Creating screencasts

Paul Boag

Video is becoming an intrinsic part of the web and not just dumb ass videos on YouTube. Video can be used to show off products and provide online presentations. But how do you create a high quality screencast on a budget?

I seem to be creating a lot of screencasts lately. Whether it is recording a keynote presentation or demonstrating some web work, it is a useful way of communicating information.

Here are a few tips that I have picked up along the way.

Add talking head video

Most screencasts are either a powerpoint style presentation or video of your desktop. However, if you want more impact and to better engage with your users, add yourself talking to camera. This really grabs attention.

Image of a presentation I recorded using myself speaking to camera

Have a clean background

If you are recording yourself in-front of a busy background it looks unprofessional. Think carefully about what is behind you. If in doubt record against a plain wall. Also, remove all unnecessary icons from your desktop and make sure your wallpaper is simple and appropriate.

If it’s important, script it

If you are demonstrating an idea to a work colleague then by all means record it spontaneously. However, if it is something more important, write a script that you read. It is surprisingly hard to record live to camera and a script helps a lot.

Try an online teleprompter to prevent your eyes continually flicking down to read your script. I have the following setup to ensure my eye line is as close to the camera as possible.

Photograph of recording setup

Use decent equipment

Do not rely on your laptops inbuilt mic and webcam. The quality will suffer. Instead, I plug in my camcorder via firewire and record from that. Audio I capture through a Samson C01U mic.

Check out screenflow

By far the best screen recorder I have found is Screenflow for the mac. It is amazingly easy to use and can capture full screen video. If you are a Windows user then take a look at Camtasia. Unfortunately it is considerably more expensive and not as good but it is the best I have found for Windows.

A Screenshot of Screenflow

Normal presentation techniques apply

As with any presentation it is important to be enthusiastic, clear spoken and engaging. Avoid becoming monotone as you speak and make sure you don’t sound as if you are reading.

Choose your player wisely

Think about how you are going to add the video to your website. Not all online video services are equal. Personally I like Vimeo. It places few limitations on file size or length. That said, all of these services compress the hell out of your video. If the quality is poor I suggest hosting the file yourself and using the JW FLV Media Player. Despite the name can play a variety of video formats.

That is what I have learnt so far. Do you have any additional tips you could share? I would love to hear your thoughts.