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

create screencast self service

Do you want to ensure your customers can understand how your software works? How about communicating with them in the way that works best for them.

Why not try a screencast in addition to more traditional written content? Screencasts let you present information in a non-written way and it also lets 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 and will know for sure the steps they need to take, as opposed to written documentation where you can’t visually cover every element.

If you’re sold, this is how you can get started.

What you need:

  • An idea
  • A microphone
  • Audio and screen recording software. I personally use software called Screenflow for both my audio and video, but there are multiple options out there to suit your personalized needs.
  • Some time
  • A quiet space

Once you have all of that you’ll be:

  • Writing your script
  • Recording your audio
  • Editing your audio
  • Recording your video
  • Editing everything together
  • Celebrating your amazing screencast

It all starts with the idea

To get started, you want to decide on your screencast idea.

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

Screencasts work great for overviews as well, describing how a feature works or how your customer can use your software overall, but you’re best off starting with a how-to while getting comfortable with the screencast process.

Sit down and think about ideas you want to cover. What sorts of things do you often hear from customers about? What task do you think your customers would really 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 isn’t too many steps to explain. There is 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 and make it a bit of a story. Rather than something dry and boring, set it up to be an example that you’re talking about.

You want your script to flow well but also have distinct sections. Think about it in this format:

  1. What your customer wants to accomplish (the task, the end goal, etc)
  2. The first step they take, then the next step, etc
  3. What the end product looks like
  4. Summarize and how they can contact you if they have questions.

This gives you a basic formula to follow, but it also makes it easier to update later on. If you can re-record just step 2 rather than steps 1-4, you’ll save a fair bit of time.

You should expect your script to be somewhere between 500 and 1,000 words on average to end up with a 3-7 minute video.

Don’t focus too much on the length, 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. I love adding easter egg type moments to my script, like picking a popular television show or movie as the world where my task is happening. Then I get to talk about how Initech Inc. needs to do something, or direct Jon Snow through some motions.

I go for subtle personally, but I’ve seen companies go all out here and really show that as a brand they’re a bit quirky, which is a ton of fun. 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 at first to start with audio rather than video, but trust me, 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 record video to your audio rather than the other way around. The audio should set your pacing and then the video should match.

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

I recommend trying a number of different mic positions and record the same snippet of text over and over to see how they compare. I like to pretend I’m in the cast of My Fair Lady and repeat, “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”

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 and you also want to minimize those popping P sounds or anything that sounds like lisping.

You also want to try and minimize sound distractions in your recording space. Try a bunch of recordings and make sure it doesn’t sound like you’re recording from a wind tunnel at the zoo (this could just be my house). 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! I added tape markers to my desk so I can always move my microphone back to the same spot and I took a photo of the exact position that I can match it up to.

create self service screencast

As long as you can remember that setup, 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. Personally I use Screenflow, but you can use anything! Garageband (on OSX), Sound Recorder (on Windows), anything you have on-hand will work for you. It’s more about microphone quality and what you’re familiar with than anything.

Print out your script or have it showing on your monitor, press record on your software, and start reading. If you trip over something, stop talking for a couple of seconds and then start over from the beginning of the paragraph.

Keep going until you get to the end and add any flourishes like how someone can contact your company or maybe a suggestion of the next topic they should watch.

Next up you’re going to pop on a pair of headphones (you can use speakers, but headphones are going to work better) and listen to your audio.

It’s going to have those moments that you messed up, it isn’t going to flow perfectly, but you want to listen to the end and decide, “Does this sound good?” You’re looking for background noise, bad audio, things along those lines.

If you find issues, scrap it entirely and start again 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 is going to be so much faster.

Once everything sounds good, you’ll start editing.

This is what an edit screen looks like for me:

create self service screencast

I use 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 keep listening and editing until you have a good audio recording without stumbles or those tongue tied moments. It should flow like a seamless recording.

Make sure you leave some pauses, though. This not only gives your listeners a better chance of following along, but it will give you a better ability 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, I use Screenflow, but you could use something like Camtasia, or Quikcast, whatever you like.

What you want to do here first is size your browser window or your software to set your recording zone. Much like setting up your microphone you want to keep the sizing consistent so your videos match and it’s easier to edit. Personally, I like to set my browser full screen when recording, it saves a lot of time fiddling with sizes.

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

One tip is set a delay so the audio doesn’t start playing for 5 seconds, unless you have an intro where you just talk at the beginning of your audio before getting into the “show and tell” portion. 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 starts. You can always cut out the beginning bit later on.

Once you start narrating steps, simply follow along. Your audio should be telling your customer what to do, and therefore it should be telling you what to do as well. Just follow along and do what you are telling your customer to do.

Much like with your audio, you’ll probably stumble at some point. How you handle it depends on your pacing. If things go haywire and your audio went straight on 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 fix it in the editing phase.

I like to aim for a clean recording. If I stumble and type something incorrectly I’ll go back and fix it if I have time and leave the mistake there to be edited out later. If there isn’t time I’ll stop the recording and start over entirely. You’ll want to figure out what works best for you, though.

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 my video track (the parts that say “Screen Recording”) has a lot less edits than the audio track. Because I like to aim for a clean recording, most of my edits are just to cut out mis-clicks or to edit out slow loading moments for a cleaner video. For the most part, though, as long as my audio was a good story, following along in the video is the quickest part of the process!

Finalizing the process

Okay, by this point you should have a seamless bit of audio and video. What’s next?

The first thing I’d suggest is an opening or closing (or both!) title screen. An opening screen is what would show during your opening 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 show if you close on a suggestion that a customer can reach out 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 a finalized video from your software. For me, I always export in a web friendly MPEG format in as high of quality as I can. I can always scale it down, but I can’t scale it back up.

create self service screencast - finalize

Once exported, it’s time to host. Add this wherever you’d 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! You have a completed video and it’s posted in your self-service site. You’ve created something that’s going to work great for your customers and given them a visual and auditory look at your software rather than something written, which works great for lots of people.

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

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





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About the author
Diana Potter

Diana has worked leading support and documentation teams for over a decade. She strongly believes that the best way to get ahead in business is treating your customers well and working towards an amazing customer experience every day. When she's not helping customers or writing, she's reading or cuddling with one of her 4 pets.

  • This is a neat guide Diana, I must admit! Writing your script before you start is a wise thing to do, yes!

  • Thank you. This is the best description on how to produce customer friendly product support videos, truly clear and enough detail to actually help. Thanks again.

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