24 tips to make eye-catching screencasts

Posted on August 22nd, 2009 by Ian

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.

New Screencast Tools Added

Posted on August 20th, 2009 by Ian

I’ve just added some tools to the screencast software page, it now lists Sizer, MouseZoom, ffmpeg and GSpot for Windows along with ffmpeg for Linux and Adobe Premiere for Windows and Mac.

More will come as I fill in the list.

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Added a list of screencasting software

Posted on August 19th, 2009 by Ian

Since there are so many screencasting software packages, I’ve created this screencast software summary list.

The list links to all the main packages that I know about, I’ve used most of them and so I discuss them in The Screencasting Handbook.  If I’ve missed anything, just drop me a comment.

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Gasto’s write-up

Posted on August 16th, 2009 by Ian

Gasto has written a lovely short review piece about The Screencasting Handbook on his blog:

“Ian Ozsvald is releasing his screencasting handbook. A manual to cover all screencasting aspects involved in producing videos for web/DVD distribution, to show products, website, and educational content.
Screencasting has become a very important yet unknown profession, that shares territory with teaching, software programming, software usage, and general computer knowledge, along with video/audio editing, voice-over, video compression/encoding and multitasking.”

New Chapter Outlines Ready

Posted on August 15th, 2009 by Ian

Over the last few days I wrote the first 3,000 words for the Handbook, you can find an updated draft here.  Progress is moving along nicely, the chapter headings are mostly fixed now and the contents of the book should answer most of the questions I’ve encountered.

Now to get on with delivering the content!

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Watching Google as TheScreencastingHandbook enters the index

Posted on August 13th, 2009 by Ian

Mea Culpa – I was wondering why it was taking Google so long to index this site and only 2 days back did I discover that NoFollow and NoIndex were set in the META tags.  Oops.  If this happens to you with WordPress see Settings|Privacy and make sure you enable everyone and bots to read the content!

I’ve kept a close eye on Google using their site: search (site:thescreencastinghandbook.com) to see how my pages would be indexed.  Interestingly the first thing to go in was my pdf linked from the homepage that details my chapter outline, that was yesterday.  Today I see two ‘tag’ links to Captivate and Workflow (they are rather unimportant tags to me, but maybe Google thinks otherwis?).

Update: one day later I see two pages of results for the site: query where google has indexed all of my ‘tag’ entries and this blog post, but not the homepage or other blog entries yet.

I wish that Google Webmaster Tool had flagged that the entire site was flagged NoFollow and NoIndex, I’d have flipped the privacy switch weeks back if I’d have realised.  Still, every day it is good to learn something new!

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Proposed Chapter Outlines

Posted on August 10th, 2009 by Ian

Subject to some minor changes, these are likely to be the main chapters that will appear in TheScreencastingHandbook.  Over in the Screencast Handbook Google Group we’re having a very useful conversation about the topics just so I know exactly what everyone wants to learn about

If you want to be notified about our progress with the book (the first release will probably be public at the end of August), sign-up to our notifications list on the homepage.

You’ll be able to find a more up to date version of the chapter list on the main site (or here as a pdf).  As of the start of August, this is what I’ll probably be covering:

  • Introduction
    • Ian – Teacher, Founder, Screencaster and Researcher
    • Why I’m writing this book
  • What’s the value of screencasting?
    • Tutorials – learning by seeing
    • Product Tours – seeing your problem solved
  • Who else is screencasting?
    • Tutorials
    • Product Tours
    • Technical Support
    • Grant & Proposal Support
    • Recording a Meeting
  • Making a Screencast in 30 minutes
  • Making a Screencast inside 1 day
  • A deeper look at the techniques behind screencasting
    • Research – what problem are you solving?
      • Tours
      • Tutorials
      • Tech Support
    • Planning – how are you going to show your solution?
    • Prototype – making the rough-draft
    • Production – creating the final screencast
      • Recording the video
      • Recording the narration
      • Sequencing it all
      • Adding music
      • Adding a title screen
    • Export – which file formats do you need?
  • Embedding
    • CamTasia’s Player
    • JW FLV Player
    • FlowPlayer
  • Distribution
    • YouTube
    • Vimeo
    • ShowMeDo
  • Common Workflows
    • ShowMeDo – ‘good enough is good enough’ tutorials
    • ProCasts – professional software tours
    • Recording Meetings
  • Screencasting software
    • Windows
      • CamTasia
      • BBFlashBack
      • HyperCam
      • CamStudio
      • Captivate
      • Screencam
    • Mac
      • ScreenFlow
      • iShowU
      • SnapzPro
    • Linux
      • RecordMyDesktop
      • xVidCap
    • Web-apps
      • Jing
      • ScreenToaster
      • ScreenCastle
  • Microphones and hardware
    • Microphones
    • Mouse vs Trackball?
    • Webcam
    • Copy-holder
  • How Screencasting Works
    • A History of Screencasting and Screencams
    • Screencast Technology
  • Other resources
    • ShowMeDo.com
    • Lynda.com
    • Peepcode.com
    • Scrast.net
    • ScreenCastsOnline
    • Books
  • Getting More Help
    • The Screencasting Handbook’s Google Group
  • Tell others about The Screencasting Handbook
    • Spreading the word
    • Fair use and excerpts
  • Acknowledgements

Apologies for the unresponsive site

Posted on August 6th, 2009 by Ian

Sorry for the downtime this afternoon, this all happened just at the same time that Twitter went down.  I suspect that my Twitter Pro plug-in was doing something odd (I tried chasing it with Firebug and YSlow! but it was so slow it was hard to get answers).

In response I disabled both the Twitter and the Blog RSS widgets on the right sidebar and installed WP Super Cache.  Everything seems to be back to normal now.

Update – I added both widgets back in and they appear to render quickly.  For safety’s sake I’ll leave the Twitter Pro widget off until tomorrow, the Feedburner-backed RSS Blog widget seems to be behaving just fine.

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Chapter Outlines Available

Posted on August 5th, 2009 by Ian

I’m happy to say that the first outline of the proposed chapters is ready, grab the pdf here.

I’ll be inviting the early sign-ups into our Google Group shortly to discuss the chapters, mostly I want to make sure that I’m covering the obvious areas that people want to learn about.

If you’d like to get involved in the discussion, visit TheScreencastingHandbook.com‘s homepage and sign-up to the notifications list at the base of the page.

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TheScreencastingHandbook.com site is ready!

Posted on August 1st, 2009 by Ian

W00t, TheScreencastingHandbook.com site is now ready and live. I’m very excited, now I can focus on drafting the chapter list for the book and iterating on the ideas with the readers who have already signed-up to the email list.

I’m working on the draft chapter list today, next I can work on expanding the first chapter and getting the first release ready for mid-August.