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Make your screen recording a powerful communication tool

No one will deny that moving pictures are a very powerful and compelling form of communication. They can instantly capture the interest of the audience and immerse them in a sensory experience that demands their complete attention. This form of communication draws the viewer into a reality where your messages and ideas have centre stage - if done correctly.

This short guide will give you a head start on creating demonstrations that will help you keep the attention of your audience. It will provide some basic tips that can be found in almost any video recording handbook, and this is not surprising, as recording your screen activity is a process very similar to filming a movie with a video camera.

Have a storyboard

Plan what you want to say and show. Your demo has a message. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The beginning is an introduction to your demo. Make it clear why your demo exists and what the viewer can expect. Use headings and annotated text combined with the splash screen of your product to convey this message. Example text might be "Welcome to Widget Organiser" "This short demonstration will show you the benefits and features of our software". It is also important to give the viewer a sense of 'place', don't start showing features of your software on a dialog that is several levels deep into your application, start at the beginning. Show the viewer how to start your application, and how to navigate to the screen you are about to present. Do not confuse the viewer at the beginning of your demo; this will not keep their attention.

The middle is the main content of your demo. This is where you will visually demonstrate the features of your software. Make sure the flow of your demo is coherent. Create a real life scenario of how you would use the features of your application and present them in the correct logical order.

Finally give the viewer a sense of completion and achievement from viewing your demonstration. Show the results of using the features in your application and reinforce the benefits of your software. An example would be a final shot of all Widgets in sorted order with a caption "And now your Widgets are organised!"

Timing is everything

There is one thing that will definitely make your demo look unprofessional, and that is if it moves too fast. There is an interesting psychological phenomenon to creating demos of your own applications - this is the tendency to present the information at a speed that most first time viewers would find uncomfortable. Because you are intimately familiar with the software and, more importantly, you are familiar with the content of the annotated text, it can seem to you that the text display time you have chosen is more than adequate. However, remember that your demo or tutorial is aimed at someone who has little or no knowledge of your software. The first time viewer is not just reading your text, but is also trying to understand it whilst looking at the images of your application - there is a lot of information to be absorbed in this type of presentation. A good rule of thumb is to display your talk bubble text for a period of time that will allow you to read it twice. This will give most viewers enough time to read and understand your message.

Your demo is a series of images, usually of complex software scenes. When presenting a new window or dialog, allow the viewer some time to view the scene before displaying your annotated text. This allows them to become comfortable with the visual change. A delay of 3 to 5 seconds is usually adequate.

When selecting from menus or clicking on buttons or using any part of your applications graphical user interface, make sure the viewer can observe the changes that take place. For example, hold down the mouse button for at least half a second when clicking on a window button, this will ensure that the viewer will see the changed state of the button and hence understand the action you have performed. Similarly, before selecting an item from a drop down menu, allow the viewer time to observe the contents of the menu (by reading it twice), before selecting the desired item. If you use your application in a reasonably slow, steady and methodical manner whilst recording, then your audience will not lose comprehension of your demo.

Use visual cues to attract the viewers' attention

Many software applications will present as complex movie scenes, and often the viewer can be lost or overwhelmed by the amount of visual information that needs to be absorbed. Hence, it is very important to direct the viewers' attention to the relevant part of the scene. Highlights, callouts or talk pointers can all be used to direct the viewers' attention. The mouse cursor can also be used as a pointer. When moved in a natural manner, it can add expression and personality to your demonstration, making it a lot more engaging.

If your application has a lot of animation, then try not to let this animation distract the viewer from your annotated text and the message you wish to convey. Freezing your application whilst explaining something will not be seen as unnatural.

Build a better Demo

The above advice gives you a good head start on using screen recordings as an effective communication medium. With these tips in mind and a good dash of creativity on your behalf, you will soon have an engaging, professional and effective demonstration of your software products.

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