Screencast guidelines

One of my New Year's resolutions is to produce a number of screencasts in 2005. Now that I've begun to develop a sense of how these should go, it seems like a good time to write down some guidelines for those of you who will be joining me in these productions. Here are the top three:

  1. Show, don't tell. I've been on the receiving end of a great many WebEx-style demos over the years. The usual pattern is slides first, explaining the company, its market, and its product. Then, if there's time, comes the demo.

    Though it may seem counterintuitive, I'd rather do it the other way around. For me, and for the viewer, the ideal screencast begins with a very brief stage-setting introduction. But it's mainly a compelling demonstration of, and conversation about, a product in actual use. There are few, if any, slides.

  2. Make it real. If the product is, say, a software development tool, or a network monitor, it's ideal if the demo works with a real and substantial codebase, or with a live network. Of course I understand that, for reasons of logistics or security, this isn't always possible. But the more real we can make it, the better.

  3. Keep it interactive. You can, and I'd argue you should, record your own fully-scripted demo and post it on your own website. But I'm going to want you to depart from that script and allow me to engage you in a conversation that steers the demo into unexpected areas.

    On one recent call, that didn't happen. The vendor charged through a scripted demo, ignoring my questions. As a result, I never bothered to produce and post that screencast. It wasn't interesting to me, and wouldn't have been interesting to you.

    Note that when demos are interactive, there may be opportunities to use some of the slides I deprecated in guideline #1. When a question pops up in the course of the demo, the presenter may realize that slide 27 addresses the question. Jumping to slide 27 in response to a question both respects and exploits the screencast medium.

I'm still making this up as I go along, but from my perspective these are the key guidelines. I'm sure I'll refine and extend them with feedback from two constituencies: the presenters whose products are featured in these screencasts, and the viewers who watch them.

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