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tips for making great screencast tutorials

on July 16th, 2010 at 4:14:41 PM
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There are lots of reasons to make screencasts, for example to promote or explain a product or service. Here I'm talking about the screencast to teach someone how to do something, The Tutorial Screencast.

The tutorial species of screencast is useful, informative and for me, essential. When you've got to describe a process that moves through many sub sections of a user interface or between applications, a screencast can get the ideas across perfectly. Some screencasts are just recorded on the fly. Press record and work away. When I post screencasts on my YouTube account, I do exactly that: just watch me fail! It's fun. Full of ums and ahs... but it may not make for good viewing. They can run long in the tooth. We can improve the pacing of screencasts and make them more learner-friendly with some simple techniques.

Learn from the best: audio is the most important thing

I learned some of this watching the work of my screencasting idol: Joshua Rosenbaum from Mailchimp. You can see his work at His style has spawned a great trend in screencasting. As more screencasters pick up Joshua's techniques, expect to see more zooming and moving camera action; friendly background music and animations (see some from 'Honeydo'). That level of production is not likely in the hands of most casual screencast producers, but we can adapt some of his techniques. The thing I learned from him is, not the flashy animations (which are very cool), but that the most important thing is: the AUDIO!

Invest in a good mircophone, and be very meticulous in recording audio.

Another great source of advice is Betsy Weber from Techsmith check out her blog: The Visual Lounge, for tips on screencasting specifically.

Empathize with the viewer

Since you don't know the background of a viewer, it's better to err on the side of very clear and specific.

  • Imagine a new user who is "snow blind" the first time they approach Drupal. Keep that in your mind at all times. Imagine seeing your screen through a pinhole in a piece of paper, and you can kind of get an idea of what it's like for the viewer of your screencast.
  • Topping and tailing is good. Mention at the start what you're going to do, and then at the end where they can go next.
  • In film production they talk about the "establishing shot". Show the viewer: where am I? Especially when you move to a new section.
  • You should mention which modules you have enabled, and carefully show configuration (and how you go to a configuration page). Include module info details in the 'info' section of your YouTube post.

Quick & simple way

The quickest way to produce a screencast is through live recording the audio at the time of screen recording. Use pause button, try out what you're going to show next and then use the back button, and resume recording. I don't usually script, but I just write down the process

As they say in film editing: "edit on camera" and don't shoot what you don't need. Live recording audio and using the pause button saves so so so much time. You require no editing this way. The best tool for this kind of screencast is Jing, which publishes directly online, and you don't have to edit it.

Most of the time when I produce and place screencasts for DrupalGardens on my YouTube account, this is the method I use.

More detailed way

For the videos I produce on for DrupalGardens, we work together as a team on those. We write outlined steps we want to cover in the video: we try to cover as much as we can in a short time.

I then record the steps, and after that I write the script. Yep, I write the audio script *after* recording the screen. I just record the audio alone. I focus on what I'm saying, ensuring to leave some pauses, but I can add pauses in the editing stage. This means, when I edit the video, I'm matching it up to the audio. This just has a more natural flow, since I'm not racing to catch up with the video, and I'm not umming and ahhing while waiting for something to load.

In fact, in this process the thing that takes the longest is writing the script, and then editing it to get the pacing right.