15 Handy Tips for Recording Engaging Screencasts

screencastLast month, I wrote a series of posts about virtual client support and some of the tools you can use to do it effectively, covering remote desktop applications and screen capture tools. Another exceptional technology for training clients virtually is screencasting.

Today, we’ll cover some of the best practices for developing professional screencasts, and tomorrow I’ll provide a list of screencasting tools to help you get the job done.

  1. Start with an Outline – Before recording, take time to outline the topics the video will cover so you can create a flow, much like you would do for a live presentation.
  2. Focus on the Audience’s Needs – Your outline should help you identify the unique problem you are solving for your audience. Keep it in mind as you go through the screencast so it’s completely relevant to those following along.
  3. Get a Good Mic – As with all audio, clarity is vital. Invest in a really good microphone that helps eliminate background noise and static. It will make the necessary editing work much easier to manage.
  4. Lock Out the Noise Makers – Even if you have an excellent mic, your screencast can go downhill fast with dogs barking, kids screaming and phones ringing.
  5. Consider Separating Audio and Video – If you find that recording the video and the audio at the same time is too much and you’re having trouble talking while you click, do the video first then go back and record the audio separately.
  6. Clean Up Your Desktop – If you have 173 icons sitting on your desktop and plan to open apps from that location during the video, clean it up and remove unused clutter. Not only will it cut down on the time it takes you to find what you’re looking for, but it will also look a lot more professional.
  7. Close Out Apps – Before starting, exit all of the applications you won’t be using to avoid interruptions (email notifications, IM pings, etc.). This will also speed up the processing of the apps you are using.
  8. Plan a Dress Rehearsal – Do a walk-through before you start recording. While you don’t want to over practice, going through the video at least once will make it more natural and smooth.
  9. Be Confident – You know your stuff, that’s why you’re making a screencast. Let your experience and confidence show.
  10. Speak Slowly – As with any presentation, think about what you’re saying, take time to breathe and try to pace yourself. Sure you can go back and edit, but consciously thinking about your speed will cut down on the edits you need to make.
  11. Take Breaks – If you find that you are talking faster than you’d like, hit pause. One of the best things about making a screencast is that you control the process, so if you need to take five, do it.
  12. Try Improvisation Instead of Starting Over – Don’t let your breaks stop your progression. Instead of stopping, rewinding and starting over when something doesn’t come out right, try to go with the flow and see what happens.
  13. Let Go of Perfection – When you do misclick, misspeak or make a mistake, it’s OK. Unless you’re doing a screencast on the perfect screencast, little gaffes are expected and make you more relatable.
  14. Give it a Day to Rest – Once you’ve completed your recording, get away from it. Give yourself a break from the intense focus and give the screencast a chance to percolate overnight.
  15. Edit and Clean Up – Plan at least a day after your break to clean up and fine-tune your screencast. And it’s always a great idea to have someone else review with a fresh eye before publishing.

What are your tips for creating professional screencasts?

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • http://www.mesmerlab.com/ MesmerLab

    Ok, you’re seriously in my brain right now. It wasn’t 30 minutes ago that I was requested to make my first screencast about how to use an online product.

    Thanks for this!

  • Craig

    Really good tips. I’d also add that you don’t have to record the whole screencast in one go. With most screencasting tools you can put a couple of edits together later on. If you record it in little bits you are less likely to make a mistake. Split your screencast into four separate recordings and then just put it together later in edit.

    Also people will look at tip 15 and think that a day is a long time. It’s not. It can easily take a day to put it together and edit it properly.

  • A bored listener

    The big one which always turns me off screencasts / podcasts whatever really is:
    SOUND INTERESTED IN YOUR SUBJECT.

    Seriously, the number of dull monotones that just drone on and on and on and on without any inflection, any excitement, any fun! Lighten up! Engage your listeners BE HAPPY, tell bad jokes whatever, just don’t have a totally lifeless robotic monotone.

  • justinph

    Good tips indeed. I do lots of screencasts to give my clients documentation on how to use the sites I build them. I’ve learned a few things:

    As the tips say, audio is really important, and setting the levels correctly is also important. You want the loudest you’re going to be to not quite top out the level meter. In OS X, the system prefs show you the levels, as do most sceencasting apps. Even with levels set properly, I usually run my audio through Levelator, which does a really good job of automatically adjusting levels and smoothing out clips and chirps.

    If you’re on OSX, using Universal Access and making the mouse cursor larger is a great and easy way to call out where you are on screen. I tried working with OmniDazzle to get mouse halos and such, but it’s just not worth it.

    I’m usually pretty lazy and don’t want to go into after effects or a bigger program to edit my videos afterwards if I need to show text, so I usually just prepare a text edit window or two ahead of time with any text I’ll need. Drag them on screen, talk about whatever, and edit out the second it took you to drag it on later on.

  • http://louispeck7876.webs.com/apps/blog/show/2001325-watch-futurama-online futuramaonline

    you have a good point here, gonna subscribe to your RSS

  • Adward

    It’s not the first time I read such kind of suggestion list in goodwill. I remember another article called “Make Yourself a Desktop Recording Expert” talking about the same thing. There’re many tiny points you should notice during the screencasting recording. No matter how you record screen video or what you want to express through your video. The content is always the King.

  • mrtunes

    when i started screencasting i approached it from the point of view that i found a lot of other ones to be very boring. one thing i try to do is move along quickly and get to the point. but i try to do it in a way where i’m not going to confuse people.

    the only alternative i can think of to this is to include lots of video of yourself and other types of illustration/animation other than just capturing what’s on your screen. it’s not easy to produce a good screencast!