Tips for Creating Software Video Tutorials Worthy of an Oscar

By April 13, 2013 February 27th, 2016 General

Here at Essential Instructions we love replacing instructional text with visuals, and one of our favourite ways to do this is through the creation of video tutorials. Video tutorials reign supreme when a product has long, intricate, or difficult user interface procedures, because videos allow the user to follow along, pause, and rewind at their leisure. However, the process of creating a video tutorial can either be fun or downright stressful depending on your comfort level (which is one of the reasons it’s often relegated to a technical writer). So in this article we’ll share a few tips and some information on how make this the best experience for the author and audience alike.

We’ll start by looking at the software for which there really is only one name to know: Camtasia by Techsmith. This screen recording software has become the de-facto standard for software video tutorials over the years because their feature set has simply nailed it. A few key features worth mentioning are its ability to select areas of a screen to record, splicing of video snippets including adding and removing frames, screen zooms, audio recording and overlaying, output to multiple video formats, and mouse highlighting, to name just a few.

While Camtasia is also perfect for recording audio, we actually recommend that audio be recorded separately from the screen capture work, for the simple fact that it’s way easier to focus on demonstrating your software without having to worry about what you’re saying. This eliminates a ton of stress in trying to remember what to say and when, while operating complex software correctly. More generally when the narration is done separately and overlaid, we’ve found things go a lot more smoothly. To support this, we recommend you grab a free audio recording utility called Audacity, which you can use to record, edit, and adjust all of your narration recordings. Once recorded, you can then import the clips into Camtasia.

While on the topic of audio, don’t be too afraid of your own voice. It’s common for people to be squeamish when they hear their own voice, but to others it sounds just fine. Just be sure to enunciate and even over enunciate, and to not rush your narration, as that will provide the best audio for users to follow. In fact if you’re recording narration separately, then you can use the screen recording as a guide for how fast to speak. If you’re narration turns out to be a bit too fast or slow, fear not because you can always insert pauses or remove video frames with Camtasia to make your video coincide with your speech. Also for narration, don’t get too hung up on a formal script. If you need one, try to keep the information to concise bullet points, or even better, just follow what’s happening on screen and speak naturally and off the-cuff. This will make for a more relaxed narration effect that users will appreciate.

Both video and audio are best done in small snippets, usually in lengths of 30 seconds to 1 minute, and then spliced together in Camtasia. This makes it easier to go back and modify certain segments of the video or audio if something appears incorrect after the whole video has been assembled. Thankfully Camtasia has an auto-numbering system which automatically increments the video snippet filenames after recording the screen, another win for this great piece of software.

Things get a little bit trickier when recording data which changes when operating the software (e.g. when updating a value on screen). So be sure to have lots of test data on hand, and if possible, figure out before hand how to reverse or recreate data transactions in case you need to go back and re-record a small segment showing this.

One final point: always keep your video tutorials up to date as your product changes. There is nothing worse for a user than following a video tutorial 75% of the way through, only to discover that that one critical button no longer exists. So re-record the video or that portion of the video (another reason to record in snippets) if the software changes. If that’s not an option, then at the very least include a note along with the video or even embed an overlay within the video (another feature of Camtasia) explaining how that functionality works in the new version.

By following these tips, you will reduce your stress in creating the video and provide your audience with the best possible instructional content.

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