What I learned creating a Skillshare class

Tips for preparing, filming and editing

I believe you learn best by doing, so when Skillshare invited me to teach on their platform, I happily took up the challenge and created my first class.

Directing, filming, starring in and editing what is, for its part essentially a short film, is much harder (and more stressful) than I expected. I was wrong, of course, to assume being a digital designer somehow qualified me to do this. So, I thought I’d share what I learned.

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For reference, the class I created is a tutorial for creating comprehensive symbols in Sketch, specifically geared towards system design. 🤓


📝 Be prepared

Think what you’re going to say and do before you start recording. It’s not easy breaking down something you do routinely, so a practice run is worthwhile — really thinking about what you’re doing step-by-step. And remember, the things you find easy or natural may be new or confusing to others.

Think about WHY you’re doing something, as well as how. Look for those teaching moments.

Ideally, a Skillshare class should be split into bitesize steps (videos) that are easy to follow and digest. You will probably have a lot of steps, so scripting the whole thing is unpractical — unless you really struggle with words — in which case, do whatever you need to feel prepared and confident.

I used a Google Doc to document each specific step, breaking down what I was going to do. I wrote simple bullet points I could quickly read through before recording, or reference at a glance while filming. This way, I was more alert to the specific teaching moments so I remembered to slow down and explain what, how and why I was doing something.


Note: I was most nervous about filming the face-to-camera parts. So, rather than let my anxiety and procrastination delay progress, I started with the screensharing tutorial steps first.

🖥 Screensharing

For the tutorial segments, I screen-recorded myself using Sketch, describing what I was doing. I used Quicktime for this. Choose ‘New Screen Recording’ then select the arrow to the right of the red record button, and make sure you select a microphone (if you don’t, you will only record video, with no audio, and feel pretty stupid 5 minutes later).

A snippet from my class (no audio in gif), demonstrating creating symbols for different button types

Take your time

Prepare to be frustrated! I messed this up so many times! I didn’t script the screensharing parts — I wanted them to flow naturally and not seem fake or robotic. But I knew roughly what I wanted to say, and I had my step-by-step guide of what I was going to do printed out in front of me.

The doing part is easy, it’s speaking that’s hard!

This is some major multi-tasking! Describing what you’re doing, while concentrating on doing it, under the pressure of knowing your every move and word is being recorded, plus the paranoia of how awful or stupid you think you sound… is not easy.

Do a run-through to gain more confidence and uncover/overcome the inevitable stumbling blocks and tongue-twisters.

😎 Be natural

Talk as if you’re instructing a friend or colleague. Be friendly and approachable. Be animated. The student can’t see you, but they can hear the enthusiasm (or lack of) in your voice. When you’re not clicking or typing, be expressive (e.g. move your arms) as you would if this was a normal conversation. A relaxed, confident demeanor will come through in the audio.

Mistakes are okay

My first video segment was my most painful. I was determined to get through it flawlessly. 20+ takes later, I was frustrated and depressed I couldn’t get through 5 minutes without falling over my words. 😫 It took me a good couple of hours before I realised this is fine. 👌

I’m not a professional teacher. And I’m human. It’s fine to make mistakes. Once I was okay with this, filming became faster and more fun, as I rolled with my mistakes.

Laugh at your mistakes, and try not to be flustered by them. And consider this: Your mistakes may be a learning experience for the student. 💡 They will likely make the same mistake. Seeing you make that mistake and how you made it right is good for them. And it’s also somewhat humbling and reassuring to see people with more experience get it wrong.

True story: That’s a Gin and Tonic! And yes, my cat was asleep on the desk behind me the whole time :)

Break it down

Take your time and speak slowly. Try to leave pauses between key steps. This way, if you mess up (and you will), you can trim out your larger mistakes. It’s easier to combine a few video clips than to reshoot the entire thing! Those pauses will make it easier to trim your clips and merge them later.

Tip: You can merge video clips in Quicktime by opening your first clip, then in the Edit menu, select ‘Add Clip to End’, then export it all as a new movie. I exported as 4K to maintain the original video clips’ high-resolution output.


🎥 Filming

The opening and closing segments I filmed in person to camera. The first video of every class is essentially a free trailer. Watching the remainder of the class requires paid membership, so first impressions count!

In truth, I was out of my comfort zone for much of this process — hence this article, to help others in my place.

This was the worst part. But I could see it being fun for some. For the record, my introduction video is my least favourite section of my class (I do like my outro video though, weirdly). Alas, it’s good enough. It’s a free class after all — your audience aren’t expecting perfection.

Be prepared… or don’t be

I’m torn on this one. In hindsight, I think what stressed me out the most was worrying about what to say. I figured a script would calm my nerves. But, I’m no actor. I couldn’t remember my script, and while filming I fell over my words almost constantly — attempting to say the correct words, while being expressive and sincere doing it. Honestly, I think my end output for the introduction video is a little robotic, but this has as much to do with my discomfort in front of a camera as anything else. 😬 I think, depending on who you are, trying a few takes and saying the first thing that comes to mind might be more natural for you. See what works for you.

But most importantly, try to relax, and be yourself.

Directors Cut: Getting cats to pay attention to the camera is hard

Cheat with visuals

A short video of just you talking to camera isn’t very interesting. Cutting to visuals is a great way of masking your awkward self, and makes your video more stimulating. While you’re talking, try cutting away to things like:

  • Still images, like portfolio images relevant to your class.
  • Video previews from your tutorial.
  • Abstract videos, like you working at your desk, or scenes from your studio.

🎬 Action!

The screensharing portions of my class worked great using Quicktime and the built-in microphone on my iMac. They were high resolution with quality, clear audio. The same can’t be said of filming a ‘Movie’. The resolution was too low. Also, the setting and aesthetic of sitting in front of your computer leaves much to be desired. This isn’t an awkward video conference, it’s a trailer introducing your class. You can do better.

I had considered using my iPhone 7, but I deemed the quality, lack of depth of field and limited angles (minus a tripod) too limiting. My wife (a fellow designer) and I had been considering investing in a good camera with video capability for awhile. So, we purchased:

The adjustable tripod is great for finding an angle that works well, for the Art Directors amongst you. It’s also wise to steady the camera while filming video!

The T7i is a great camera with simple settings and auto-focus — brilliant for the amateur photographer. And the 50mm lens gives you a lovely depth of field (focus on subject in foreground while blurring the background) to make your video feel more professional.

We love this new kit! My only slight disappointment was the RØDE mic. Mounted atop the camera, it provides better quality sound than the in-built camera mic, but the audio quality was still a little echoey. Next time I might try a wearable mic on my person.

🎵 Level up with background music

The sound of only your voice plus a quiet room can be both deafeningly quiet and awkward. Adding background music takes your video from amateur to professional! You may be surprised what a difference it makes. I downloaded a subtle acoustic guitar track from YouTube Audio Library — they offer free tracks with no attribution required.

Editing my introduction video in iMovie

Editing

I used iMovie to pull everything together. It’s simple to learn, and effective. You simply drag any media on to a timeline and edit. You can add title screens too, but the presets and font selection are very limited. Instead, I created images of text, so I had full control over how titles looked. You can also overlay PNGs with transparent backgrounds, if you need text to overlay video. I’m sure I could get more out of the audio with better software, but this is a free class and time is valuable. iMovie did the job well enough.


📗 Class project

One final thing to think about is a project you can set your students to test their new skills. The nature of my class requires the student to learn how to create symbols in Sketch. It would be (too) easy to give the students the finished Sketch file I create throughout the class. Sure, they could dissect it and figure out how I did it, but would they really learn how it’s done this way? Could they recreate it from scratch in the future? You learn best by doing.

So, my class project was to encourage them to recreate what I was creating along with me. I challenge them to create something similar to the below image, using the symbols they create, following a number of steps to test what they are creating is working, among other challenges.

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🚀 Publishing your class

Fortunately, Skillshare make this part easy. Publishing a class is really intuitive — just upload your videos, add a class description, settings and tags. And if you need help, they’ve created a very good guidebook for teachers.


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I hope you found this helpful 🙂