Preparing your screencast

When I’m trying to learn something new, watching a screencast is really helpful for me. Screencasts show me the step-by-step process of how something is done. The beauty of it is, I can always go back or restart it if I need a second pass (or more!) before it really clicks with me. Plus, it’s way easier to understand a process if I see it done right in front of me, rather than having to slog through a manual or other text-heavy instructions.

Today, I’d like to go over four things you should do to prepare for your screencast before you hit the red Record button.

Understand the Big Picture

Good screencasts are the result of thoughtful planning and careful work. So before you decide to record something off the cuff, take a few minutes to think about the process you’re going to demonstrate. Questions to ask yourself include:

  • Why would a learner need to watch your screencast?
  • What do you want the viewer to learn?
  • What information, and what level of detail, do you want to show in your screencast?
  • On what types of devices will your audience watch your screencast?

Answering these questions will help you imagine the final output of your screencast. Doing a deep dive might seem like an easy corner to cut, but believe me, putting some time into planning your screencast will help you avoid time-consuming reworks later.

Draft an Outline

With a plan in place, it’s time to start drafting an outline of your screencast. If there is particular wording or terminology you need to include, or you’re more comfortable working with a script, then by all means write one. Scripting will definitely help you plan your sequence, and if it helps you sound more relaxed and natural when you’re recording, then that’s a good thing.

Set Up Your Recording Area

Once you finish your outline or script, you might be tempted to start recording. Not yet! There are a few more things to do to prepare your environment and equipment, such as:

  • Test your audio devices. Try the built-in microphone on your computer. If you’re not happy with the audio quality, try other options like a headset or a desktop microphone. You can find these for a decent price online, and it’s generally worth the investment if you think you’re going to record more screencasts in the future.
  • Eliminate distractions. Make sure you won’t have any disturbing background noises while you’re recording. Take a listen as you look around—all those noises that you don’t notice every day—a phone, squeaky chair, air conditioner, street noise, etc.—will definitely interfere with your recording environment. The same is true for visual distractions like flickering lights, someone walking past behind you, and pop-up notifications from your emails or chats. Turn off the ringer, find a better chair, shut off the A/C, close the window, change the lightbulbs … do whatever it takes to create a still, quiet environment.
  • Position your outline or script. Put your outline or script at eye level next to your computer screen in order to minimize how much you need to move around to read it. You don’t want people to see you shuffling papers on your desk or reaching for your outline. Your props should be invisible to the viewer so you look poised and organized.

Prepare Your Display

Your final step before recording is to clean up your display so it’s ready for prime time. As cute as the kittens are on your desktop … consider a neat, professional look for your background. You should also set yourself up so you don’t have to search for screens or examples while you’re recording. Here are a few to-dos to help make sure your display is ready for the public eye:

  • Get rid of visual clutter. Eliminate unrelated and unnecessary items on your desktop so they don’t distract learners. Make it easy for them to follow what you’re saying, and use the mouse—not too much, though—to show them where to look.
  • Hide personal or proprietary information. When you show your browser window, consider hiding your bookmarks. If there’s a login involved during the screencast, create a different user account that only displays what you want to show learners.
  • Prepare your example screens. Open all the programs that you plan to show, and think about how you will navigate to them during the screencast.
  • Prepare highlights. If you know that a more detailed view would be helpful for a certain part of your screencast, prepare to zoom in or show a close-up screenshot.

Feeling ready to record? You might want to do a few test runs just to feel more comfortable with the presentation, but if you do best on your first take, then go for it. Many people warm up as they get more familiar with the navigation and material, so be patient and wait for the take that comes out most fluently.  

If you’re already working in Articulate Storyline, you can do your recordings right in the application. For more details, check out how to create screencasts and software simulations in our tutorials hub.

And if you want to try a really fun, intuitive, stand-alone screen recording tool, try Articulate Replay. Because it records your screen and through your webcam at the same time, you get two tracks to mix and match, so you can cut from your on-screen action to your narrative and back again. It’s an incredibly simple way to create a visually engaging screencast.

Do you have any tips or tricks of your own for creating screencasts? We’d love to hear about them in the comments. Want to try something you learned here but don't have Articulate software? Download a free trial, and come back to E-learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

Sharon Gregerson
Peter Rushton