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Creating Informative How-To Demonstrations with Camtasia

For those looking to create a quick-and-dirty how-to for a client or other associate there’s a screen recording and editing package called Camtasia that you should be aware of. Camtasia is feature rich and is available in a 30 day trial so you can give the software a try for yourself before committing to buy. In this writing I will go over the steps to create a basic how-to and point out ways that more professional, customer oriented how-to videos can be produced with the aid of this software.

Once you’ve chosen your topic you’ll want to configure any windows and settings first before you get started Camtasia will allow you to do basic editing, however, the less of this you have to do later, the better, so you won’t want to record yourself downloading software necessary for the process in the how-to, unless that download process is to be covered, or configuring the initial setup of a piece of software or service, again, unless that setup is to be a part of your how to. In the event that you are demonstrating setting up and using software in specific scenarios I would recommend creating multiple how-to videos, one for the initial setup that is universal to any scenarios you may subsequently demonstrate, and then record those discreet processes so that end users may select which information they should view in a more efficient way. In the planning of your how-to, if the process allows, you should do a dry-run, not recording, and use it to write a script that you can work from when recording the process for the how-to. This will help you remember all the steps, in the right order, for your process and allow you to control wording so that there is maximum understanding on the part of the client and a minimum of stammering and searching for words.

If you have not done so already, download and install the 30 day trial version of Camtasia from http://www.techsmith.com/download/camtasia/. You may purchase a registration code at any time and activate this trial should you find its usefulness worth the price tag. Installation is straight forward if you’ve installed other software in the past – the default setup options are all fine.

In order to assure a smooth experience I recommend now closing all other programs except for those needed for your how-to. Fewer programs running mean that both your demonstrated application, and Camtasia have more system resources at their disposal. You will encounter less lag. I would also recommend lowering your display resolution to the lowest setting possible that will allow you to display what you need to display, with no, or minimal horizontal scrolling. This will have the effect of making text and elements bigger in the final output of the video and will improve readability by those viewing the how-to video.

When you launch the Camtasia trial you will be presented with a dialog box where you can enter your registration code if you have one. If you will be using the trial, simply click the Free Trial button and you can then continue. Next you will see a small box with the recording controls and audio and webcam settings. For projects requiring less polish you can record your narration simultaneously with your how to. If, however, you need more professional results, for instance, if the how to is ultimately for clients use with their clients, then I would recommend prerecording your narration from your written script, while going through the motions of the process to ensure proper timing. You can use an audio editor such as Audacity to pre-record narration tracks. You may also select whether you would like to record the output from your web cam to present alongside the screen recording in your how-to.

Other options in this box include setting the recording area. You may record full screen or specified box sizes, or you may draw your own box to record. In most cases I recommend setting up the recording area so you show only the window containing the relevant material to the how-to and not things such as your task bar, sidebar widgets, desktop icons, etc. These items can be distracting, in some cases they can date the video you are producing and including extra material around the sides of the relevant area will only decrease the readability of the text you want your viewers to be able to see.

Pressing record or choosing to define an area will minimize the Camtasia panel and start a countdown to the start of recording. You will also see a keyboard combination to use to stop the recording. Usually alt+shift+2 (Windows) or option+shift+2 (Mac OS). Take note of this combination. When the countdown reaches zero and the recording begins, feel free to start your demonstration. If you must stop and resume recording during the process you may, though for truly polished results you will want a seamless video with as few edits as possible. Fewer stop/restarts will also ensure that you do not miss a step in your demonstration that would cause trouble for those viewing later on. One of the features Camtasia has over other screen recording programs is an included editor so if you must make changes later you can, without using other editing software.

When you have completed your demonstration press the key combination you noted at the beginning of the recording process. This will stop the recording and automatically invoke the Camtasia editor with your screen recording, audio and webcam recordings (if selected) present in the editing interface. You may slice, scrub, ripple edit and delete to arrange your composition in the way you see fit and then export your how-to in a variety of formats using the share button. If you plan to make a consumer-quality video how-to, edited in a professional grade editing or composition environment like Adobe Premiere or Apple Final Cut Pro, you may export the video alone without further packaging. Otherwise you may output to a YouTube suitable format, or a packaged executable program to display the video without use of other playback software.

photo credit: betsyweber

Posted on April 25th, 2011 by Team CVA

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