Recording Your Online Course without Losing Your Mind: What to Do When Things Go Wrong

I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or God, convince a thousand cats to do the same thing at the same time.” Neil Gaiman

Recording video—whether it’s for an online course or a simple promo—can be exhilarating. Or it can give you ulcers.

Cats crowded together.   Ideally, whether you are a crew of one or a crew of ten, you’re a practiced, smooth-running machine. More often, however, the recording session is akin to herding cats. Lots of random energy and too much thinking outside the box. The litter box.

Here are some of the things I’ve seen go awry in the studio and some ways to avoid or fix them. Doing a practice run will reveal most of them so you can solve them ahead of time.

Problem: Teleprompter isn’t working or no teleprompter.

Solution: Create cue cards on large paper or white boards for key points. Stop recording after each point, holding position for 5 seconds before cutting the camera.

Problem: Teleprompter font is too small to read or so large you can’t read more than a couple of words.

Solution: Test your teleprompter the day before if possible and adjust as needed. Or schedule in an extra half hour to test the day of the shoot.

Problem: Teleprompter can’t handle outline or symbols.

Solution: This is one of those things that you should know when you create your scripts. If you’re delivering from an outline, don’t use outline format. Everything needs to be flush left on a teleprompter.

Symbols won’t show up either, so you need to write out formulas or display them on a monitor so you can use the image to cue your points. Since your face will be covered by the image, it won’t matter if you’re not looking at the camera.

Problem: Subject loses place in script during delivery.

Solution: CAP the first word of each new paragraph so it’s easy to see.

Problem: There’s no teleprompter, and the subject can’t remember the script.

Solution: Break the text into chunks. I worked with a subject matter expert once who couldn’t recall more than one sentence at a time. That’s all we put on the white board. Others can remember 3-5 points. Practicing before recording will reveal your best solutions.

Problem: Nerves are throwing off voice and mannerisms.

Solution: Practice, practice, practice. On the day of the shoot, record a dry run. Delivering the actual content will make the subject more comfortable, warm up the voice, and reassure the person that they’ll live. Sometimes a dry run is the better version.

Problem: Bad hair day. Don’t laugh; it happens.

Solution: Make sure you have a can of old-fashioned hairspray and a comb or brush on hand so you can freeze the hair into submission. Be prepared.

Problem: Bad face day. Most people being filmed in HD have an initial reaction of horror when they see how magnified their pores, pimples, and wrinkles are on screen.

Solution: Use make-up, even for men. TEST FIRST! Make sure it’s make-up that works on video—i.e., not greasy! Use powder on top of foundation, and make sure both match skin tone.

Problem: Clothing looks bad on camera.

Solution: Again, a dry run ahead of time will forestall this. But if that’s not feasible, bring several sets of clothing options. Nothing with small patterns or in bright white.

I once had to dash out to my car to grab my dry cleaning for a subject matter expert whose clothing looked nice enough on her but terrible on camera. Also, have an iron and ironing board on hand, or a steamer, in case a quick pressing is called for.

Problem: Demos don’t work.

Solution: Have I mentioned practicing ahead of time yet? Before recording, do a walk through to block out every step of the demonstration. This way you can adjust and plan for the camera angles, pauses or breaks, and so forth.

Also, have a back-up version on your script you can use to talk the viewer through the demo if you have to put up graphics instead of recording it live. Sometimes things just don’t work.

Make sure you have extra batteries…extra anything you might need that could break.

If you have a lot of demos, set up prop carts labeled by scene and arranged in order that you will be recording them. Test the day before and the day of recording. If possible, get an assistant to prep, bring in, and remove props. Demos have a big pay-off, but they take a lot of time.

Problem: Sound issues.

Solution: Use good microphones and test ahead of time. Have back-up batteries. Test ahead of time for mic noise, such as from jewelry, scarves, or clothing.

If you are filming outside, scout the location beforehand so you can anticipate noises such as dogs barking, chainsaws, or kids yelling. For a garden course I worked on, we happened to be on a flight pattern. We had to plan scenes around the planes.

Use noise cancellation microphones if you can. Otherwise, be prepared to start and stop often.

Problem: Shaky camera shots.

Solution: Use a tripod even for a camera phone, or at the very least place the phone on something solid and level. Run a test video to make sure the angle is good before recording your actual video.

Don’t pan or zoom unless you have proven ability and equipment with effective pan/zoom options. Set up a viewing monitor if possible so you can keep an eye on how the video looks as you record. That way you can stop if something screws up rather than discovering it later while editing.

This list isn’t exhaustive, by any means. But if you practice before the shoot, keep extras of whatever you might need on hand, and give yourself plenty of time, you can manage pretty much anything that might go wrong during your shoot.

Oh—and don’t let cats on the set. I once had an audience member sneak in his cat, which he let out during the recording. The subject matter was allergic and started sneezing madly. We had to shut down and clean the studio before we could resume.

Sometimes you just can’t plan ahead…but usually you can.

Did you enjoy this post? Please share it! Share on LinkedIn.

Please send me your questions for future issues, and tune in next Friday for Issue #31 of “Everything You Need to Know to Create Outstanding Online Courses.” We’ll return to challenges in the writing process.

Contact Marcy for help crafting your online course.

Marcy McDonald is an Online Course Producer. She helps Subject Matter Experts and Professors create online courses with better content, delivery, and production, for better teaching. She’s developed ~450 online courses for lifelong learners, worked in video and audio studios, and filmed in the field (literally).

Want to learn how to make online courses that teach outstanding content well? Sign up for your free copy of “12 Steps to Killer Course Content” and weekly tips, click here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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