Before You Shoot - How to Plan a YouTube Video

Last Updated on Mar. 8, 2024 – by David Morgan
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How to Plan a YouTube Video

There are a lot of reasons to avoid planning.

It takes time. It’s hard. It causes major FOMO (fear of missing out) because while you’re planning your YouTube videos, other people are out there filming theirs.

But here’s the thing…

The best creators on YouTube plan their videos before they shoot! Planning your videos before you shoot is not only going to elevate the quality of your work overall, it’s going to make your shooting much easier so you’ll actually be able to create better work, faster. As a result, you’ll be cranking out high-quality videos and your YouTube channel will begin to grow on autopilot, and as other people’s growth stagnates, yours will skyrocket.

Plus, instead of standing awkwardly in front of your camera, shifting your weight from side to side as you try to think of what you’re supposed to say next, you’ll have an organized and useful video presentation that will make people smash that like button, subscribe to your channel, and keep your fans coming back for more.

Now that the population of YouTube creators has skyrocketed to more than 50 million, there’s more competition for eyeballs than ever before. And YouTube fans are getting savvier by the day. They can tell when you’ve thrown a video together, and as a result, YouTubers across the board have upped their game.

Take, for example, the CEO of Smart Passive Income, Pat Flynn. In 2009, he filmed this dark, shaky, off-the-cuff video showing a tour of his one-bedroom apartment.

After a decade of practicing his craft, Flynn now has videos that demonstrate much better planning.

What took Flynn more than 10 years to master, we’re going to show you in this brief but comprehensive guide. You’ll learn the shortcuts to plan your videos like a pro without having to spend years of frustration trying to figure out what went wrong.

Benefits of Planning Your YouTube Videos

The benefits of planning your videos when you create your YouTube channel goes beyond just knowing what you’re going to say. We’ll be covering scripting ideas, but you’re also going to need to determine locations, props, b-roll footage, and more. There’s a lot that goes into creating a video that people want to watch.

But like we said, that’s just one part of the formula for success. Here are the four key benefits that come from the planning process:

  1. Consistency – You’ve probably learned at some point that if you want to get traction on YouTube, you should publish regularly. By planning your videos, you’ll be able to map out a calendar and stay on track with a filming schedule.
  2. Quality – Yes, this benefit is obvious, but also worth stating. Your YouTube videos are likely to be up for years (unless you take them down). So, why not make sure they reflect your best showing?
  3. It becomes easier with time – Look at any top-performing YouTube channel and you’ll see a dramatic progression from their earlier videos to their most recent efforts. Along the way, these pros discovered planning, and they’ll all tell you that the more you practice, the easier it gets. And, that includes planning!
  4. Focus on your zone of genius – Once you’ve got the logistics out of the way, you can focus on being creative! Most YouTube creators don’t love the idea of mapping out every location or prop need on a spreadsheet, but they realize that being organized allows them to focus on the creative aspect of creating a YouTube video.

youtube video planning

Step 1: Plan Your Story

Now that YouTube has been around a while, we’ve got ample data to know what works and what attracts and retains an audience.

Spoiler alert: it’s pretty much identical to what you see in your favorite movies, advertisements, and other digital content.

Video is all about storytelling, whether you’ve got a vlog about your life or you teach software tutorials. We’ll show you how to plan and create a compelling story, no matter what your niche is.

The First 15 Seconds

According to YouTube, the first 15 seconds of your video is the most important. That’s when people make a nearly instant decision to either keep watching or click the back button.

New evidence from Harvard Medical School suggests that this window of opportunity has now shrunk to 8 seconds. This means that you’ve got to have something compelling right off the bat to get people glued to their screens and hanging from the edge of their seat, eager to see what’s coming up next.

Options to “hook” your audience include:

  • A summary of what you’ll learn - For example, “In this video, I’m going to show you how to do underwater basket weaving.”
  • An attention-grabbing headline – The viral advertisement from Purple (a mattress company) starts with, “What’s a super-easy way to tell that your bed is awful? The raw egg test.”
  • An eye-catching visual – The Purple video continues at 4 seconds with a woman dressed as Goldilocks dropping raw eggs on the mattress to prove it.
  • A teaser of what’s coming up later – This can be an excerpt from one of the best parts of your script or a preview of other parts of the video. By giving viewers a sneak peek, they can make a quick decision about whether they want to stick around.

  • Make an Outline and a Storyboard

    The chance that you’ll remember everything and stay on track without an outline is virtually nil. Make sure you map out what you want to cover in advance.

    You might also want to consider a storyboard, especially if you’re going to shoot in more than one location, you’ll be using props, or guests will appear in your video.

    By combining an outline and a storyboard, you’ll have a clear picture of everything that is going to happen in the video and when. If you have a team, then this step is absolutely essential because it will enlighten everyone to your vision while ensuring they’re all on the same page.

    Think of the outline as a list of your talking points and the storyboard as a simple presentation of the visuals in your video.

    youtube video style

    Follow This Proven Structure

    Just about every professional YouTuber follows a formula called the HICC formula.

    • Hook - How will you grab their attention (see the previous section).
    • Intro - Introduce the topic, but keep it brief and compelling.
    • Content – This is the bulk of your video, the actual topic.
    • Call to action – Don’t forget to tell people what you want them to do, such as like, comment, subscribe, watch another video, follow you on social media.

    Determine the Right Video Length

    There’s no single right answer to how long your video should be, but keep in mind that shorter videos get the highest completion rate. Naturally, this makes sense because it’s easier to sit through a one-minute video than a 15-minute video.

    That doesn’t mean a short video is always your best option, though. You have to balance the goal of sharing in-depth and valuable information with keeping people interested. According to YouTube, the recommended length is a range between 7 and 15 minutes.

    Step 2: Plan the Logistics

    Once you know what you’re going to say and how you want to say it, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to make it happen.

    If you skip this step, then you’re asking for obstacles like your desired location being closed, or your video shoot running hours past when you’d planned to wrap.

    No matter how good you are at planning, there are always unforeseen things that can go wrong, but the goal here is to help things go as smoothly as possible.

    Scout Your Location

    Unless you’re filming in your bedroom, you’ll have a lot of factors to consider about location accessibility. Are there certain hours you can’t access a spot? Do you need permission to shoot there? Is it noisy or are there objects or obstructions that will mess with your view or your lighting?

    Don’t forget to check that where you’re filming is well-lit, quiet, and you can get a good shot. It’s also smart to take some test footage and review the sound quality and lighting to confirm that both the location and your equipment are right for your needs before committing to a location for shooting.

    Create a Shot List

    What scenes are you filming and at what time? This step is crucial if you have a lot of moving parts. You might need a call sheet for more advanced production. Or, you can simply mark up your storyboard with times and instructions in the margins. The key is to have all your shots documented.

    A basic shot list should include the following information:

    • Who is in the shot
    • What action is occurring
    • Location
    • Camera Direction (how is the camera positioned and what the camera should be doing)

    Prep the Talent

    If you’re the only one in the video, you can skip this step. However, if you’re going to be using friends, family members, coworkers, or professional actors, you’ll need to prep them for success.

    At a minimum, have the following covered:

    • Instructions for hair, wardrobe, and makeup. Will you provide it for them, or are they expected to show up ready for action?
    • Any release forms that permit you to use their likeness in your video and anywhere else you’ll need it (like social media, your website, etc.)
    • A list of your expectations. Is there a script to memorize? Do they need to know how to juggle?

    Make a Calendar

    It’s rare for a YouTube creator to wake up in the morning and say, “I’m going to film a video today!” Then bounce out the door with their camera and come back hours later to complete the editing and upload.

    Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither should your videos.

    For each video, have a calendar of tasks and due dates. You can include a deadline for your script and outline completion when editing your video is due, and when you plan to publish your video.

    If you’re working with other people on your video, don’t forget to share the calendar with them and get feedback about any concerns about meeting a deadline before you get started.

    Step 3: Determine Your Brand Identity

    Too often, talented creators slap together their brand as an afterthought. However, you’ll take your videos to the next level by creating a brand identity and then incorporating it into your videos during production. Creating a unique aesthetic will not only look great, but it will also help viewers identify you from the crowd!

    For example, does your logo have the color orange in it? Consider filming in a spot that has décor that complements your brand colors. Get creative here! By having a consistent look and feel to your videos, you’ll be instantly recognizable and grow an audience that much faster.

    youtube video style

    Determine Your Outro

    Don’t do the awkward wave at the end of a video, followed by a creepy walk to the off button on your camera. Instead, you’ll want something more professional. It could be a digital outro that has your logo or a signature phrase you say at the end of your video. Create something that leaves an impact, calls your audience to action, reminds them who you are, and be consistent!

    Keep Your Branding Top of Mind

    As you plan your video, you should have your brand colors easily accessible in a folder or written down somewhere. The same goes for your logos and images. This step might seem premature, but after you’re done shooting, and it’s time to start editing, you’ll be glad that you have all your digital assets all in one place for easy access.

    Get B-Roll Footage

    B-Roll footage is any video you use that isn’t obtained when shooting your principal footage. A good example of B-Roll is stock video. You can plan where you’re going to place your b-roll footage during the storyboard or outline phase. By knowing where you want to put your b-roll in advance, you can plan to read from your script when you know your face won’t be on camera. This can cut down the time it takes to memorize a script.

    It’s also helpful if you’re talking about something technical, and you don’t want the camera to pick up on your eyes going back and forth across the screen as they try to keep up with a teleprompter. Never underestimate how much B-Roll you might need, its always better to shoot or collect more than you think you’ll need!

    Step 4: Plan Your Equipment Needs

    There’s a helpful blog post, How to Create Your Youtube Home Studio that discusses all the equipment you need to be successful on YouTube.

    After you finish reading this, head on over to that article to get more details. It will tell you everything you need to know about choosing the right camera, mic, lights, editing software for post-production, and set design gear.

    Advanced Tips

    Over the years, we’ve also discovered these other helpful and time-saving tips that will lead to high-quality videos for your YouTube channel.

    • Invest in a teleprompter – This makes reading from a script so much easier. Trust us!
    • Practice – Run through your script multiple times, but make sure you record because that first practice session might be your best!
    • Overestimate the time you’ll need – Tasks often take longer than we optimistically estimate, and even the most minor mishap can put a wrinkle in even the best-planned video shoot. We recommend adding a buffer of about 20-30% longer than you anticipate. That way, if you’re done “early,” everyone can rejoice!
    • Write down your ideas - Keep all of your ideas written down somewhere, and bring a notebook (or your smartphone) with you wherever you go. You never know when inspiration will strike.
    • Learn the features of your video editor - You'll be suprised at all the amazing features video editors have to offer, you could end up saving a ton of time during post-production.


    Planning your first few videos might seem like a lot of work, but we can promise you three things:

    1. The more you do it, the easier it gets. As you get the hang of planning and filming video, you’ll be able to work more quickly and with better results.
    2. It’s so worth it! A well-planned and organized video will be more polished and professional than a video where you just wing it. Even if it makes sense in your head, your video will greatly benefit from putting all of your ideas down before you shoot. And if you’re looking to grow your audience and subscribers (who isn’t?), then make sure you plan each YouTube video before you shoot!
    3. If you’re just starting, know that you will get better. No matter how much work and planning you put into your videos at the beginning, you’re going to keep improving. But, don’t let the unattainable idea of perfection deter you from stepping in front of the camera. Remember, done is better than perfect.

    If you liked reading this article, you may like reading our ultimate guide to becoming a YouTuber. Check out our blog section to view even more great articles

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