Screencasting: Five Simple Tips for Speeding Up Development

During the past year I have created over 60 screencasts for my department. I have used Captivate for the majority of these, but I have also used Camtasia, Articulate, and Adobe Presenter. Since I spend so much time working with these rapid development e-Learning tools, I have become familiar with the most common snafus and roadblocks associated with the development of screencasts, and I have become much faster and more efficient when working with these tools.

Below is a list of  5 simple tips that can be used with any of these programs.

Tip#1 – While you can record and edit audio from within any of these applications, I recommend using another audio editing application such as Audacity, Audition, or Avid Pro Tools to record the audio for your screencast.

Audio is key to the success of your project, and in most cases, your audio will sound better when recorded with a program that is designed especially for recording and editing audio. Not only is the quality of the audio extremely important, but the audio clips that you have to work with will determine how much time you’re going to have to spend tweaking your movie. If the timing is good in your audio and each individual audio clip contains the amount of content that you intend to include on the corresponding slide, then the majority of the work is already done.

Either record the audio for each slide separately, or record the whole script and then use the audio editing application you prefer to split the file into individual clips that can be matched up with the slides in your project.

Make sure the audio clips are ready to go before you import them into Captivate, Camtasia, Articulate, or Presenter. This means that they should sound crisp and clean, and they should have about 1 second of silence at the beginning and at the end. They should all be approximately the same volume.

Audacity File

Tip#2 – If you plan on importing slides from PowerPoint into your screencast, or using images that you have created from PowerPoint slides, make sure that you configure your e-Learning project to use the same, or a similar resolution, that you are using in PowerPoint.
Captivate dialog box

For example, the default resolution in PowerPoint is 720×540. Therefore if you set the resolution of  a Captivate project to 720×540, you will be able to use PowerPoint slides and images in your project without experiencing any image distortion. (You can also use a resolution with the same aspect ratio.) In most cases, using a resolution that is fairly close will also work, but it will depend on the shape and size of the images you are using.

Tip#3 – When it comes to recording what you see on the screen, get it right the first time!
Box for recording the screen

If you are recording a series of steps, and you make a mistake on one small section and need to tweak it later, it can be very difficult to make it match the other slides in the series. If the recording box is even a fraction of an inch to the left or to the right of where it was in the other screen captures, you will see a noticeable jump when you reach a certain point in the movie. Bottom line? When working with these tools, do it right the first time around, or you will find yourself spending a huge amount of time “fiddling” with things later, trying to get them to look just right.

Tip#4 – Have one team member create a quick-and-dirty first draft of the screencast, and then have a second team member take over and clean it up.

While these are supposed to be rapid development tools, it is not unusual for newbies, especially those with a creative flair, to get caught up in the details of the design work and to spend hours and hours and hours tweaking backgrounds and animations and text. If more than one person is working on a movie, the creators are far less likely to become too fond of a certain version. If a client or project manager requests change, it is easier for the developer to grant the request, since they have not spent every waking moment of their time “perfecting” the presentation.

Tip#5 – If you plan on making more than a couple of screencasts for a specific client or topic, create a style guide as you are developing the first two movies.

Since you will want all of the movies in a series to be consistent, document everything. Write down the main fonts, styles, and colors that you plan to use. Record what grid size you will use each time you set up the design elements on the slide, and whether or not your images will fade in/out. Show examples of the captions, buttons, highlight boxes, rollover areas, bullets, etc.

While there can always be exceptions in your project, documenting the guidelines will help to keep you on track and save you time, since you won’t need to constantly look back to see what font or style or color you used for a design element. Yes, I know… You think you can remember the design elements that you have used. The fact is, there are a huge amount of design elements to choose from in these applications, and it can be very difficult to remember every little detail. Therefore, write things down. As you make changes to the design, update the documentation. Make the guide available to anyone working on the project.

While these five tips are fairly simple, they are also extremely important. I hope they will help you to save time as you create screencasts in the future.

Look for more specific blog articles on each of the rapid development e-Learning tools coming up in the next few months.


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