Video Best Practices and Tips


First things first: preparation

  1. Read the video topics in the KB, especially the FAQ.

  2. Learn from others: sign up for the CSI Video Yammer group and read through the video topics in the KB.

  3. Identify your key points before you write or record. Within your video and/or script, make these points clear and memorable.

  4. Know your audience. Use this information to decide on tone, humor, pacing, content.

  5. Be careful with humor. Video content can be more casual than our traditional content. The extent to which you cut loose depends on your video and your audience, but there are two very important considerations: Legal and Geopolitical standards still apply. Be very careful with humor.

  6. Videos should tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Simple narratives are best. A plot keeps viewers interested and attentive and wanting to see what happens next. For example, a good beginning to a video that teaches a task includes a brief statement of what the viewer should expect to learn by watching the video. A good ending leaves viewers wanting to try the new task or feature. A video about learning to use the mouse could conclude with, "Remember: point and click. That's all you need to master the mouse. Give it a try."

  7. Use of a script is optional, but recommended if you're concerned about forgetting specific points, or if you're trying to pack a lot of information into a short demo. A script can keep a video short and accurate. Be conversational and use first person active words. For example, "I click X and then select Y" and NOT "I will click X and then I will select Y" and also NOT "you click X and then you will select Y"

  8. Keep your videos as short as makes sense. According to Comscore's 2009 US Digital Year Report, online videos are viewed for an average of 3.2 to 4.2 minutes. This kind of data is good to know but not all that helpful. Our audience may be different. But our main goal doesn't change - ensuring that every video we produce provides relevant information in an engaging way.

    1. If you can, break down your video into several shorter segments. This gives the customer an opportunity to watch the segments over time or select only the ones in which they are most interested.

    2. If you call it a webcast, viewers will expect it to be longer and will therefore be prepared for a 20+ video and more tolerant.

  9. Because creating and localizing video can be expensive and time-consuming, try to take an "evergreen" approach to the content. If you can, avoid mentioning specific dates and product version names or showing images that will quickly date your content.

  10. Keep it lean. After you've created your script or outline – revisit it and cut out extra content. Think about instructional videos you've watched and what you liked and didn't like about them. Don't preach in instructional videos – create a direct uncluttered path to the information. Set your video goals of what this video will accomplish and stick to them.

Before you begin recording

  1. Setting up your environment for video recording.

  2. Practice your voiceover: the pace of the audio and video should be consistent, as should the ratio of audio to video. Don't read too fast or too slowly. Practice reading at a clear pace and enunciating all the words. At first, it might feel odd to speak that way, but it will help viewers who are watching your video for the first time (think especially of viewers who have trouble hearing or who are non-native English speakers). Rushing through seemingly simple procedures can frustrate viewers. So, too, can long, audio-only preambles to any video action. Practice timing the actions with your words.

  3. Check your audio: Once you've selected your audio device and set your audio levels, do a test run and ensure that the quality and level is good. Viewers are more turned off by bad audio than they are by bad video.

  4. Do a short dry run of your screencast and/or live recording. Import it into your editor and review the quality. Ensure the ratios are correct (16:9) and the resolution is at least 1280x720. For help with ratios, use this Aspect Ratio Calculator.

Recording tips

  1. Mouse Tips:

    • Keep mouse movements to a minimum, and keep the pointer off the screen as much as possible. When you do move the pointer, move it a little slower than usual so that the viewer can follow it easily.

    • Make use of Camtasia's mouse options:Effects->Options->Cursor Make cursor effects editable in Camtasia

    • Use the mouse pointer carefully and slowly to deliberately and thoughtfully guide the viewers eyes to a feature before describing its use. When the pointer moves too fast or jumps instantly from one part of the UI to another, viewers get confused and struggle to catch up. Keep the viewer's eyes on the pointer.

  2. Try to leave space at the bottom of your video for the future placement of closed captions. As much as possible, make sure all clicks and selections occur in the top 3/4 of the screen.

  3. For accessibility purposes, be sure to verbally describe the steps you are performing. Because this is video, you do not have to describe every single click, but provide enough detail so that someone with limited sight, for example, will know what's going on.

  4. Don't capture the entire screen unless you have to. Just record the application window or a region.

  5. Pacing and Tempo:

    • Use a pace that allows the user time to absorb what they are watching on screen and hearing in the audio. When showing the user what menu to go to, what command to click, what option to select in a dialog box, what button to click on a toolbar, and so on, pause long enough for the user to see and absorb the information before showing the result of that action.

    • A good tempo has less to do with how fast a narrator speaks, and more to do with how information is parceled out. It helps to imagine delivering information in packets. When an infopacket is delivered, it takes a moment for the recipient, the viewer, to unwrap and understand it, and that understanding needs to happen before the next infopacket is delivered. For example, in the Bing Travel Planner Add-in demo below, the script reads, "You can start the travel add-in either from the icons in the Outlook ribbon, or you can right click on an existing appointment in your Outlook calendar." In the video, the narrator, Ron Owens, puts a significant pause in the middle of the sentence, giving the viewer time to digest the first part while guiding their eyes to the feature relevant to the second part - something like this: "You can start the travel add-in either from the icons in the Outlook ribbon," pause, mouse... mouse... mouse arrives at appointment, then "...or you can right click on an existing appointment in your Outlook calendar." Watch the video and you'll hear and see what I mean.

    • Pause the video capture (or shorten when you edit your video) when launching another app or switching to other UI that takes a long time to display. In such cases, don't aim at an instant transition, but don't represent the full time involved. Give it time for them to keep up, and try to provide talk over it. "Now, (click) I go to Internet Explorer, and after a moment, I see the clip art site."

  6. When possible, show the app and IE title bars to orient the user, especially when switching from one app to another.

  7. Reposition the capture window to accommodate menus that extend beyond the capture region. Or set your recording tool to do this for you.

  8. Don't change positions of the capture window if possible. This can cause a jump where video clips are joined.

  9. Tone and humor are tough to quantify. Office focus group participants put it best: "Too formal bores me immediately, and too casual seems cheap and unprofessional." "The tone of the video is the aspect that stood out the most while I was watching it. The casual narration style made it easy to follow along and kept it from being distant and boring." Words that describe the ideal VO tone might be: genuine, knowledgable, enthused, comforting, steady.

  10. The audio doesn't need to explain every action that appears on screen. For example, let the visual images communicate common actions, such as clicking OK.

  11. Avoid references to earlier parts of the video, unless references are essential. Viewers should be following along, not trying to remember what they saw or heard before. They can always replay the video. If you must refer to earlier parts of the video, do so generally. For example, "Earlier, you saw how to add X to Z. Here's something else you can do with X...."

  12. When demonstrating filling in text, have much of it filled in already or just pop in the entire value. The user doesn't want to watch a lot of data being typed in.

  13. Remove Alt-text if it distracts and is not relevant to the process you are demonstrating.

  14. Use callouts judiciously, such as to point out multiple areas you want the user to look at and compare at the same time, add emphasis to a part of the UI that's commonly overlooked or that changes subtly as a result of an action, or if the callout is a better solution than having the pointer, say, circle around an area. (Low frame rates can make certain pointer actions look jerky.)

  15. Make sure that when a callout appears, that the audio is not in conflict by referring to something different than what is being highlighted.

  16. Try to avoid taking the pointer over anything that changes unless the change is relevant. The viewer will assume any change to be indicative and will at best be mildly distracted. For example, don't roll over links on the way to another area in the UI. An underline appears under the link and alt text pops up, thereby drawing attention to the link, not to the UI the cursor is moving to.

  17. Use transitions only when appropriate, such as to convey elapsed time, switching scenes when one scene is not the direct result of an action in the previous scene. Example of when to use a transition: Switching from IE to a document open in Word when the document opening was not the direct result of clicking on something in IE. Do not use a transition if the action is a direct result of another action. Example: Clicking a meeting workspace link in an e-mail message in Outlook open the meeting workspace in SharePoint. No transition effect necessary when going from Outlook to SharePoint.

  18. If you have to re-shoot all or part of the demo, don't forget to reset the state of your sample data or capture environment. Example: If the demo showed how to import a SQL database into PowerPivot and you already completed the import, be sure to remove that tab before reshooting.

Editing tips (generally apply to Camtasia)

  1. Use the Video Production Presets! There is a preset for regular display and one for mobile devices. By using the preset, you will not have to manually set things like resolution, output quality, output dimensions, editing format, etc.

  2. In Camtasia, add commonly-used items to your Library tab. For example, the closing slide, intro and outro bumpers, etc.

  3. Increase the cursor size and add a yellow highlight. Select Tools->Cursor Effects and change the cursor size to 130 and select the yellow highlight.

  4. Your best insurance against large black bars is preparation. Read through the topic Setting up your environment for video recording.

  5. If your video is blurry there are 2 likely reasons -- one means you'll have to re-shoot, the other does not.

    • Blurry video can be the result of recording at too low of a resolution. In this situation you will need to re-record. Camtasia (or PhotoShop or any other editing tool)cannot fix this after-the-fact.

    • Blurry video can also be the result of importing your raw video into your editor at the wrong resolution. When you open a new project in Camtasia, it prompts you to select the editing dimensions. Many people just accept the default here and that is a mistake. Instead, be sure to select 'Recording Dimension' or 'custom' , depending on which editor you are using.

  6. You might find it easier to edit your video with the audio and video tracks Unlinked. To do this in Camtasia, click the blue dot to the left of the tracks. Once unlinked, these tracks cannot be re-linked.

  7. Use descriptive names for your video files. Your completed video, and sometimes even your source files (.camrec and .camproj files, for example) will be used by teammates, LOC, and Video Producers. To help them easily find the files they need, use descriptive names. For example, finalvid.wmv is not helpful. cleansingWithDQS.wmv is helpful.

  8. Don't forget the branding elements – each video should have the branded opening slide and closing slide. For BI products, the videos should also have the intro and outro bumpers.

  9. For Closed Captions, create a separate Camtasia project file and append it with 'CC'. For example, video and videocc. To make the edits quicker in the CC file, reduce the Editing Dimensions of the project.

Finishing up (generally apply to Camtasia)

  1. Make sure your video doesn't "break any rules." Make use of the MSVideo Tool's approval process, check with your Geopol Champ, review legal guidelines, review "red flag" items, and more.

  2. When you are done with your video, remember to UNinstall Camtasia and/or SnagIt and free up the license for another user.

  3. During Uninstall, when prompted, save your library assets.