Screencasting is a must for online businesses. It’s an excellent way to pitch sales and gain new customers. It’s an even better way to onboard those new customers and turn them into loyal lifers! It isn’t difficult to do, but it requires some know-how to do well. With a few good practices, you can make screencasting easier and more efficient. Most importantly, you can drastically improve the quality of your videos— and their results.
I’ve done dozens and dozens of screencasts. We use them all over The $100 MBA and WebinarNinja, and I’ve recently teamed up with fellow entrepreneur Jason Zook to produce several more for our project EasyCourse. In all those recordings, I’ve identified a few tricks that make great screencasts a snap.
A note on the tech: Mac users can screencast with ScreenFlow or QuickTime. QuickTime is free, and very easy to use, but is very limited in terms of how much editing you can do. ScreenFlow allows for precise editing, but you can also edit a QuickTime screencast on iMovie. For PC users, I recommend Camtasia, and you can always use Windows Movie Maker.
With that, here are the 5 tricks to optimal screencasting:
1. Write it out!
While you can always edit or re-record, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can just wing it. No professional video, no matter how natural and improvised it may appear to be, is made without real preparation and forethought. It’s important to organize your thoughts on paper before you start talking, even if you don’t write an actual script.
The best way to be prepared (but still allow for a natural word-flow) is to make an outline. Use headings, subheadings and bullet points as a guide for the “conversation” you’ll have with the viewer. This will make your presentation sharp, focused, and understandable rather than meandering. You’ll be able to articulate what your audience needs in a way that will work better for them, and make you sound more professional.
2. Break it up!
Your screencast (and the outline you write for it) should be broken up into several parts. This serves two purposes. First, it allows you to organize the information you want to convey in more digestible chunks. From the viewer’s perspective, this is invaluable. Nothing is harder to learn from than an overlong, sustained lecture!
Secondly, it makes recording much easier for you. By breaking the presentation up, you can record it in sections. This way, when you make a mistake, you can simply start again from the beginning of that section, rather than having to start the whole thing over or make an excessive number of edits.
3. Run it through!
The first time you screencast, go into it knowing that it’s only the first take. The goal is not to record it perfectly on the first try. Do a “dress rehearsal.” Watch the result, and see where you can improve. Especially at the beginning, people need to get used to hearing (and modifying) how they sound. You may need to tighten the timing. You may need to modify your voice. There will be a variety of tweaks to be made— but you won’t know until you do a dry run.
4. Keep it close!
The mic, that is. So many entrepreneurs without A/V experience make this very common mistake with an incredibly simple fix. Sitting too far from the mic not only creates problems with the volume of your voice, it creates problems with your tone and delivery. There should be about 2 fingers’ widths between your mouth and the mic. This way, you can speak in a natural way and still be heard clearly.
In my experience, the most comfortable way to record is with a boom arm. This adjustable stand clamps to your desk and allows the mic to “float” unobtrusively exactly where you want it to be. They’re widely available online for around $20 and are compatible with most microphones— including the Audio-Technica ATR2100 we use and recommend.
5. Clean it up!
While preparation and practice will make your recording sessions go much more smoothly, there’s still a lot to be said for editing. You can always go back and add, subtract or alter your work to make it the best it can be. The key is not to rely on post-production, but to use it as a safety net. If you utilize the first four tips in this list, the editing phase will be where you perfect the recording, not where you repair it.
Screencasts are an invaluable tool, because they allow you to show instead of simply tell. You can show your audience what they’ll get if they try your product. You can show them what they’ve already got, in the onboarding phase. Either way, it’s the extra mile of communication between you and the customers. With these tips, your screencasts can create customers who understand the product and keep coming back for more.