. So we just interviewed like Mel Milloway, we’ve got instructional designers coming on there, trainers coming on there and we’re talking about video and images. But, you know, I think the thing is get outside– I would say for– I don’t have a specific one to listen to – but get outside of our field and find out what other people are talking about. Go listen to the marketing podcasts because there’s so much stuff that applies that like we’re talking different languages, but really we’re going after the same types of things. And there’s so much we can learn from that.

Brian Washburn: And that is another piece of great advice. Before we leave here, do you have any shameless plugs for us?

Matt Pierce: I’ve plugged the things I think shamelessly– TechSmith Academy, academy.techsmith.com. Go check it out – free learning platform. The Visual Lounge weekly live stream. I mean just– I can’t take any credit, it’s just the guests are amazing as you know, Brian, what it’s like to work with good people and they just share amazing things. And then if you aren’t familiar with Camtasia or Snagit, check them out. We’ve got free trials and I can guarantee you that if you use them, you will find great value because I use them all the time. And even if I wasn’t with TechSmith, I would still want them in my tool bag every day.

Brian Washburn: I couldn’t agree more. Matt Pierce, TechSmith’s Learning and Video Ambassador. Thank you so much for joining us. 

Thank you everyone else for joining another episode of Train Like You Listen, which can be found on Apple, iHeartRadio, Spotify – anywhere where you get your podcasts. If you do need some help with your next training project, go ahead and give me a shout. I can be found at brian@endurancelearning.com. And until next time, happy training everyone.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo below.

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