What it’s like recording analytics courses at a professional studio

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In January 2023, I traveled to Santa Barbara, sunny Californ-i-a to record two data analytics courses with Madecraft. There will be plenty of opportunity to discuss the contents of these courses, but for now I’d like to reflect on the process of recording them in the studio.

Making a video course with a professional crew had been on my peripheral for a while. It’s something that many of my fellow Excel MVPs have talked about and universally spoken well of. So for me, this project was part business, part market research, part pilgrimage to California.

A few photos from the studio follow:

Looks pretty fun and immaculate, right? Well, it was fun. Everyone at Madecraft was awesome to work with. At the same time, recording even an Excel course is show business, and adjustments must be made mid-course (literally and figuratively)…

Prepare to improvise…

While the finished product of these professionally-made courses may look as though everything was produced exactly as it was conceived, this is almost impossibly the case. I mean, having an author prepare dozens of technical training lessons and then travel across the country with a wardrobe to deliver them without any studio experience… what can go wrong? 😉

As anyone who’s ever worked in show business can attest, it will be anything and the weirdest thing. For me, it was the wardrobe. First, while I brought tons of alternate outfits just in case, I didn’t have one of the two shirt colors my producer approved. Whoops.

Ultimately, though, that didn’t matter as all of my shirts (same make, different colors) were producing an unexpected moiré pattern on camera. It was nobody’s fault — things that look good in one setting don’t always translate to another. Fortunately, the production team kept calm (and helped me keep calm) as we searched for alternatives. We ended up going with a shirt that I had planned to wear for after work.

Even if you’ve made the most basic YouTube video, you’ve seen how many things can go wrong in filming and production. I just don’t have the patience for it and would rather just write than make videos (more on that later).

In a way, however, it was consoling to see that even the professionals face the same issues recording videos — these problems never go away and in fact just scale in complexity.

…but not like a paid actor

Obviously both the studio and me wanted a high-quality production. But that didn’t mean perfect — and in fact, too polished could have taken away from the production value as a primarily educational course. The producers really did want my own personality and energy for my subject matter to shine through. As they put it, they could record with paid actors but don’t — they want the experts themselves imparting their enthusiasm.

Enthusiastic, untrained subject matter experts may briefly hesitate or trip over words… that’s OK. I recall a couple of occasions where I found my take a little froggy, but my producer insisted it was worth keeping.

This is such an important lesson for anyone who’s dabbling in sharing their knowledge in any medium — your audience doesn’t expect perfection. They know you are a regular person who gets nervous and hasn’t gone through hair and makeup. They do, however, expect honesty and enthusiasm.

Silence is golden

As a business owner and self-described “efficient” person, I find it difficult to sit in silence and do nothing. It seems so unproductive! But as I’m learning with age, sometimes those silent gaps can be used to an advantage later on — whether for energy conversation or, in the case of video production, improved editing.

Between pauses for rephrases, taking room tones, and more, there was a lot of silence coming from my recording studio. And that’s OK — not only will that silence make the editors’ jobs easier, it gave me time to relax and regroup for even better takes.

This experience has certainly got me thinking how pauses and breaks can help aid me in the overall production of my own story, i.e., my life.

Everyone has a part

As mentioned earlier, I find making videos frustrating. From grabbing the wrong screen to plugging in the wrong mic cable, it always seem like something’s going wrong… and now I know these hurdles never go away, although I imagine the professionals at least handle cables better. Maybe I just need to offer it up and take more quiet breaks to get through my videos.

Or maybe, as I suspect, I’m just better disposed as a writer and should focus on that medium. We’ve all got preferred ways to communicate, after all.

My time at Madecraft was a good reminder that I don’t need to become an expert at every medium — if I don’t like making videos, there will always be professionals willing to help.

That said, the quality of our collaboration can only increase with a mutual understanding of each other’s craft and expertise. As a non-video person, for example, I can help editors out with good room tones. Even the hair & makeup lead wanted to know a little more about my typical clients and the work I do to derive a solid look.

Let’s hear it for the creators

Let’s face it, everyone wants to be a “content creator” these days, often for the fame and glory. But people are still out there who genuinely want to share their knowledge and create something for its own sake. It’s really a daunting act, and to think about all the expertise that came together in making my courses is humbling.

My experience at Madecraft taught me so much about developing & producing educational content. Special shout out to Thomas Schiferl, Sanford Jackson, Christina Burns and everyone at Madecraft for sharing their own wisdom and enthusiasm with me.

Stay tuned to the blog for updates on the final courses. Got any questions on making a professional data analytics video course? Leave them in the comments.

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