Creating quick little instruction screen cast videos is so easy now these days, particularly with free awesome tools like Jing (click, record, publish to URL… easy). And they’re incredibly powerful in helping people out and recording bug repros. But it’s also so far too easy to make crappy bad videos that are confusing or boring. It just takes some conscious awareness of the process to make a great video.
Update 11/12/2012: okay, the list has grown to a bit more than 10, but hey, it’s all good.
Here are my tips after a few years of recording videos. My thanks goes out to the speaker training I received at Microsoft, to the many colleagues that have produced excellent videos, and for their providing feedback on my attempts.
These tips are for meant for short recordings of generally less than 5 min. Captures designed for single takes of relatively simple topics. I use Jing which is just super easy and free (upgrade to Pro for improved audio quality), but Camtasia works just as well (but is costly and far more complex). You can of course spend much time polishing in post-production using tools Camtasia’s zooming, annotations, editing, etc, but that’s not the point of these tips. They’re focused on making the recording itself.
- Use a loss-less codec. It is annoying to see video of a screen that is too small or fuzzy to see clearly. It is poor form when a loss-less codec would look perfect. Jing and Camtasia support loss-less recording (careful w Camtasia’s output, choose ‘original resolution’ when producing).
- Recorded simple, clear, verbal instructions along with the video.
- Drop your screen resolution as low as possible, 800×600 if you can (1024×768 if not) or resize an app to the minimum size needed and record just that app’s area. It keeps the watcher focused, reduces wasted visual space, and makes it easy for them to watch the video. You can make these easy with global hotkeys.
- Make sure the mic level is set appropriately so that on playback the volume isn’t too low or too strong (how to vid).
- Prep everything ahead of time for a smooth video focused on exactly and only the topic at hand. Reset states, settings, and apps before each new take. Do not record boring or obvious steps like repeatedly logging into a website or launching an app that takes awhile to load.
- Watch the video yourself and imagine you’re someone that’s never seen this before, is it simple, clear, interesting, and easy to understand without being boring?
Once getting a grasp on the basics above, continue on with these…
- Use a good quality external microphone. Even a $20 unit from Best Buy will produce significantly better audio than what’s in the laptop. Like this $20 Logitech USB mic on amazon. Or get a great mic, like the Samson CO1U USB condenser mic (I use the Samson CO3U).
- Remove your hand from the mouse when not purposely clicking on something so that the mouse doesn’t move (which is distracting).
- Keep videos as short as absolutely possible, people’s attention span is very short. The shorter the video the more they’ll remember and happier they’ll be.
- Verbally tell the listener what to click on as you click. Even though it should be obvious because you’re doing it in the video, telling the user brings their attention to it. Like “We click on ‘File’, ‘Save As’, then type the name MyApp.config and hit enter.”
- Pause momentarily before and after clicking, to let the person focus and understand what you’re moving onto next.
- Use the mouse to draw the watcher’s attention to a part of the screen as you tell them about it. People’s eyes will naturally follow the mouse and they won’t really be listening while it’s moving. Don’t move the mouse unintentionally as it is quite distracting.
- Give a <10 sec intro at the start to state the what and why about the video. Like “This is John Smith and I’m going to show you how to disable Windows Explorer file expansion.”
- Use a title screen. Like a single PowerPoint slide in full-screen with the title of the video or even just notepad or Word with the font enlarged.
- It may take 3, 6, or more attempts to get the video ‘right’, but it’s worth it. Keep going until it’s right, smooth, and tight.
- Avoid talk without show. It slows the video down considerably if there’s talking/audio, without actually actively showing something. I try to cut out any times where you may just talk without actively demonstrating.
- Grab a co-worker to view a draft of the video to get their feedback and refine your style before sending more broadly. A second pair of eyes can turn up a lot, particularly if they regularly record videos too.
- Don’t use superfluous words, sentences, or phrases (like “um”). Keep the verbiage very focused on what’s actually needed. These may be normal and mostly overlooked in casual conversation but are amplified and stick out like a sore thumb when recorded. The clarity of speech is also a direct indication of the presenter’s competence.
- Have fun! Make it sound like you’re interested in the topic. If you’re not interested, the listener won’t be.
So what tips would you add? Please share in the comments.