Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Top 5 tips for Screencasting (avoiding scream-casting!)

Image by conskeptical
Reproduced under a CC licence
This blog post is borne out of recent "intensive" screencasting sessions done on Camtasia in our University creative media suite. I must say I was impressed by Camtasia 8 and it made my particular screencasts (focused on aspects of Turnitin functionality for my Turnitin project) much easier to complete.

Now this is a top 5 mainly for those that maybe have not had much experience in screencasting, and I am going to keep it pretty brief (just like any good screencast).

1. Know your subject

Sounds fairly obvious I know, but if your demonstrating a particular aspect of a software program you really need to know how that particular element of functionality works, right down to its little idiosyncrasies.

2.  KISS

Not used this acronym for a while but the old maxim "Keep It Simple Stupid" does apply here. This means both keeping the material your presenting easy to follow,  but also holding back on some of the bells and whistles that are available in many screencasting programs that are oh so tempting to use. Finally try to keep the screencast to no more than 3 minutes. If it needs to be longer, split it into two parts.
3. Script it

Perhaps the most important point of all is to script your screencast, and in fact storyboarding is also a very good idea. Scripting means writing down exactly what you want to say verbatim. This prevents needless screencast "re-takes", as it is amazing how the power of speech fails somewhat when you are recording (speaking from experience here!).

Storyboarding your screencast should come before the scripting. Storyboarding is the process of "sketching" out what you want to cover in the presentation. The way I do it is to have a two column template with the visual on the left hand side, and prompt text on the right. This way, you make sure you have not missed anything vital in the material.

4. Testing testing

When it comes to using any audio/visual software/hardware it is a good idea to demo levels first. You don't want the audio to be "clipping" (meaning too loud) and you dont want the video to look blurry or hard to see. Simply record a short 30 second test, export it to your desired format (avi, mp4 etc) and check that everything seems ok.

5. Audio

This tip appeals to the recording musician side of me, but I do think it has a place here. Using a decent microphone going into a reasonable soundcard will give you a clear audio track, which serves to make your screencast sound more professional. If you are doing a quick screencast, which maybe has a limited audience, then the headset microphone would do just fine. However, if your wanting to get across detailed information about a subject, then the audio does need to be clear and consistent.

Ok, so that is my brief top 5 based on recent experience, if you have others then feel free to share!



  1. I think it's useful for screencasts if viewers can see your face as well. Admittedly this isn't possible with free online screencasting tools, but if you use Camtasia you can record your face using the webcam and then put it into a small corner of the screen while the rest of the screencast is happening. This is particularly helpful if any non-native speakers might be viewing it.

    Another thing is to use the zoom function if at all possible to make it clear where exactly people should click or what they should write/search for etc. If you just record the whole screen, it can be very difficult for viewers to see exactly where you are clicking. If possible, add some kind of highlights (e.g. red circles/squares) round key text/links.

    1. Those are excellent additional tips, David. Thank you!

    2. Agreed on the webcam - and actually Screencast-o-Matic does include webcam support for those doing it for free.

  2. My contributions include

    6. Location, location, location. Pick a private, quiet room in which to screencast from. Background noise can be distracting both during the recording stage and for your future listeners. Sometimes I've been known to put a sign on the door to stop people form knocking or trying to enter during a recording.

    7. I'm in two minds about the scripting issue as it can sound very dry and like you are indeed just reading a script if you're not careful and you lose the 'live delivery' feel. In my experience I've often done a first take and then used the second take because it was fresh in my mind what I wanted to say and I could speak more naturally. Andy Tattersall has also been experimenting with standing up to record screencasts in a bid to make it sound more lively.

    8. Microphone placement. Make sure if you are using a headset, that your mic isn't too close to your mouth in order to avoid popping sounds on certain words starting with 'b' and 'p'

    9. Get all of your application and browser windows open at the beginning and at the correct position and size on your screen in relation to the area you are capturing. This may sound obvious but you want to be able to just ALT-Tab from one window to another to move focus without having to do resizing etc.

    10. Consider where you screencast is going to live and who will be using it. For external contributors we've found using a 'screencast-o-matic' account beneficial as people can record from anywhere with it being a browser-based tool. Great for getting international perspectives into your course. Also, tools like Echo360 manage the whole uploading, compressing and hosting of your end files neatly. With products like Camtasia you need to be mindful of where you are going to host your end product.

    1. Wow thanks for the additional tips Luke, that's great! I do agree with you a bit on the scripting actually, it can inhibit the performance quite a lot in some scenarios.I was on the 4th or 5th take on one of my more "involved" screencast sections however, so thats where scripting had to come in!

  3. 11. Record as little of the screen as possible, especially when the screen is text heavy. It will be compressed when exported, and compressed again when uploading it to a video server. This means small text will be unreadable smudges if you're not careful. Best to minimise the application your recording to as small as is practical, or (if you need to record fullscreen) changing your screen to a smaller resolution. I've seen too many presentations where people have recorded text on top spec iMac screens and wondered why it's not readable!

    12. Don't worry too much about ums, ahs and a few stumbles. You wouldn't if you were doing a presentation for real, and so it just sounds natural. Don't get paranoid about ironing out errors, unless you think they're particularly distracting.

    13. Make it as visual as possible - remember in real life they're focusing on a person, but the same Powerpoint slide onscreen for five minutes doesn't make a great Screencast. Think about adding photos to break things up if it's getting text heavy (Creative Commons is a good source, but remember to credit accordingly).

    14. Keep it as short as possible, especially if you've got quite a dry presentation!

  4. Ah the recording size of the screen, that is a top top tip!



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