Technology Tips

Top Tips for Engaging YouTube Videos

Written by Kirstie Pelling

YouTube Video Tips: Take Your Videos to the Next Level

Kirstie Profile SmallEnjoy posting to YouTube but not quite sure what works or why? Want to improve your video content without huge investment in time and training? Watching a recent documentary featuring some of the UK’s biggest You Tube stars recently, I realised there were techniques they all had in common. Techniques we also have been learning ourselves on our personal YouTube journey. Tips I would like to share with you here…  

I’ll never be a YouTube Star

“I was never an overnight phenomenon or anything. I’ve been building what I have for years.” TomSka

“Are you going to be a YouTube star Mum?” asks Hannah when she hears we have been nominated for a Brilliance in Blogging video award. Yeh right. It’s what YouTube is missing isn’t it? A forty something northern mum of three to front gaming, comedy and beauty videos. Me and Zoella; twins separated at birth….

And then Cameron shows me life behind the scenes in The Creators. A documentary about the British stars of YouTube. It interviews several video makers including Zoella, TomSka and likeable twins NikiNSammy. Some of their journeys have been short and stellar; the latter only started their channel a year ago. They talk frankly about their highs and lows. They analyse their success and their x factor appeal. They share what they think works about their style and you can glean a lot of information from both their interviews and clips.

If you’re looking to work more with video and keen to learn more, we hope these tips gleaned from experts, our own experience and too many hours watching YouTube may help you on your journey.  We’d love to hear your tips too, so do leave a comment.

Family Adventure Project on YouTube

I wonder what we can learn from the YouTube stars?

10 tips that will make an immediate difference to your videos

1 Establish a hero

“I don’t think of myself as famous. I just have a lot of people who know who I am” – Zoella

As every novelist knows, a story needs a protagonist, or protagonists. And something needs to happen to that central character. Even if it is just Zoella discovering a new mascara, you’ll find that the best YouTube videos help you connect with your hero in a deeper way or move on their story.

We tried this in our Hannie McNoskill video where Hannah decides to celebrate Danny MacAskill’s mountain biking skill, but in her own inimitable way. With perserverance and stoicism. Personally I think this video works because of the sense you get that she is doing it alone, in a big wide and cold world. And enjoying it. Note the lack of any other humans or vehicles. This was deliberate.

2 Tell a story

At last years TBEX, veteran travel writer Robert Reid begged bloggers not to add to the noise, but say something of value to the reader. In short, to tell a different story; a compelling with a unique voice. In the Philippines, where we travelled with Expedia to help publicise how the islands are once again open for business after Hurricane Haiyan, we found interviewing locals told the story better than we could. Meet Carlito Pizarras the Bohol Tarsier Man.

3 Show your character, make people connect with YOU

Zoella found that subscribers really empathised with her when she broke down one day and confessed in one of her videos about the pressures of fame. Revealing something about yourself can engage. Show your hopes and dreams, your passions and fears. In Japan we carried out our own protest about dolphin slaughtering after watching the movie The Cove about Japanese dolphin and whale hunting. I think it works because the kids are so affected and passionate about their actions.

4 Don’t be afraid to be ridiculous

The twins in The Creators are shown strategising to build an audience; making videos that others ask them to, jumping on topical bandwagons, or doing things they don’t really want to do that will make them look silly. Basically the advice here is get over yourself. Lose the ego and try something different. I recently made a cloud costume and went walking up the fells in it to celebrate Wordsworth’s 200th anniversary of the final publication of daffodils. No sooner had I donned the cotton wool and chickenwire than a BBC TV station picked up on it and broadcast it on air and on Facebook. Did I feel stupid? Yes.

5 Choose a subject you are passionate about

If you don’t care about it who will? We recently shot this biking video in support of Ranulph Fiennes’ desert marathon. The cause gave us the motivation to film.

6 Cut things to the bone

“Our YouTube persona is an accurate representation of the best form of ourselves. We are ourselves in front of the camera for the time we film it, but we only take the funny parts. We condense it down to four minutes so it’s a hyper-real version.” NikiNSammy

“I didn’t have time to make a short movie so I made a long one,” is a well known phrase. It’s tempting to put every one of your glory moments on screen but it’s better to leave them wanting more, not less. Edit and edit again. And then cut it in half. We’ve played a lot with creating 15 second videos for Instagram. See how much you can pack into 15 seconds with some hard editing.

7 Use humour and parody

“Our draw as creators is that we are unintentionally funny” NikiNSammy

Not everyone is unintentionally funny. Some of us have to try hard at it. A good parody can go a long way. YouTuber TomSka comes up with ideas for parodies on a regular basis and ropes in a host of other people and special effects.Our hacking the packing video has been our top viewed video for years. It was a riposte to a video by Dave Hax on packing tips. Not everyone likes our version (it got lots of thumbs down) but you can’t please all the people all of the time. Especially on YouTube.

8 Give the viewer action

Show don’t tell, that’s what your kids are being told at school in English and the principle is the same here. Go straight into the action. Pack it with stuff and edit it tightly to make the viewer feel they are in the middle of the action.

“To make an awesome video you just have to do something awesome.” –video maker Caleb Wojcik.

Here’s another of our Philippines videos where we combine a series of action adventures into one action packed package.

9 Act like a news broadcaster

People like a news feature; check out the viewing figures for any local news TV station. Be your own reporter, producer and editor. Find topical interesting stories and get them on air quickly. Interview people and get into the habit of doing little pieces to camera. Have a go at different activities and film yourself doing them with the experts. Here’s our report on the Scilly sport of gig rowing, filmed shortly before the World Championships.

9 Don’t obsess about quality

“I film on my own. I don’t really know how to work a camera properly if I’m honest. I finds focusing very difficult.” -Zoella

Don’t obsess about perfection. That’s for Vimeo. On YouTube you can get away with a lot as long as you are telling a good story or providing the viewer with what they want to see. Videographer Caleb Wojcik says “Embrace the DIY and the shaky cameras and concentrate on the story. Experiment with different styles of video. Get into the analytics and see when people drop off.”

A flash flood in Dubrovnik a couple of years ago gave us the perfect chance for an action packed video. The sound is terrible, the camera is all over the place, but not only does it do the job, the Dubrovnik TV news picked up on it and boosted our YouTube figures that day.

10 Embrace the mundane

You don’t have to jump out of a plane to get views. Zoella works because her YouTube videos are an intimate experience filmed in her bedroom. Take inspiration from the everyday and things happening around you.

Learning from others on our YouTube journey

Stuart and I have come a long way since we started our YouTube channel. We were early adopters of online video; our first forays were with a geo tagged video app called Punkt. We travelled around Iceland making a Punkt video map of our travels, recording one-take clips and uploading them immediately to the site for sharing. At that time we considered it too much effort to process or edit but that’s changed. These days Stuart’s been known to spend 6 hours cutting a video. And then another six re-cutting it after I’ve looked at it!

In the summer of 2012 we worked on a project with Duracell, initially with a professional crew who taught us a lot while they shot and edited some videos of us in action. We then took their professionalism, hints and tips around the Balkans where we cut our own series of Balkan adventure videos with Stuart sitting up late in stuffy hotel rooms trying to figure out how to turn rushes into something slicker and more engaging. We learnt a lot and shared a post on tips for making fun family videos afterwards.

In Japan last year we took things further, got the kids making their own series of travel videos using just an iPhone and iMovie and extended things further making a short documentary film about controversial whaling practices in Japan. Since then we’ve continued to try and make a video a month, experimenting with different ways of shooting, editing and story telling, often inspired by what we have seen other successful YouTubers, video and film makers do.

Over to you

If you’ve some tips you’d like to share on shooting, editing or others aspects of making engaging YouTube content, then do please leave a comment below. And if you like our work please do subscribe to our YouTube Channel.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • All good information, as usual. I’m trying to find my way in the whole video production and YouTube game, so this is all useful info. Not sure I could take to the hills in a cloud outfit though. As you say, I need to get over myself! Keep up the good work.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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