You won’t be short on reading material if you search the web for the world’s best screencasting tips. There are dozens of listicles with all the advice you need to become a screencasting pro. Personally, I don’t see the need to add to them with yet another top ten list. Instead, I am going to spend some time talking about just one tip. It’s the one thing that improved my screencasts more than anything else, and it can improve yours too.
The Secret to Great Screencasts
Several years ago, I had the chance to attend some screencast training with a group of authorized resellers for Techsmith’s Camtasia. They delved deep into all the features that made Camtasia a great tool for screencasters, but they also gave us some tips along the way to help us improve our skills as a creator of instructional videos. One of those tips has stuck with me to this day, and I have little doubt that I will continue to use it for years to come regardless of whether I continue to use Camtasia or not.
The tip was simple. Do it all in one take. At the time, this seemed like an impossible task. It would often take me five or six attempts to get my screencast the way I wanted it. Sometimes I would mess up at the beginning. Sometimes I would mess up near the end. Sometimes I would forget to turn off my phone. Sometimes my kids would interrupt me. Sometimes I would just be having a bad day and spend way more time stumbling over my words that I normally would. All of these problems, (and countless more), meant that it was impossible to do it all in one take. So, how was this even possible?
The answer is not as profound as you might think. Simply accept you will make mistakes, and take them out later with a video editor. If you mess up during your recording, don’t hit the stop button, just take a few seconds to recalibrate your brain and then repeat what you wanted to say, in the way that you meant to say it. After you are done, you can remove all the screw-ups and no-one will be any the wiser.
In Camtasia, you can take advantage of the built-in editing tools to remove all the errors you make while recording. If you don’t use Camtasia, you can download your screencast and use a video editor to make your edits. iMovie is free for Macs and iPads while Windows 10 has a free video editor, and Animotica is free for schools.
To make the editing go even faster, seasoned screencasters will often make a loud clap every time they make a mistake. The clap generates a spike in the audio track and that makes it easy to find later. The claps are like markers for your mistakes. Simply look for the audio spikes in your timeline and you will know where your edits need to be made.
Why Edit Your Screencasts?
Aside from fixing your mistakes, there are lots of reasons why you might want to edit your screencast. For instance, just because you had to wait for a website to load, doesn’t mean that your viewers should have to. A video editor can trim out the wait time and stop you waffling to fill dead air as you impatiently wait for your browser to load the website that you need.
Editors can also add clarity to your finished recording. As much as we plan and prepare for screencasting, the words that come out of our mouth when we press record are not always the ones that you think they might be. Sometimes we mumble or repeat ourselves. Sometimes we go off on a tangent that is not directly related to the topic in hand. You can edit that out with a video editor and your video will most likely be better because it will be shorter and more relevant. Don’t feel like you have to take ten minutes to describe something that can be done in five minutes. People can watch your video as many times as they need to. If you can do it in five minutes, then do it in five minutes, and if you can’t, a video editor can help with that.
Lastly, a video editor gives you the chance to add things back in to your screen recording. If you missed an important point that you meant to include, you can do a new screencast and splice that into your original recording. You can also use a video editor to add text, callouts, shapes and other annotations that can be used to highlight or add emphasis to different parts of your video.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
So there you have it. Video editors are amazing. They have the potential to turn a bad recording into a great recording. Until they don’t. Let me explain. Once you start editing, it is tempting to cut out all the pauses and filler words that we use when we are speaking. If you have never noticed it before, you will be amazed at how often you “um” and “ah” and pause when you are recording a screencast. Consequently, the urge to remove those is not surprising. Great screencasts don’t have all that extra fluff, right?
Here is where I would suggest that you tread carefully. Micro edits like this can quickly become a huge burden on your time. With your new found powers of video editing, it’s tempting to edit and edit and edit until you get a perfect screencast, but the truth is, perfect rarely exists. You need to find a balance, not least because it is very easy to edit out your personality. We are, after all, human. We make mistakes, we use filler words, we pause while we think. When you remove all of that from your recording, it sounds much less natural than before and that rarely makes your screencast a better video for the viewer.
With practice, you can train yourself to avoid using filler words, and the more screencasts you make, the better you will become at that. You will become much more aware of how you speak and of the words you want to avoid, but until you get better at that, and until you can talk without filler words in a natural and engaging manner, it might be best to go easy with the micro edits. You can thank me later on this one.
Tips for Making Better Screencasts
Is using a video editor the single most important tip for improving your screencasts? It could be, but I am not going to pretend that your recording environment, your microphone, or your planning are not equally as important. If you want more tips like that, make sure to take a look at the Screencasting Tips for Teachers article that I wrote for the DLGWAEA blog, and feel free to leave your best screencasting tips in the comments below.