3 mistakes beginner YouTubers make — and how to fix them

Starting a YouTube channel can be overwhelming. Many creators have to simultaneously be their own camera operator, sound mixer, writer, editor, data analyst, and host. It’s hard to master them all.

It’s no surprise then that many creators make the same errors when launching their channels, whether they’re technical or creative. Here are three of the most common mistakes I’ve seen that are subtly sabotaging their success.

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Mistake #1: Not establishing a curiosity gap

If you’ve ever wondered “what’s the point?” and stopped watching a video, there’s a good chance the creator didn’t establish and maintain a curiosity gap.

A curiosity gap forms when a person is given a piece of information that raises additional questions and makes them want to know more. It’s a tactic used in marketing, sales, and most important for our purposes, video storytelling. 

Consider one of the greatest YouTube videos ever published, “I Cooked a Chicken by Slapping It.”

This simple declaration raises the question, “How?” followed by a “But why?” or even possibly “What did it taste like?” Every minute of the video follows the creator’s attempts, failures, and finally success, and every minute plays to the curiosity gap established in the title.

Curiosity gaps may introduce a mystery (like Veritasium’s “How One Line in the Oldest Math Text Hinted at Hidden Universes”), introduce a premise a viewer wants to see play out (like slapping a chicken by cooking it), or make a declaration the viewer wants explained (Vox’s “It’s Not You, Bad Doors are Everywhere”). 

Too many novice YouTubers don’t establish a good curiosity gap in their title and thumbnail. Using a bland title like “Thursday Vlog” or a declaration of the topic (“Grover Cleveland’s Presidency”) will not only hurt your click-through rate, but also reduce the chances of keeping viewers until the end, hurting your retention rate.

But even YouTube who may have a knack for curiosity-driven titles may not deliver on them properly. It’s a popular tactic to answer the video’s premise at the end of the video—murder mysteries don’t tell you the killer in the first act, after all. But this also carries a risk: will a viewer stick around for 45 minutes to answer a basic point of curiosity? Videos of all kinds need to remind their viewer why they should continue watching. 

How to fix it

  • If you’re doing explainer content, each answer should be followed by additional questions that the viewer wants answered. 
  • If you’re making narrative content, any resolved tension should beget new tension (think any prestige television where the protagonist gets out of some dilemma only to confront a new problem). 
  • If you’re making comedy content, the humor should escalate so the viewer is constantly wondering how far the joke will go. 
  • Many kinds of content also benefit from signposting, telling the viewer what’s coming next as a way to keep them interested. 

The most important exercise is to review your script or edit and ask yourself, “If I asked the viewer why they’re still watching, what would they say?”

Mistake #2: Not understanding your gear

The Blue Yeti is an immensely popular, beginner-friendly microphone that allows creators to easily improve their audio quality without going broke. It’s also something that I see being used improperly on a weekly basis. Even Community’s Joe McHale has fallen victim to improper Yeti use.

The Yeti is a side-address microphone, with a diaphragm in the front face of the microphone, rather than its top-side. An easy mis-understanding like McHale’s can quickly make your $100 microphone sound like a $10  headset. Yeti or otherwise, I see tons of YouTubers putting their microphones several feet from their face - all but guaranteeing noisy, poor-quality audio. 

Diagram of where to speak into a Yeti microphone

Read the manual and watch tutorials, whether you’re investing in a microphone or any other equipment. It won’t just stop you from making mistakes; you might also learn about new possibilities as you dive into the frame rate settings of your camera or the processing settings on your audio recording.

Learning the basics of audio and video will help too: things like the difference between condenser and dynamic microphones, the basics of video resolution and frame rate, and the different types of video cuts are a good starting point.

Mistake #3: Staying on one thing for too long

To keep your viewers engaged, you’ve got to understand—and use—the concept of pattern disruption. Put simply, pattern disruption aims to interrupt anything that runs the risk of becoming monotonous with something different or novel. Too many novice creators don’t fully appreciate the value of pattern disruption, and when they don’t use it properly, they risk losing viewers.

Videos lacking pattern disruption may take many forms. Long, unedited zoom calls, or hosted tutorials that never cut away from the host are classic examples.

Here’s how to think about fixing it. Instead of a 5-minute uninterrupted shot of a speaker reviewing a tech product, insert shots of the product itself and the product being used. If you’re speaking extensively to the camera, change locations or add movement. 

Our brains love pattern disruption - don’t linger too long on the exact same visual, and don’t belabor a point for longer than you need to. 

The adventure-driven content of Tom Scott is a great example of using the filming environment to make sure the visuals never get stale. But if you don’t have a travel or animation budget, consider how Tibees went viral for her clever blackboard illustrations of the 4th dimension. Other creators may mix things up by inserting clips of popular media, one of the baked-in benefits of doing reaction content.

How to incorporate this advice

I’m a big proponent of imitation as a means of learning. As you watch established YouTubers you enjoy, ask “What has this video done to keep my interest?” Look at how they liven up their video with animations, shot locations, and simple editing techniques. Take note of any gear that’s visible—are they using background lighting? What kind of microphone do they have?

Of course, the best advice is to just start creating. Never let the fear of not doing something perfectly stop you from making the videos you’re passionate about.

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