Recording Product Training Videos

May 21, 2018

So one day I was surfing hashtags on Twitter (like you do) when I came across this gem from a home inspection software company called Spectora. It caught my attention because I'd just been talking with my team about how to improve our training video production process.

Oh Spectora, how we feel your pain. All the written documentation in the world couldn’t replace the tutorial video--it’s an essential part of any software company’s end user training material. But product how-to’s can be a real challenge to produce if done inefficiently, and many teams go through several rounds of trial and error before finding a process that works for them.

We thought we’d eliminate some of the guesswork by offering tips and strategies for streamlined tutorial video production. Below are three different approaches to developing your video suite using as few employees, hours, and dollars as possible. Small- to medium-sized teams with limited time and resources will find them especially helpful, but they’re a great place for larger teams to start as well.

But before we get into production methods, let’s cover preparation basics.

Before You Record

Assign a Project Owner

Finding the right person or people to spearhead your product training video project can be tricky sometimes because content of this sort typically straddles department lines and necessitates a breadth of skills, including:

  • Advanced product knowledge
  • Good written communication
  • Good spoken communication
  • Audio and video editing

Entrusting an individual or committee with the ability to make video-related executive decisions, however, is the first step in ensuring that your kitchen isn’t overrun with cooks.

Define Scope

Before you go about making your first script, it helps to define the scope of the project as a whole. Determine which aspects of your software application require tutorials and how you might break those up into videos. As you do this, consider your product roadmap and imagine how projected changes will affect your video content. Keeping videos relatively short and confined to a narrow area of the application will make it easier to swap out old videos for new ones as new enhancements arrive on the scene.

By the end of your scope planning session, you should have a general idea of how many videos you plan to create and what each one will cover.

Craft Your Scripts

How you craft your script is ultimately up to you, but there are a couple of best practices that might make it easier for your voice-over (VO) reader.

First, consider creating a storyboard that associates each line of VO text with notes about what is happening on screen in that moment. Simply construct a table with a column for video, a column for audio, and optional columns for notes, shot length, or any other pertinent information. This allows you to script both the VO and the visual cues, syncing them and documenting them all in the same place.

When you write the VO text itself, use punctuation and italics to help cue things like inflection and emphasis. Compare these two sentences:

Then to render a chart simply click on the add chart button

Then, to render a chart, simply click on the “Add Chart” button.

Given the first sentence, a VO reader would have a harder time determining when to pause, how to pitch her voice, and which words to emphasize. The second sentence, by contrast, uses italics, commas, quote marks, and a period to cue these important voice directions. You can go even further by coming up with your own formatting cues—maybe bolded text should be read slowly and asterisks interpreted as a pause. The easier it is for your VO reader to read the script with the right inflection, the fewer takes she will need to get it right.

Recording

We identified three basic methods you could use to record your screencast. The option you pick will depend on your resources and priorities.

Option 1: Low Cost, Low Skill

Chances are your team is already using some kind of web conferencing solution, the majority of which support call recording. You can use this function to create product training videos on a budget. Simply set up your solution, jump on a conference call (with or without other attendees), share the relevant window so that it is visible through the conferencing solution, and hit that record button! When you end the call, you’ll find the video waiting for you on your hard drive.

On one hand, this method requires no new software licences and no video or audio editing skills. On the other, because you’re feeding your screencast through the internet before capture, both sound and image will go through some compression, and the quality may suffer as a result. Additionally, because this is an editing-free method, your VO reader will have to both read the script and perform all visuals simultaneously. It may take several attempts before you get an error-free recording as well.

Option 2: Low Cost, Some Skill

If you’re not averse to learning how to use a new software application, you can try graduating from a web conferencing platform to an open source screencasting tool. We recommend OBS Studio, which is free, easy to use, and well documented.

Unlike web conferencing software, OBS doesn’t necessarily have to be live to be recording your screen and voice. This means that you can preserve both your video and audio quality using this recording method. OBS doesn’t have any editing features, however, so this is another option that would require you to record until you get a satisfactory take.

Option 3: Some Cost, Some Skill

Your last option is to invest in a combination screencasting and video editing solution such as Camtasia . The only real drawbacks are the licensing fee and the learning curve, which is naturally steeper than that of a straight screencasting tool. After that, it’s all value. A solution like this not only allows you to edit your takes, dramatically reducing recording time, it also gives you access to effects, animations, and other embellishments. You could add title screens to all your videos, introduce music, zoom in to focus on cursor activity, overlay highlighting and arrows for emphasis, and more!

If we failed to mention your favorite training video production method, tell us about it in the comments! We hope you find a technique that gives you the best return on your time and financial investment.

 

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