So you need to create a screencast or promotional video for your website or product. You’ve downloaded a software tool for screen capture or video editing, and you’re ready to press record. But wait! Before you hit that big red button, consider how far you are in the planning process. By pausing here, you could save yourself a lot of time.
There’s only one way to say this: if you’ve not planned the video out before you record it, you’re going to struggle later on. Although getting started immediately is very tempting when the software is there and you’re ready to experiment, you will waste a lot more time than you save. If you rush in, you’ll have lots of false starts and fudged takes to deal with. Also, you’ll spend a lot more time editing out your errors than you will recording them in the first place.
Composing a video isn’t as easy as it looks. You need technical know-how, a storyboard or plan and a creative eye for detail. That’s why lots of companies prefer to outsource the production of videos to people like Wyzowl.
If you want to have a crack on your own, here are four key things to consider before you begin.
1. Prep your computer
Assuming your video has some element of screen capture in it, you need to prepare ahead of time. This is a fairly obvious consideration, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Quirks and oddities on your computer screen will distract the viewer’s attention, and this is what you absolutely do not want. You can lessen the likelihood by removing the most obvious ones.
If you’re going to be showing the desktop on your PC or Mac, set it to a plain, muted colour and file irrelevant icons in a folder temporarily. If you’re going to show the start menu or Applications folder, keep the contents to a minimum - just while you record. Set your operating system to a default theme, hide any browser toolbars and clear your search history. All of this helps to prevent against visual clutter and distraction.
If it’s really difficult to do all of this, you can try using a fresh install of your OS in a virtual machine to record your capture. Note that this could introduce other problems with screen capture software, so you’d really be best off working on your ‘real’ desktop if you can.
2. Nail your content
When making a video, it can be really tempting to start recording before you really decide what information you want to get across. I’m sure we’ve all tried to watch instructional videos that are far too detailed, move too quickly or contain irrelevant or complicated instructions. For example, some tuition screencasts for websites start with the tutor typing the URL to the site. That’s bad practice: the person watching is already on the site. They don’t need to know. Your viewer won’t appreciate having their time wasted due to oversights like this.
The same concept applies to a marketing video, although you have to be even smarter. Attractive visuals and a cunning twist are all tools marketers use to make their videos more interesting, but the content and theme are key. These kinds of things don’t come to you as you record: you really have to put some thought into it.
Another reason to plan ahead is so you don’t have to multi-task. You can record the video first and the voice later, or the other way around. That really helps you to concentrate.
There are lots of different ways to decide what you’re going to include, and there are various techniques for planning content. The spreadsheet trick we mentioned in our article about scripts is one technique you could try. Storyboards are another great tool if you prefer visual aids.
At the very least, write down the desired marketing outcome or most important training principle on a Post-It. Slap it on your monitor. Don’t lose sight of it. No matter what other cool tricks and ideas you may have, you need to focus on the message.
3. Pace yourself
If you’ve never paid much attention to TV ads, now’s the time to start. You don’t have to sit and watch TV for days: just think of a few ads from the last year that you’ve enjoyed. Why did you enjoy them? Why did they suit the brand they were advertising?
Think of a few examples and try to find common links that will help you pace your own video. Look at the way they are edited. Abrupt changes of pace can be really effective for marketing videos, whereas a smooth and steady pace will be more suitable for e-learning.
Speaking of learning: if you’re making an instructional video, it’s impossible to stress just how important pace is. Get the pace wrong and nobody will watch your video at all. Too fast and it will be useless - nobody will be able to follow it. Too slow and it will feel like a lesson at school; you’ll bore the pants off people you’re trying to assist.
The pace of an instructional video will vary depending on what you’re demonstrating, but at a minimum, test your video on someone else. The presenter should have time to move the mouse, explain their actions and insert zooms and pans without making the viewer feel sea-sick.
4. Review your skills
Unless your video is very straightforward, you’ll need some custom graphics and animations to finish it off. This is where you have skill or you don’t. If you don’t, hire someone else to do this for you.
Good graphic design isn’t really something you can fudge, and complex editing and animation software isn’t something you can learn to use in a weekend. This is the main reason people pay companies like Wyzowl to make videos for them: the video you make is only ever going to be as good as the graphic designer you employ. If you can’t come up with a slick look and feel, you may be best off admitting defeat and handing your captures over to a professional so they can add the essential finishing touches.