Creating tutorial videos for software systems is pretty straightforward. But creating excellent ones requires a little more knowhow. In this article, I'll outline some key tips.
My list was pretty long, so I decided to break the tips down into three categories - planning, recording and production.
One concept per video - We know in this day and age we don't have much of an attention span. It's much better to create a few short videos rather than one long one - and therefore a good rule of thumb is to only talk about one feature, process or concept within each video.
Write an outline - a simple list of bullet points will help you figure out what you're planning to cover in each video.
Write a script - yes, you can create a screencast without a script. But trust me - it's much quicker to follow a script. And your audience will be grateful you did, so they don't have to hear you stammering and stuttering as you decide what you're going to say next.
The video below is a good example of what can be achieved with a well-written script (see how it sounds natural?)
Keep videos under 5 minutes - ideally, your videos should be 2/3 minutes. As mentioned in tip #1, we want to keep our videos short and to the point. If you make sure your scripts are under 1000 words each, based on the average speed people talk, you know that the video won't be any longer than 5 minutes.
Use conversational English - this is one of the most common mistakes I see in professional training videos - the script has been written for text rather than voiceover. So make sure you write your script as if you're speaking - things like changing 'you are' to 'you're' and 'I will' to 'I'll' would be a good place to start.
Speak to one person - when you're writing the script, imagine you're speaking to one person. This will make the dialogue more relaxed and the viewer will feel like they are being spoken to directly.
Practise reading the script before you start recording - read it out loud, preferably to someone else in the room. It's incredible how different you speak to how you write.
Find some great music for an intro - with some clients we use background music throughout the whole video. But if you decide against this, adding some music at the beginning will really add the professional touch to your video. We really like Epidemic Sound.
Folder planning - when you're building a video project, to save on file size, Camtasia will link to media files rather than embed them into your project. If later you move those files on your computer, Camtasia won't be able to find them and you'll have a broken project. Create a folder and if you decide to move the project, move the whole folder including all media assets.
Use simple graphics to keep attention - sometimes you might be talking, whilst there is nothing happening on the screen. You can add some basic graphics to a blank screen to provide some extra visuals that keeps the viewer entertained - check out how we did that in the video below:
Invest in an awesome microphone - audio quality is more important than people realise. It's so frustrating to listen to poor quality audio - especially with the high quality headphones we all wear these days. Using an awesome microphone is the single biggest thing you can do to improve your videos. Philip Morgan has some excellent advice on this web page.
Soundproof your recording environment - this doesn't need to be overly complicated. I often use a DIY setup when I'm on the road, which has included using a duvet on my head to record a voiceover! But investing time sound proofing the space you're recording in will mean less time removing noise from your audio recording afterwards.
Use a pop filter - when you pronounce the letter 'p', there is often a sharp, blowing noise (called plosives) which is really horrible for the person listening to the voiceover. The easiest way to avoid this is using a pop filter. You can pick these up on Amazon for a few quid.
Remove white noise from your audio - there are free software programs you can use to quickly improve the quality of your audio and remove white noise (the hum and hiss you get when you record audio). I use Audacity - it's free, open source software that's easy to use and does an excellent job.
Stand up when you're recording audio - sounds silly, but your ability to project will be drastically improved if you're standing instead of sitting. Your voiceover will be more engaging and confident.
Get some help - if you don't have access to a soundproof room or an excellent microphone setup, send your scripts to a professional voiceover artist. It's probably much better value than you expect. We use Fly Voiceovers - they are amazing.
Adjust your browser resolution - remember the size of the screen you're recording on will make a big difference to how elements appear on your video. You don't want too much empty space, but you also don't want your screen to feel cluttered.
Tidy your computer desktop - there's nothing worse than being shown around someone's computer only to see thousands of files and folders strewn across the desktop.
Maybe it's a slight on my judgemental personality, but it reduces my confidence in the person I'm learning from - if their desktop is messy, maybe their teaching method is too?
On Windows, simply right-click on the desktop and deselect View > Show Desktop Icons before you start recording.
Use animation tools to explain process - there are some incredible, cheap and easy to use tools out there for explaining a process. You can add these to your screencasts. We use Videoscribe (sparingly) and it's a great way to bring the video to life.
Highlight mouse - as you're recording, it's obvious to you where your mouse pointer is, But the viewer might lose it. Simply applying a highlight to the mouse pointer will make it easy for the viewer to see what you're talking about.
Don't use too much motion - tools like ScreenFlow and Camtasia have incredible zoom and pan features - but don't overdo it or your viewers will start feeling sick!
Export several videos using markers - a good tip for Camtasia users - if you want to break one long video into several shorter videos, you can use markers to specify where you want your video separated. This means you can create several short videos from one long production.
Create an animated title - We've been experimenting with the latest version of Camtasia which has some awesome behaviours that can be applied to text. A basic intro can be created in minutes, can be copied across to other videos and will give your video a professional feel.
No more banjos! - that was an actual comment from one of my clients! Make sure you pick appropriate music, that is not going to be annoying for the viewer if they've watched 5 videos in a row,
Normalize your voiceover - I was guilty of this when I started screencasting. It's important to 'normalize' your voiceover before you export the video. This means the audio levels will be the correct volume when you publish the video, and the viewer won't have to turn their volume high or low to watch.
Don't let the music drown out your voiceover - it's tempting after you've found the perfect background music to make it the star of the show. But remember - it's background music. If you're not sure whether it's too loud, err on the side of caution and set it much lower than the voiceover.
Check out the voiceover to music balance in this video:
Use highlights and blurs sparingly - we primarily use Camtasia to edit our videos which has some awesome features for highlighting items on screen as the voiceover is talking about them. You can also use the same feature to blur (hide) items. But don't overdo these effects. Remember, less is more.
Use the 80/20 rule - if you're a perfectionist like me, you'll be tempted to spend most of your time getting the production perfect, when in fact 80% perfect will be fine. Remember, you'll watch this hundreds of times during the editing process, your viewers will only watch it once or twice and probably won't notice all that extra effort you're putting in!
Publish directly to YouTube - you can save a lot of time by publishing directly to YouTube, especially during the review process. Then once the video has been approved, you can use Custom Production settings to create the final HD version.
That's all folks!
These are tips that I've gathered over 10 years of screencasting. If I've missed anything or you'd like to discuss anything I mentioned, please leave a comment under the article.