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Photo by artm

From Michael: Corey used to run Blog by Design, a site which made great screencast reviews of blog designs (Including Pro Blog Design!). I’ve asked her to step in and share how she makes her videos.

First, let me explain a little about my setup. Even if the videos seemed “extremely professional,” the equipment was actually extremely lowtech. Here’s a look at the gear I used to create Blog by Design videos:

The Hardware

hardware

I personally rock a 13″ macbook from 2007, which is not the most powerful unit in the world but gets the job done. For recording, I simply use the in-sight camera and a $25 USB microphone from the retailer Best Buy. To make a screencast, you don’t need major recording equipment, just the right software.

The Software

For Mac Users, I highly recommend Screenflow. It is, hands down, the best screencasting software. It costs around $100. In addition, you’ll need some kind of image editor like Photoshop, and a media player, such as QuickTime or WMV.

For PC users, there is the ultra-expensive Camtasia ($299). A cheaper (Well, free) alternative to try out is CamStudio.

That’s all there is to say for the technical aspects. Not so bad, right? The magic comes with the actual development of your screencast. Here are some thoughts, step-by-step, for creating a successful screencast.

Pre-Production

When I first started Blog by Design, the review took me hours to complete. At its peak, I could cover a review in just under 30 minutes. The change? Preparation. Getting ready for the screencast is just as important as being professional on-air. Here are some thoughts for preparing to make a screencast:

1. Follow the 80/20 rule.

Spend 80% of your time preparing and 20% actually recording. You want to have everything in place so that when you hit record, you can focus on having fun and getting the job done.

2. Take Notes

Your screencast will go by much faster if you know what you’re going to talk about. Jotting down some notes and the order of topics will help you develop a more professional feeling, and make your transitions more natural. In addition, you won’t lose your place.

3. Do a Dry-Run

Before beginning, do a dry run of your recording and time yourself. Make sure you’re at the length you want to be at, and be sure to get all of your “umms” and “errms” out. A dry run will enhance your confidence for the live recording.

4. Wrap-Up the Screencast

At the end of the screencast, make sure you wrap up the episode with a quick summary, and a preview of what’s next to come. People like to see continuity, and this will help you remember what you want to talk about throughout your schedule.

5. Don’t Redo the Screencast

Unless you make a major mistake, there’s no reason to spend time on a re-shoot just because you feel “it could be better.” The quality of your screencast will go up with the amount you do, and spending too much time on one will simply make your production time slower.

Now that you’ve got the steps down to creating the screencast, let’s look at what you should be doing when taping is over.

Post-Production

Post production is probably the most important part of the process. There are a few tips I have for working with the video once it’s actually completed. Let’s go through the list in order:

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Image by YuvalH

1. View the Entire Video

I hate listening to myself talk on camera. However, I have to preview each show in its entirety before posting it, to make sure everything runs smoothly. Sometimes things you thought would sound great on-the-fly actually sound horrible. Going back through the video for last minute editing is important to creating a high quality screencast.

2. Pick the Correct Movie Format

You want a format that is slim (not WMV) and quality. You want a file that is slim enough to upload to a video host, yet won’t get messed up in compression. Going for a resolution close to 800×600 will give you the best compression results. As for formats, I personally love .mov formats for uploading and storing copies on my laptop. That brings me to my next point:

3. Create a Copy in a Central Location

Always back-up your video production and final cut files. Make sure you store them in a folder specifically for your screencast, and make a regular back-up. Not only will this give you a library of past work, but also for recovering lost files if something unexpected happens.

4. Upload to a Quality Host

I picked Vimeo for my video uploads because they have a great looking video player and awesome hosting. Youtube compresses videos a little too much for my liking, and their limitations can be irritating for some. Finding a host that meets your needs in terms of length, quality, and upload limits is important for a healthy screencast.

5. Preview the Live Video

Make sure you watch the video through online once you’ve uploaded it, to make sure the quality is up to your standards. Even if another run-through is boring, it’s important to check that everything is working properly.

That’s all I have to say on the process. Here are a few last-ditch tips for you:

  1. Experiment. It’s how you end up with great ideas.
  2. Have fun or your audience won’t.
  3. Keep water nearby – your throat will start to hurt!
  4. Don’t get discouraged, it takes a few tries to get a good screencast going.
  5. Bloopers happen, roll with it.

So there you have it – my method for screencast production. Have you ever created a screencast? What do you do to prepare for a screencast?

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