Screencasting 101: How to Screencast Like A Pro

In the Online education marketplace, quality rises to the top.  You want to know how courses with massive enrollments happen? Well, people aren’t fools.

Nobody buys lemons anymore. To have thousands of students enrolled in your course, it has to be REALLY good – that means easy to listen to, easy to follow, and easy enough to watch for hours. And how do you do that for technical training? Quality screencasting is the currency of the realm for pretty much every technology training, so you’d better be sure you’re creating the best recordings possible.  Here are a few keys to follow.

Getting Quality Audio:

#1 with a bullet.  A bullet that kills more good courses than anything else.  If someone is spending their time and/or money to watch an extensive online course, they expect it to sound professional. That means if you are going to invest in ANYTHING, invest in good audio (see the post on Hacking Studio Quality Audio).

  • Get a quality USB mic. They don’t rely on your soundcard, and if they have cardioid setting like these, it will be directional and make you sound like a radio personality.
  • Record in a “small and soft” room.  You want stray sounds stays muted. Use blankets and pillows liberally if you don’t have a studio to record in.
  • Cushion your mic. This is why you see mics in fancy harnesses on poles.  For screencasts, the vibrations of your computer fan can mess with your audio quality.
  • Make sure you are using the right mic when recording, check that your computer is using an external mic and not the built-in one.
  • Check your levels.  position the mic as close as it can be without pickup up your breathing, and try a couple test recordings to get the volume and pickup just right (stay away from the reds.  That’s only good for rock concerts.

Write the Script and Set the Stage:

Nobody likes to watch as an instructor fumble through opening a window, or wonder aloud what example to use.  Likewise, squinting at a small window surrounded by all your desktop icons isn’t going to evoke much confidence in an enjoyable learning experience, so plan ahead with a few key steps:

  • Write out a Script.  This doesn’t have to be verbatum, as personality and spontaneity go a long way in creating an intimate learning experience. You should know what you want to cover, the order, the progression, the examples you’ll use, and the key points you want to emphasize.
  • Prepare your Samples. Have the examples you’ll use already built to highlight the specific exercise.  Provide those sample files to your students so they can follow along too.
  • Mark your goals for each screencast. You should clearly state at the beginning what you will be covering in your talk and make sure you wrap it up at the end by reiterating what learning should have taken place. you can also introduce the next segment to keep students engage especially if you are confident that the order of your videos will not change.
  • Clear your desktop (and maybe browser history):  Don’t get caught typing in a url and having a suggestion come up you didn’t intend…
  • Minimize your taskbar and hide your icons:  unless you are doing a training on using the operating system for a computer, don’t distract your audience or waste valuable screen space with other program icons.

Master the Tools of the Trade:

There are free tools that will let you capture your screen, but Screenflow (MAC only) and Camtasia (MAC and PC) are the industry standard.  Both provide a wide array of tools to help take a simple screenshare and turn it into a produced education video.  Use your tools and add some pizaaz and clarity to your screencasts.  Both tools allow you to:

  • Add annotations:  Use them for keyboard shortcuts and screentips.  Add arrows to point to changes or emphasize key elements.  It’s not that hard to do and goes a long way.
  • Zooming and Panning:  Rather than show the entire screen, most screencast tools let you add zoom and pan in post production to help draw the students attention to key elements, or enlarge an area of your screen where tiny buttons or code may reside.  Students don’t like to squint
  • Clean up the Cuts:  Go through and cut out the pauses, the “umms” the stumbles.  With practice, you can indicate a take while recording and make it easy to cut mistakes right out.
  • Add a Branded Intro clip:  The whole idea here is to not just sell this course, but build your brand as an expert, so copy in a nice intro image or mini clip to set the stage for each lecture.  A lot of our best courses produce a highly polished promo video for the beginning of the course as well, to introduce potential students to just how cool this course will be.