24 tips to make eye-catching screencasts

Are you making your own screencasts? Frustrated that they’re not generating the reactions you want? Annoyed by your audio?  Feeling that you’re recording without a plan?

Here we present 24 tips borne from many years of screencasting experience whilst teaching 100,000 users a month at ShowMeDo and explaining client’s products inside ProCasts:

  1. Avoid built-in and 3.5mm (analogue) microphones – they introduce background hum. Often built-in mics pick up fans and the heavy thump of fingers on keys and mics with 3.5mm plugs introduce background hum from motherboard electrical signals which is hard to remove, so…
  2. Do use a USB mic – digital microphone connections bypass the built-in analogue circuitry and so keep analogue noise out, this makes your final audio sound much more professional. More expensive mics and equipment give superior results (more mic and audio tips for screencasting).  Avoid street noise, refrigerator/fan hum, blowing on the mic, don’t let the mic rub on your clothing or hair
  3. Let you users embed your screencast – YouTube and Vimeo make this easy, by using these sites your users will know they can easily embed a copy in their site too (great for getting exposure!)
  4. Have a plan – you’ve thought about your audience, now question what they need to know and how you’ll teach them
  5. Storyboard – sketch the scenes to clarify what you’re making. First sketch what you want to achieve, then plan each scene with comments about narration, actions and intent for each scene (wikipedia)
  6. Run your script past a copywriter – explain your aims and let her re-write elements of your script with more appropriate, persuasive and compact language
  7. Software tools – evaluate all your screencast software options, you have many tools from free to expensive professional options (short guide) – make sure you have a good editor
  8. Edit out the dull bits – nobody likes watching a spinning hourglass, wiggling mouse or slowly-painting window. Use a video editor to remove all the deadwood, your viewers will thank you!  You did get an editor, right?
  9. Think about your audience’s needs. What’s the shortest message you can give that answers their questions?
  10. Practice – do several trial runs, you’ll sound more natural and you’ll ‘um’ and ‘err’ far less
  11. Use annotations to give supporting information – extra text on-screen in call-outs can give useful background information that’s secondary to the narration. Plan them when story-boarding to help reduce the narration
  12. Make the mouse visible – it can be useful to highlight the mouse (a yellow translucent background is common) as your viewer can easily follow the mouse’s movement
  13. Don’t be upset by mistakes – remember that often for simple mistakes if you don’t move the mouse, or move the mouse back to an earlier position, you can pick right up and edit out the bad bit – just stay calm and collect your thoughts and then try to recover
  14. Keep it short – the shorter it is, the more will watch it. 30 seconds to 1 minute is easily watched, 5 minutes often feels like a chore.  Aim to get across 90% of the information in 1-2 minutes compared to 100% in 5 minutes and you’ll be on the right track
  15. Edit edit edit – trim all the dead scenes and sections that don’t contribute to the story, keep it moving and keep it short
  16. Produce at 640×480 – this resolution works for the majority of viewers around the world as the video and control bar on the player remain visible even on 1024×768 monitors in a standard web browser
  17. Use zooms – zooms let you focus on the key elements with a larger font, if you’re zoomed out all the time you might be forcing your viewer to squint or perhaps they can’t read your text at all!
  18. Have a quiet PC fanlow-noise fans reduce the hum that your mic will record
  19. Read other people’s tips for Camtasia (1,2,3) and ScreenFlow (1,2,3,4)
  20. Improve you audio – use a tool like Audacity to record, clean and edit your narration before you edit it into your screencast (screencast guide to narration editing with Audacity)
  21. Understand what’s interesting – using YouTube’s Insight feature you can see which parts of your screencast are more interesting to viewers after you’ve had 1,000 views
  22. Use musicadd music to your screencast for professional-looking demos, fade it in at the start and out at the end (use the envelope tool in Audacity)
  23. Transitions – to move smoothly between scenes use transitions in your editor, stick to just one or two types for one production (don’t use all the transitions you find, it’ll look horrid!)
  24. See other examples – watch over 1,000 examples of screencasts by 100 authors at ShowMeDo to get an idea of what can be produced with various levels of skill and equipment

Want more tips?  Read our Screencasting Handbook, you’ll get all of our experience along with flowcharts, checklists and a vibrant discussion group.


To improve your screencasting knowledge you must read The Screencasting Handbook. The author (Ian Ozsvald) also blogs.
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24 tips to make eye-catching screencasts by The Screencasting Handbook - the screencasting tutorial eBook, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

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7 People have left comments on this post



» Eddy said: { Aug 22, 2009 - 12:08:15 }

Good tips. I’ve been playing with that new free Screenr tool and ran across your tips. Screenr lets you download the MP4s without the logo. Is there a free MP4 editor that you’re aware of?

» Alex said: { Aug 22, 2009 - 03:08:12 }

How about live real-time screencasts? ScreenCamera is a powerful tool that transforms the computer desktop into a webcam that can be used to make live screencasts through Skype, LiveStream, UStream, Messengers, or any other video conferencing/chat app or website. It is a great tool for the educator and for anyone wanting to provide long distance tutorials on any given subject.

Having said that here is a link for the application:
http://www.pcwinsoft.com/screencamera/

Enjoy,
Alex

Excellent advice, thanks. As a professional screencaster, I like to see people entering this field and doing great new work. BTW, you can see my work at http://www.nutintuit.com.

Ian, these tips are pretty cool. Music is a very important part of ANY kind of viewing media, from a movie trailer to a screencast. I’ve never done a screencast but I have seen a few on lynda.com and other tutorial sites, and even without music I can say they still convey their message.

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