How to Make Professional Explainer Videos Online

The explainer video is a staple of digital education, made popular by the simple whiteboard videos of Khan Academy – all they take is the right toolset and a bit of knowhow. I’m here to provide you with both.

How to Make Professional Explainer Videos Online

In 2020, it’s more common than ever before for people to learn things using video content. Students are learning remotely using recorded lectures, people are enrolling in online learning platforms like Coursera at a clip over 3x higher than before, and perilous economic conditions are forcing people to level up their employable digital skills.

The explainer video is a staple of digital education, made popular by the simple whiteboard videos of Khan Academy, as well as the more polished, professional content of media companies like Vox (especially, of course, in the series Explained). And you, too (yes, you!) can be an Explainer, just like them – all it takes is the right toolset and a bit of knowhow. I’m here to provide you with both.

Part 1: Making & Editing the Video

Part 2: Making & Editing the Audio

Part 3: Sharing & Promoting Your Work

1. Making & Editing the Video

As you would expect, there are a lot of components to a successful explainer video. From on-screen text to help guide your viewer to infographics that provide in-depth data in an attractive package, here’s a rundown of the most essential edits you should make to your explainer videos.

Recording a whiteboard or screencast video

Whiteboard videos are far from the only video types used in explainer videos, but they’re common and accessible enough that I’m going to go over them in particular. You might think you need some fancy tool in order to make a similar style of video, but you can use your tablet, computer, or even your phone to record your whiteboard presentation like Khan Academy does. If you’re using an iPad, Liveboard and IPEVO Whiteboard work really well; for computers, you can use the ExplainEverything whiteboard app. And even if you’re working with only a phone, the Microsoft Whiteboard and Explain Everything Whiteboard app work perfectly.

A screenshot of the Explain Everything whiteboard app.

Here's a look at the Explain Everything online whiteboard app, my favorite one to use for Khan Academy-style videos. It even lets you record video & audio in real-time.

TIP: If you’re working on an iPhone, it’s super simple to record your video in one take: just start a voice recording, start a screen recording, and go over your Khan Academy-style lesson. Both recordings can keep running at the same time, and you can simply put the audio & video together in the Kapwing Studio.

Adding subtitles

No part of your video creating process is more important than adding subtitles. Really. Subtitles increase the accessibility of video content for everyone, not just those with hearing difficulties. On social channels, up to 85% of viewers may view your videos without sound, and many people prefer to do their work with written text.

A screenshot from the Kapwing Subtitler tool.
A look at the Kapwing Subtitler tool. 

I recommend using Kapwing to add your subtitles, as the subtitler is free for files up to 256MB and gives you a high level of functionality in customizing your subtitles. If you upload your video to the Kapwing Studio, you can choose the Subtitles tool and either enter your captions manually, or use the auto-translate tool to let AI quickly transcribe your video’s subtitles and set their timing. Thanks to a recent update (Oct. 2020), you can also use the auto-subtitler to generate translated subtitles in over 50 languages. Once you’ve created or auto-generated your subtitles, you can customize their font, size, color, position, and background.

Combining scenes

A screenshot from the Kapwing Timeline editor.
Here's how the Kapwing timeline works. 

Your typical explainer video will likely involve more than just one clip. You’re free to prepare as much as it takes to record one in a single take, but it’s far easier to combine several smaller video files. If you’re using a desktop editor like iMovie, you can import as many files you want and arrange them on the project’s timeline.

Using the Kapwing Studio, you can use several scenes and include one video per scene, or use the Record tool to film yourself or your screen for as many clips as you need. You can reorder your clips, whether they were uploaded or recorded, using separate scenes or reordering the layers in the Timeline, as you would in desktop editors like iMovie.

Adding images and visual aids

A successful explainer video will involve more than just audio and video. For different topics, it might be necessary to add pictures to the screen, pull up individual boxes of text to highlight certain things, or put arrows, circles, or boxes around specific items on the screen. Here's how a top-tier explainer like Vox does it:

A screenshot of a Vox video0 on the Electoral College, with infographics and arrows.
Vox's Explained videos use visual aids perfectly. 

If you’re working in desktop apps, you’ll need more professional editing studios like After Effects or Premiere to add custom titles, image overlays, and shapes. Desktop apps like iMovie will allow you to use pre-styled titles on screen, but they won’t act like separate, editable layers. If you prefer working online, the Kapwing Studio allows you to add Images, Text, and Elements tools in the upper toolbar to add and edit any extra visual aids your explainer video needs, including animated text, animated images, GIFs, shapes, progress bars, and waveforms.

2. Making & Editing the Audio

Your explainer video will be incomplete without some audio to accompany its video features. And for the auditory learners in your audience, the voiceover in your video may be the most important part. There are a bunch of things you can do to optimize your video’s sound, but I’ll go over just the most basic and important things.

Recording a voiceover

Do you have a high-fidelity microphone on hand? Great – use it with your computer to record a voiceover. But if you, like most people, don’t have access to a high-quality external mic, you can also use your computer or phone to record your voiceover. On Mac computers, you can even use built-in desktop apps like GarageBand to optimize your sound quality with pre-set compression and equalization settings for speech.

A screenshot of a narration track in GarageBand.
Built-in apps like GarageBand can offer high-level audio editing tools. 

If you’re working on a phone or would prefer to keep all your files online, you can also use Kapwing to record your voice track. In the Studio, select the Record button in the upper toolbar and choose the audio option. You can create as many audio recording layers for your project as you need. Alternatively, you can drag and drop an existing audio file directly into the Studio’s Timeline viewer. Once it’s been added, you can trim it, clip it, adjust its timing in your project, and change its volume level.

A screenshot of the Kapwing Studio, with the Record button highighted.
The Kapwing Studio makes it easy to record voiceover tracks on your computer. 

Adding additional music or effects

For your explainer video to be as high-level and professional as you want it to be, some additional audio might be a good idea. Especially for more polished, engaging videos – like Vox’s “Explained” series – adding a background music track is a must. In the Kapwing Studio, you can add any audio files you want, simply by selecting “Timeline” and dragging your audio files onto the timeline.

Balancing your volume levels

Screenshots from Kapwing and iMovie, showing how to adjust a video's volume.
Here's how you can adjust audio volume in Kapwing and iMovie. 

If you have several audio tracks playing at the same time in your video, you’re going to need to make sure they’re balanced right. If your speech is drowned out by your background music, for instance, your explainer video will be hard for your audience to follow. If you’re making your video in the Kapwing Studio, you can select an audio or video layer and change its volume using the slider in the right-side editing options.

3. Sharing & Promoting Your Work

Making your explainer video is only half the battle – it's not very useful if there's no one to teach. If you're creating your specifically for a personal or professional blog, website, or academic project, you probably know exactly where your video is going to end up and whose views you're trying to attract. But if you're making your video without a particular destination in mind, you might want to post it on YouTube, where a massive population of viewers across can find it, or spread it across other social media channels where you can build a following.

Posting on YouTube

YouTube is the most important place for sharing, finding, and watching online video content, and it has been for a long, long time. So if you’re making an explainer video on any topic, YouTube is most likely the place you should focus on bringing in viewers.

First, you’ll need to set up a YouTube account where you can post this explainer video and any future content that’s related. It can reflect your personal brand, your expertise on a topic, or any interests that might be relevant to your YouTube content.

When posting your videos on YouTube, you should put some thought into how your audience will find them. What terms are people searching for in YouTube or Google? How can you formulate your video’s title, thumbnail, and description to make sure people who see it will want to click?

Look at existing videos or web articles on similar topics and see what their titles look like, what their descriptions contain, and how their thumbnails appear. Then, upload your video to YouTube, make a custom thumbnail that will grab people’s attention, and write a title and description that will let people know to trust your video. Sometimes even using the word “Explained” is a good idea for explainer videos!

Versioning for different platforms

YouTube is by far the biggest platform for online video sharing and viewing, but it’s certainly not the only one that matters. To reach some audiences, it’s important to spread your content on other social channels, like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. In video-first areas like IGTV and Facebook Watch, popular explainer videos can get millions of views, tons of engagement, and organic sharing that can’t be accomplished on YouTube alone.

A collection of common aspect ratios for videos on social media.
A rundown of the most important aspect ratios for videos on social media. 

Most likely, you won’t be able to simply share the same video you made for YouTube on these other platforms and expect it to perform as well, though. Each platform requires different specs for video length, aspect ratio, and thumbnail.

To create several versions of the same content for different platforms, I recommend using Kapwing. It stores everything online so your various versions don’t take up extra space on your computer, and its simple workflow works well for small edits like cropping, trimming, adding title text, and adding padding, all of which are central to social media video formats.

I hope this article helped you get started on your own explainer videos! Video content is an inspiring, broad, and effective way to teach almost anything, so your skills with the explainer video format can translate into countless opportunities to help others learn & understand. If you're interested in more content like this, check out Kapwing App on YouTube or give us a follow on Twitter at @KapwingApp.

In the meantime, take a look at these related articles on creating high-level video content online:

What are Basic Video Editing Skills in 2020?
How to Create Compelling Video Essays Online
5 Easy Video Interview Tips
How to Make & Edit Documentary Films Online