6 tips for startups and small business: Creating your first screencast!

Since we launched crowdSPRING, we have created several screencasts about the site, for both presentational and educational purposes. A screencast is a great way to quickly show your customers how something works, or to instruct them in using a feature of your site. Some users simply don’t like to read technical or instructional content, so video can be an engaging alternative for these folks.

Creating a screencast is pretty simple, as long as you have a clear sense of what you want to communicate, and are organized with your approach and materials. Here are some simple pointers for producing your first epic!

Software: There are a handful of good screencast software packages out there for both Windows and Macintish computers. For Windows a couple of the leaders are Camstudio and Pixetell and for Mac there is Snapz Pro X and ScreenFlow. We use Screenflow which is the industry leader; if you have edited video digitally before, you will find it simple and intuitive to use. A fully featured  screencast production program has some powerful features, and whicever application you choose, you should make sure it includes:

  • Recording from webcam, or digital video camera
  • Audio can be recorded live from an external or on-board microphone. Computer audio can also be recorded to a separate track.
  • Editing features include multiple video and audio tracks, video transitions and actions such as zoom and magnify,
  • Text and screen modifications and enhancements, including titling, and graphics capabilities like callouts and cursor magnification.

Script: My advice here? Write one. Then revise it. And, revise it again. Take the time to write down what the viewer will see and hear and it will save you huge amounts of time when you actually start putting your screencast together. I prefer a three-column format: the left hand column describes the visual on the screen, the middle column contains the audio, and the right-hand column contains any notes, such as clip numbers, music or sound effects cues, etc. For instance in the left column it might say something like: “Full screen shot of the home page, slowly zooming in to the post-a-project button.” The middle column would be the actual scripted words for your voiceover, which you will read when doing your narration. For a sample of this script format, you can click here to download the script to the screencast we posted last month, below.

Audio recording: I like to record the audio track first. This allows me to take my time, make and correct mistakes, and gives me the luxury of multiple takes without worrying about the inevitable mis-starts  and errors that happen when recording the video portion. One trick I use is to record the audio track in pieces. This will help you when editing time comes and in the next step, when you record your video.

Video recording: This, too, can be done in pieces and I highly advise you to break your script down into the shortest screen actions you can construct. Now is where your audio clips come in handy; put on a set of headphones and play your voice-over as you record the video action. This will help you in getting the timing just right, and will assure that the screen action matches the voiceover.

Editing: The process of assembling your screencast video is critical to your success. My technique is to work on one clip at a time. Get the audio synched perfectly, trim the fat off the ends of the clip, and add your zooms, effects, titles, and callouts (see below). Once you have each of the individual clips just so, you can start to assemble them into the final piece, adding transitions such as fades, cuts, and wipes to obscure the seams between each of the clips.

Effects and titles: As you work on each clip you can superimpose titles over your video, or create title “cards” to introduce different sections of your video. Your software package should include tools for adding zoom effects as well as callouts (which highlight the area of the screen you are focusing on) and cursor enhancements (to make them more visible to the viewer).

Here’s a sample of a screencast we produced last month which teaches crowdSPRING buyers how to post a project to the site. Enjoy the show…