A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating Kickass Self-Service Screencasts

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Do you want to ensure your customers can understand how your software works?

Why not try a screencast in addition to more traditional written content? Screencasts let you present information in an engaging way, and they also let you show off your company’s personality.

While screencasts are a bit more work than a written how-to, they’re completely worth it. Your customers will be able to see and hear what’s happening, which will make it easier for them to follow every step.

Want to record your first screencast? This is how you can get started.

What you need:

  • An idea
  • A microphone
  • Audio and screen recording software.
  • Some time
  • A quiet space

Once you have all of that, you can:

  • Writ your script
  • Record your audio
  • Edit your audio
  • Record your video
  • Put everything together
  • Celebrate your amazing screencast

It All Starts With the Idea

To start, you’ll want to decide on your screencast idea.

Stick with something that you can tell a story about. A how-to or tutorial works best here. You want something that will take 3-7 minutes to cover that you can explain step-by-step.

Screencasts work great for overviews of your software as well, but it’s best to start with a how-to while you get comfortable with the screencasting process.

Sit down and think about the ideas you want to cover. What do customers ask about often? What task do you think your customers would benefit from knowing how to perform?

Write down a list of ideas and pick one that’s on the easier side. Something you can summarize quickly or a task that doesn’t take many steps to complete. There will be plenty of time for more complex topics later. Starting small will serve you best.

Write Your Script

Once you have your idea, it’s time to write your script. Try to focus on making it a story. Rather than something dry and boring, think about how you can connect with your audience.

You want your script to flow well but also have distinct sections. Here’s a format we like to use:

  1. What your customer wants to accomplish
  2. Each step they will take to achieve that
  3. Recap
  4. Invite viewers to contact you with any questions

This gives you a basic formula to follow and makes it easier to update your screencast later on. If you can re-record just step 2 rather than steps 1-5, you’ll save a fair bit of time.

To end up with a 3-7 minute video, your script should be between 500 and 1,000 words. Concentrate on getting all of the information there. If it seems a bit long after your first read-through you can always cut out some text.

This is also where you can add a little personality. We love adding fun or surprising moments to our scripts, like picking the setting of a popular television show or movie as the place where the task is happening.

Some companies go all out here and show that as a brand, they’re a bit quirky. Wistia, for example, has some amazing videos to check out.

Record and Edit Your Audio

Once your script is finished, it’s time to start on your audio recording. It may seem a bit odd to start with audio rather than video, but trust us, it makes sense!

Why do it in this order? For two simple reasons.

First, this is a good test of your script. When it comes time to record your video you’ll be following your own directions. If you can’t do it, your customers won’t be able to either.

Secondly, it’s going to be easier to add video to your audio, rather than the other way around. The audio should set your pacing and the video should match.

If this is your first time recording audio, you’re going to set up your mic now. This should only be a one-time event, so you’ll want to take your time and get things right!

We recommend trying a number of different mic positions and recording the same snippet of text over and over to see how they compare.

The idea here is to test how you sound with the microphone in multiple positions. You want your audio to be clear and easy to understand. You also want to minimize any popping sounds.

Next, minimize sound distractions in your recording space. Try a bunch of recordings and make sure the audio is clear. It doesn’t need to sound like a professional recording studio, but the more professional the better.

Once your microphone position is correct, save it! Add tape markers to your desk so you can always move your microphone back to the same spot. You can also take a photo of the exact position to make it easier to remember.

create self service screencast

This way, you don’t have to go through the setup process every single time. You can skip straight to recording with the next video you create.

Once your microphone is ready to go, start recording using whatever audio recording software you want to use. We use Screenflow, but you can use anything! Garageband on macOS or Sound Recorder on Windows. Anything you have on-hand will work. It’s all about microphone quality and what you’re familiar with.

Print out your script or have it showing on your monitor, press record on your software, and start reading. If you struggle with one section, stop talking for a couple of seconds and then start over from the beginning of the paragraph. Keep going until you complete your entire script.

Next, you’re going to pop on a pair of headphones and listen to your audio.

Your first recording may not flow perfectly, but you want to listen to the end and decide if it sounds good. You’re listening for things like background noise and bad audio.

If you find audio issues, scrap it entirely and start over after you fix the source of the problem by quieting things in your space or adjusting your microphone again.

You can go down a road that leads to madness if you try and edit everything out. Sometimes a clean slate will be faster.
Once everything sounds good, you’ll start editing.

This is what an editing screen looks like in the program we use.

create self service screencast

This is a program called Screenflow, but you can use anything that’s going to allow you to record and edit audio, including software like GarageBand or Camtasia.

I’ll listen to my audio entirely and note any stumbles or hesitations either on a written sheet of paper by marking the minute:second mark or in the editing software itself. Then I’ll go back and cut out bits of audio to leave only the correct run-throughs.

The idea here is to keep listening and editing until you have a good audio recording without errors. It should be seamless.

Make sure you leave some pauses, though. This helps listeners follow along, and makes it easier to update your screencasts later!

You don’t need to get fancy and use audio equalizing or filter options, but if you want to, go for it!

Record Your Video

Next up, you’re going to record your video. Again, we use Screenflow, but you can use any software you’d like.

What you want to do here first is size your browser window or your software to fit your recording zone. Much like setting up your microphone, you want to keep the sizing consistent so your videos match and they’re easier to edit.

Once everything is sized, put on your headphones, hit record, and start playing your audio.

We recommend setting a delay so the audio doesn’t start for a few seconds. This lets you get to the exact point in your software that you want to start recording from.

Start recording your screen immediately after you put on your headphones and before you start your audio. That way, you’re not frantically trying to click record the moment the right audio begins. You can always cut out the beginning of the video later on.

Once the audio starts playing, simply follow your own instructions.

While recording the video, you’ll probably stumble at some point. How you handle it depends on your pacing. If things go haywire and your audio continues into another step, you’ll want to start over. If you have time to redo that step before the audio starts narrating the next step, do it and remove the mistake in the editing phase.

Once you’ve got a good run through, you’ll head back to editing. Again, the image below is using Screenflow, but there are multiple other options out there.

create self service screencast - creating a segement

You’ll notice that the video track has fewer edits than the audio track. Since we like to aim for a clean recording, most of the edits are just to cut out misclicks or slow loading moments for a cleaner video.

Finalizing the Process

At this point, you should have seamless audio and video. What’s next?

We would suggest adding opening and closing screens. An opening screen is what would show during the beginning when you’re telling your customers what this video is about. A closing screen could reiterate the title and also give company contact information. It’s great to close on the suggestion that a customer can reach out to you if they have any questions.

Make sure everything looks good by watching your final video a few times. Once it does, you’ll want to save or export video from your software. We recommend exporting the highest-quality video you can, in a web-friendly format.

create self service screencast - finalize

Once exported, it’s time to host. Upload the video wherever you host files or use a dedicated service like Vimeo or Wistia to make sure they’re ready to embed in your self-service site.

That’s a Wrap!

You’re done! The video is complete and it’s on your self-service site. This screencast is going to help your customers and give them a closer look at your software.

Time for a quick hooray! Then, pick your next topic and start the process over again.

Get out there and start creating videos! Tell us how it goes in the comments, we’d love to know.

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