24 Tips for Creating High Quality Screencasts
James Francis | October 23, 2017
At Screencastify, we create and view hundreds of screencasts every single day. Over the years, we’ve picked up a few tips and tricks that separate average screencasts from great ones.
It doesn’t matter if you’re creating a product demo, recording a lecture for your students, or anything in between. A high-quality screencast will hold your audience’s attention for longer and enable them to retain more information. Period.
Making a great screencast isn’t rocket science, and a little extra effort can go a long way towards improving your final product.
We asked our team to share their favorite best practices for creating higher quality screencasts. Without further ado, here are our 24 top tips.
1. Create an outline before recording
You may be tempted to just wing it, but even making just a rough outline forces you to organize your thoughts and design a “roadmap” for your screencast. There’s no faster way to lose your audience than rambling or jumping back and forth between thoughts. Making a script will also reduce your “ums” and “ahs”.
2. Record in a quiet environment
Nothing is more unprofessional or distracting than a dog barking or child crying in the background!
3. Practice once or twice before recording 🚦
Nobody can make a perfect screencast on the first try. While you certainly don’t want to over-rehearse, going through your talking points once or twice will help you speak more smoothly (e.g. you won’t have to struggle to find the best word or phrase during your recording).
4. Close out all other apps and tabs
This will do two things: 1) free up your computer’s processing power so that your screen recording software can run more smoothly and 2) eliminate the possibility of distracting notifications.
5. Grab a glass of water
If you're recording a long screencast or do multiple takes, your mouth will quickly get dry. And trust us...your viewers will notice.
6. Test your recording software
If you record a 5-minute screencast only to realize the audio wasn't picked up, you were speaking too loudly/softly, or your settings weren't right, you will pull your hair out. We don't want you to pull your hair out.
7. Only record what you need
If the content of your screencast is contained in one tab or application, there’s no need to record your entire desktop. Only recording what you need will get rid of unnecessary "visual noise" and reduce your video’s file size. If you’re using Screencastify, you can choose to record only your current tab or crop your video after you’re finished recording.
8. Record with standard dimensions 📏
In most cases, you'll want to record with standard dimensions (e.g. 480p, 720p) to make sure it displays correctly on video hosting sites like YouTube and doesn't have black bars around the edges. Screencastify allows you to automatically resize your browser tab to preset dimensions. You can also use a Chrome extension like Window Resizer.
9. Tell your viewers what you'll cover
Before you get into the meat of your presentation, give your audience an idea what they’ll learn. This will help them get oriented and know what to be listening for. If you don’t do this, they’ll be unsure where you’re going and won’t know what’s important and what isn’t.
10. Keep it short
It's no secret that video length is negatively correlated with engagement. These days, our attention spans drop off a cliff after 2-3 minutes. If you must record longer screencasts, consider breaking it up into separate, more focused segments.
11. Embed your webcam wisely
While embedding your webcam is a nice way of making your screen recording more personal, it can be overdone. Remember, your viewer will most likely be watching your face whenever they see it. This is great during introductions, conclusions, and other moments when there isn't much on-screen action, but could be distracting during the meat of your screencast. If you record your browser tab in Screencastify, you can toggle your webcam on and off during your screencast.
12. Speak slowly
Rehearse once while consciously speaking more slowly than you regularly do. Then when you record, slow it down even more. Seriously. We're all naturally inclined to speak more quickly when we're giving a presentation. Plus, a viewer can always speed up playback on YouTube if they prefer.
13. Don't worry if you make a mistake 😬
Depending on the context of the video, it’s totally fine to slip up once or twice. It makes you seem more like a real human! If you make a large mistake that you don’t want in your final video, don’t end the recording. Pause for a few seconds and start that segment over. Then cut the mistake out after you’re finished recording. If you’re a Screencastify Premium subscriber, you can cut clips using our new browser-based video editor.
14. Use a good microphone
Screencasts with poor audio quality are hard to listen to. The good news is that you don’t need an expensive, fancy microphone. Simply using basic headphones with a built-in mic is much, much better than simply using your computer’s internal microphone.
15. Zoom in 🔍
Don’t assume that your audience will watch your video in full screen (in fact they probably won’t). This is especially true if you’re recording a web page with small text. You can zoom in on your Chrome browser tab by pressing Control (or Command) +. Your audience will thank you.
16. Use annotation tools
Screencastify includes annotation tools for tab recordings that allow you to focus a spotlight on your mouse, draw with a pen tool, and more. These tools can be tremendously helpful for directing your viewer’s eyes where you want them to go.
Your browser does not support this video. Direct your viewer's attention with Screencastify's annotation tools.
17. Limit mouse movements 🐭
Excessive mouse movements are distracting. Screencastify allows you to hide your mouse when it’s not being moved. You can enable this feature in the annotation toolbar. We definitely recommend it.
18. Use keyboard shortcuts
Similarly, the more you use keyboard shortcuts to do things like enable and disable annotation tools, switch tabs/applications, etc, the less often you’ll have to move your mouse. It’s worth taking a few minutes to learn Screencastify’s keyboard shortcuts.
19. Scroll smoothly 📜
Watching someone scroll up and down websites quickly and haphazardly is disorienting. We recommending installing the SmoothScroll extension, which does exactly what its name suggests. This will allow your viewers to follow your movements more easily and adds some polish to your recording.
20. Cut out dead moments 🔪
There’s no reason for your audience to watch you filling out a form, typing something, or waiting for a website to load. Simply cut it out of your video after you’re finished recording. You can easily do this in Screencastify using our editor.
21. Don't be afraid to pause
If you need a second to gather your thoughts, think about how you’ll present your next point, sneeze, or go to the bathroom, just pause! If you’re using Screencastify, press Alt + Shift + P to pause or resume your recording.
22. End with a summary
Recap your recording and tell your viewers what they should have learned. This will help them remember all of your key points - not just the last 1 or 2 that they heard - and make your presentation more effective.
23. Trim your video
Your screencast should start promptly when your viewer clicks play and end as soon as you sign off. Dead air at the beginning and end of screencasts is a waste of time and unprofessional - nobody needs to hear that! Trimming your video takes just a few seconds and has a major impact on the quality of your recording.
24. Give your viewers more resources 📚
Because a screen recording is just that - a recording - you obviously won't be able to answer any questions you viewers have. That's ok, though! Simply provide additional resources for them to check out after viewing your video (e.g. in the video's YouTube description, on your website, in an email), and encourage them to do so at the end of your recording. That way, they'll know exactly where to go next.
Have a tip that we didn’t mention? Let us know on Twitter @Screencastify!