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Screencast: Why you should record your screen and how that works

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When texts and oral explanations fail: Screen recordings convey knowledge and create understanding. Here you will learn which steps you should take when you screencast.

Sometimes nothing really helps.

Imagine there is a problem, for example with the use of a software. Then things start to happen: one e-mail after the next, from the person seeking help to the IT support – and back again. Communication goes back and forth like a ping-pong ball, but the solution doesn’t occur, or it occurs very late. The e-mails contain confusing explanations of what was clicked and what should be clicked. Texts are sent that describe how to use the software – but no practical and quick help.

Or another example: a new employee comes into the company. He receives 30 pages of printed text in his hand. These are a summary of the corporate software. Two hours later the new colleague is sitting in front of his computer surrounded by a pile of paper – and still doesn’t know much more than before.

Sometimes nothing ever helps.

In these situations a video sometimes says more than 1000 words – or 100 e-mails. These are situations in which so-called screencasts are used. A screencast, or screen recording, is the video recording of the screen. Technically speaking, these recordings are nothing more than a sequence of very many screenshots in a row. The screen recording is then often supplemented by an audio track with further explanations and sometimes extended by web camera recordings.

A transmission of the screen is also possible in real time. In this case one speaks of screen sharing.

How does that work?

There are numerous providers of screencast software on the market. First of all, key figures and properties such as image detail, video and audio data compression are defined. Then the user can start the recording and the video data stream is created from the sequence of individual images. When the recording is complete, there is a more or less extensive possibility, depending on the software, to edit the video: for example, by cutting and dubbing or by inserting additional elements. Depending on the software, the finished screencast can also be exported and shared on portals such as YouTube, sent by e-mail or via link and be saved.

The fields of application for screencasts are numerous: Screen recordings are used for webinars, e-learning, instructions and tutorials or even let’s play videos. This means that the target group is also broad and ranges from customers, colleagues and followers to friends and family members.

Zielgruppe

What is this good for?

Screencasts have the obvious advantage that they simply depict abstract processes on the computer. Instead of lengthy explanations and descriptions, they provide a visual presentation of exactly the processes that need to be executed.

Especially complex tasks and processes can be illustrated very conveniently and quickly with screencasts. This visual support is often easier to follow and can lead to improved understanding. Studies show that screencasts can be an efficient tool for improved learning. They offer an easy way to document, create demos and share knowledge even across time and place. In addition, the demand is high: customers sometimes ask specifically for videos as a substitute for written explanations. It is no coincidence that YouTube, after Google, is the second largest search engine in the world – moving images are more demanded than ever.

Nevertheless, screencasts also have their disadvantages. Their production is costly and requires some experience and clear planning. Once a screencast has been created, it cannot be updated as easily as a step-by-step guide, for example, when software updates are made.

Screencasts also have their weaknesses for users. Screencasts are often very long, especially when dealing with complex topics, and require a lot of time to watch: They are, after all, following the video maker in real time.

Rewinding back and forth is also difficult because you never know what important detail might be presented in the next minute of the video. Screencasts do not provide a good overview, but usually require viewing the entire video. For questions about small details, screencasts are not the right medium to convey information.

For these reasons, screencasts should never stand alone as a communication medium. In combination with a helpdesk, customer support and written step-by-step instructions, however, they can be an extremely helpful medium for customers and colleagues to pass on information.

In practice…

A good example of successful IT support is our flowshare customer Scopevisio: The Bonn-based IT company provides comprehensive support for its users.

The Scopevisio employees were also able to see that screencasts are a great help – but alone are not enough. That’s why the software specialists offer a range of options for their users. The perfect combination at Scopevisio is screencasts on the one hand and step-by-step instructions created with FlowShare on the other.
In this way, the company offers the perfect solution for every need. Customers can decide individually which format works best for them and get help from the chosen format.

To enable you to successfully create your own screencast as well, we have a few tips and tricks for you here. If a few basic things are taken into account from the very beginning, nothing will prevent you from creating your own successful screencast:

Checklist for a successful screencast

1. Clear the screen:
Check your desktop before you start recording and hide private elements or content that should not appear in your screencast. A plain background can convey professionalism and avoid distraction from the video flow.

2. Clearly defined goal:
Be clear in advance what exactly you want to say with the video and what content you want to convey. Avoid too many goals at once, but keep them short, clear and simple.

3. Determine processes: Screenplay
Even if processes are actually routine: When the screen recording is running, some people tend to suddenly foregt which sequence they wanted to demonstrate.
That’s why the following always applies: first define exactly which clicks you want to record and in which order. Afterwards you can capture this sequence for yourself in a small script.

4. Define standards
Especially for a series of screencasts it is worthwhile to think about video standards beforehand. These define the key data of your recording and a uniform framework. Standards can be, for example, a consistent screen resolution and video length, as well as recurring elements such as the start image, the author’s name or explanatory boxes with additional content.

5. Precise actions and smooth mouse movements
When the recording is running, the following applies: Follow your previously set up script in a structured way. Don’t become hectic, but take your time and do one action after the other. This is the only way to ensure that your viewers can follow you easily later. If the screen is large, it is often worthwhile to highlight the mouse pointer additionally. In this way the viewers will always know exactly what action you have performed at the respective position.

6. Software usage
Benefit from the technology! Screencast tools have become highly developed. Even free software sometimes offers extensive additional features and editing options. So have a look at different providers and choose the optimal screencast software for your individual needs. Criteria that play a role here are, for example:

  • Compatibility with your operating system
  • Export formats
  • Recording length
  • Editing functions
  • Sound recording options
  • Adaptation to mobile devices
  • Price

So far so good – you should be prepared for your own screencast – almost. There are a whole host of different providers of screen recording tools on the market and that’s where the final challenge lies: Which software should you use for your own screencast? The decision may be very difficult given the large selection. To give you a little help, we will not stop here. In another blog post, we support you in your decision and give you an overview of the various software solutions: Which providers are there on the market? And how do the different tools differ?

Stay tuned – and of course in flow!

FlowShare helps IT departments to create step-by-step guides quickly and easily.

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