5 tips for creating effective explainer videos

Takeaway: Pew Charitable Trusts rolled out a great new explainer video about the importance of setting policy for the high seas. It's a solid example of the main techniques that make for strong whiteboard presentations: succinct script, visuals and narration working together to reinforce key points, a gifted illustrator who uses changing perspectives to create motion and interest, and a simple story with a beginning, middle and end.

My love for science has always really been a piggyback on my love for the environment. If I want to help protect, restore, and conserve our habitat, I've got to work to support the science, the scientists, and help communicate the importance of it.

That's why I was what so pleased to see this strong new video by the Pew Charitable Trusts. They just rolled out a new explainer video in advance of an upcoming UN Conference on the management of the high heas, "What are the High Seas? Why Do They Need Help?"

Explainer videos, when they are done right like this one is, get the job done by relieving the heavy lifting of explanation and engaging viewers.

This is a wonderful example of how a thoughtful explainer video can drive home the significance of potential policy advances for the general public. Here are five "Do's and Don't's" for creating your own videos that I've learned from creating explainer videos.

1. DO: Write a tight, 375-word transcript like this one that lays out the importance of topic to the general viweer. Edit, edit, edit. Eliminate any asides or extraneous material. Use concrete nouns and verbs and be sure you have a clear beginning, middle, and end. This one begins by sharing what's at stake, showing the problem, and calling for the importance of a solution at the UN treaty meeting. It's also just under 3 minutes, which is essential, and maybe even a tad too long.

2. DO: Reinforce emphasis of key points by narration AND simultaneous writing or illustrating to drive home connections and key points: High Seas, $16Billion, rocket launch, treaty, EIA. The benefit of doing an explainer video is allowing the visual and audio to work together to benefit the viewer. Too often the visual is just busy work for the eye of the viewer and not related to reinforcing the points. DON'T allow for a disconnect between the script and the visuals. They should be closely tied to one another. For example, there is a great moment in this video when the narrator says "uniquely adapted fish species," and the cartoonist draws a deep-sea angler fish. You know, that one with a lantern hanging out front of its mouth. A perfect reinforcing emphasis.

3. DO: Write material in the visuals that is a mouthful for your narrator and listener and omit it from the audio. For example, at 1:35, the narrator describes that there are several organizations that control the different aspects of the seas. The illustrator writes out their types and save the narrator a mouthful. The viewer's eye can read quickly enough to absorb the information and not lose track of the illustrator. DON'T just write whatever the narrator is saying in the video. Think about what is really necessary and how the audio and narration can work together.

4.DO: Hire the best illustrator you can and look for someone who changes persepctives in their drawings as this video shows. An illustrator who can use changing perspectives to boost the story rather than a flat, graphic approach is valuable. You can see how this illustrator maintains visual interest and adds movement with his multi-perspective approach. We begin on the world we share, go underwater, come back up on land, go back in the water, meet the people trying to help solve the problem.

5. DO: Share widely and double check your distribution. DON'T forget to allow your video to be shared as widely as possible. Unfortunately, Pew mistakenly has this video marked as "unlisted" on YouTube, which means it can't be found by search. This will likely depress view numbers unintentionally. DO: Add a transcript to your video posting. To their credit, Pew included a copy of the transcript, which is a great routine practice for all explainer videos to boost search and help draw people to your video.

More work samples