Tutorial: Producing Screencams in Camtasia Studio

First, what reads well doesn’t always sound good, because most people don’t write the way they talk. Second, the point of a brochure is to tell the reader about the features and benefits of the product. The point of the screencam is to show the viewer the features and make sure they understand the benefits.

Third, this is the post-MTV age, and viewers won’t watch a static screen. Most brochures typically start with a paragraph or two about why the product is so wonderful, and it’s extraordinarily difficult to find appropriate screen activities to match these statements.

When I write the script, I prefer to start with a blank slate, not with prewritten text. In terms of approach, the unspoken agreement I make with my viewers is that if you spend a few minutes with me, I’ll show you why this product would really benefit you without insulting your intelligence with a lot of hyperbole. That said, I want the screencam to be a highly focused vehicle that effectively communicates the product’s unique selling propositions and convinces legitimate prospects that the product is right for them.

So I always start by asking the client, "What are the key value propositions that you want this tutorial to illustrate?" Once I have these, I try to identify product features that prove these themes and work them into the tutorial. The script itself has to be hyperbole-free; that’s my bargain with the viewer. Yet the key points must still be made in an organized and effective way.

My scripts typically start with a short statement that identifies the key value propositions that you want to prove in the tutorial. It might be "XYZ product works quickly, is easy to use, and produces high-quality output." While the viewer hears this short recital, they’re watching the title fade in and out, and then I start the demo.

Then, throughout the rest of the script, I work to prove and then reinforce these themes. While showing a particular feature, I might say, "To run the perambulator feature, click here and choose this button. The program does the rest. Pretty simple, eh?" Or, "Here’s the output quality compared to product ABC; you can see that XYZ retains more detail and higher color resolution than the most relevant competition. Doesn’t it look better?"

Again, rather than telling the viewer what the benefit is, I show them and then reinforce the point with a "response check" to make sure they get it. In many ways, it’s the same technique I would use if demonstrating the product face to face.

Understand that scripting and screencam creation are very different roles, and you should charge for them separately. I like writing the script because third-party copywriters typically don’t understand the medium, and often write copy that’s impossible to implement, usually because there’s no screen activity to match the narration.

If the client wants to use a third party (or someone in-house) to write the narration, make sure they provide a storyboard with the narration. In other words, they have to define what will show on screen during each relevant segment of the narration, and static periods of even 3–5 seconds are not acceptable. Also, insist on precise definitions of screen activity, such as "Click File, then Save, and type the desired name in the Save window," rather than "Save the file." Otherwise, you’ll end up investing lots of time into the script without getting compensated for it.

Structure Please
If the video will extend beyond 3–4 minutes, I build an agenda into the script and video itself. While I narrate the points of the introduction, I scroll the arrow down, which provides the movement necessary to keep the viewer interested. As I move from section to section during the tutorial, I show the arrow at the next agenda topic.

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