Scripting for Screencasts
Nobody wants to sound like an idiot when they make a recording. You want to sound like you know what you’re doing. It’s really easy to make mistakes and commit all manner of presentational sins when you try to make a screencast with no script.
What do I mean by scripting? Do I mean you actually write a script? Everything you’re going to say?
In some cases, yes. This depends on your presenting skills and ability and your ability to sound natural when you read out loud. Don’t believe for a moment there is any kind of “natural talent” in this. With practice, anyone can improve. Even if you’ve failed the first round of American Idol auditions.
What you don’t want to sound like:
- Unsure of yourself
- Stiff and forced, unnatural
- Mouth-noisy or nose-breathy (pardon the highly technical jargon)
- Crazy or manic (laugh if you want to, but I’m halfway serious, here—people get weird ideas about how they’re “supposed” to sound)
What you do want to sound like:
- A boss
Whether you sound good or bad in a screencast has little to do with whether or not you write out an entire script and read it out loud… or simply speak as you operate while recording. You can have a fully-scripted screencast that sound stilted and false… or that sound professional and clear. You can have an “on the fly” screencast that sounds like the presenter can’t even string two cohesive ideas together… or that sounds as natural as if you were speaking with a friend in a bar.
If you write out a full script, it’s more likely you’ll say what you mean to say in the correct order, but you have a higher chance of sounding self-concious. If you “wing it,” it’s more likely you’ll sound conversational and un-selfconscious, but also that you’ll exhibit annoying nervous patterns, make mistakes, and ramble.
Neither method is better than the other: it totally depends on what works best for YOU. Try your hand at both methods and see for yourself. Both can be done well with practice.
The Blended Approach: You can also have a list of points (you should already if you planned your screencast correctly) and you can riff off of those, which will have the benefit of being guided and cohesive, but with a more natural-sounding final result than simply reading off a script word-for-word.
Elements Every Script Needs
Every script, no matter how tightly or loosely you do it, needs the same structure and elements:
- Introduction: Greet the viewer and introduce yourself by name and give your website URL. When people see your video on a third-party site such as YouTube you need to provide context.
- State the learning objective: Tell viewers what they’re going to learn and why it will be of benefit to them.
- Go through the steps of the main content: Obviously.
- Restate the objective and benefit: Something like, “Now that you’ve learned X, you can accomplish Y more easily than ever.”
- Say goodbye: Give your name and URL again at the end of the screencast and say goodbye. I will often remind viewers as well to click “Like” on the video if they enjoyed it. This only matters if your video is on YouTube.
- But we’ll meet again: You don’t want this to be the only time someone watches your content. Let the viewer know you’ll “see them next time” or that you’ll “see you again soon.”
How to Actually Write Your Script
- Use whatever word processor you like
- Use paragraph breaks to indicate pauses in speech
- Make the font big enough to read on the screen while you’re recording
Recording Audio for Screencasts
You have two choices when it comes to recording audio for screencasts:
- Use the built-in audio recording capabilities of your screen-recording software
- Use a separate program
Using a separate program gives you a couple distinct advantages:
- It’s made for recording and editing sound, whereas screencast recording software will only have rudimentary controls and features.
- You don’t have to worry about accidentally messing up the video as you try to edit the audio.
I recommend Audacity for Windows. It’s free, open source software and it works beautifully. You will want to export your projects as mp3 files, but this ability does not inherently come with Audacity. The reason why is that the mp3 file format is not open source. However there is an add-on you can use to give you this capability, which goes by the funny name of Lame.
If this sounds like it’s starting to get complicated, don’t worry. Instructions for how to set up Audacity and Lame exist online and it’s easy.
You can get Audacity for the Mac, but Macs come with Garage Band already. If you find Garage Band intimidating or to be overkill, you can get a Mac version of Audacity. I find Audacity extremely simple to use for screencast recording—it does a lot, too, but you won’t need most of it and the interface is not very threatening.
How to Actually Record your Screencast Audio
- Put your script in one part of your monitor or print it out and have it in hand.
- Put your audio recording software in another part of your monitor (or if you have two monitors, one in each monitor).
- Hit “record.”
- Start talking: read your script or loosely follow your points.
- If you mess up: you don’t have to start over. Just pause your speaking (not the controls) and then pick back up again. Later you can edit out your flub.
- Record several different takes in different styles: try being faster, slower, more boisterous or more intimate. Pick the one you want to run with.
- If you feel like you’re sounding forced and stiff as you read, keep creating takes until it sounds more natural. Or until it all deconstructs into a mental cacophony of circular logic like some kind of nitrous oxide trip (I recommend stopping before this point).
- You want the quietest environment possible in which to record. While it may sound funny, hiding in your closet with your laptop, microphone and tons of sound-absorbing clothing really isn’t such a bad idea! You definitely don’t want to be in a room where sound reverberates. If you have loud family members, a good solid strip of duct tape across the mouth may be necessary. If you think they might peel it off, use some on their wrists, too.
- You don’t want any surface vibration to reach the microphone. It’s best if you can put your mic on a spring-loaded articulated boom to hold it near your face. If you only have a desk stand or tripod for your mic, place it on top of a folded towel or a couple of old mouse pads to absorb vibration.
- Use a pop filter. A pop filter is a scrim or cloth that goes between your face and the microphone. The purpose of a pop filter is to prevent the little puffs of air from “popping” consonants from hitting the recording surface of the mic (like the letter “p” or “t”). It often looks like black pantyhose stretched over a circular wire frame. You can buy these or you can improvise. Simply draping a piece of cloth or some craft foam over your microphone will work—although it will look completely stupid.
- Make sure your chair doesn’t squeak or groan or otherwise make any noise. Especially noises that sound like bodily functions or wild animals, because the worse they sound the more likely it is your mic will pick that up. That is a fact of the universe.
- Do not rub or scratch your face or touch the microphone directly, these sounds will also be picked up (especially if you have a beard or stubble) and be very annoying to listeners.
- Keep some water on hand.
- Make sure your nasal passages are clear. You don’t want any “whistling booger sounds” to be in your audio.
Editing Your Screencast Audio
As is, your audio—though it is recorded—is not ready to be in your screencast just yet. You have to edit it. How the hell do you edit a digital audio file? What do you do? This is what Audacity or Garage Band can do for you. The audio track is presented in the form of sound waves in a time strip. You can click and drag along it and cut, copy, paste, apply effects or whatever. Here are the steps I take with mine:
- Noise removal: the background noise of fans or humidifiers or just ambient white noise needs to be edited out. To do this, you have take a sample where there is only background noise and then run the noise removal feature of your recording software. Combined with having a good microphone, this will dramatically improve the sound of your audio portion.
- Editing out vocal mishaps: It’s easy to see the spike in the sound wave on the editing timeline when you say “um” or accidentally make any sound you don’t want. In most audio editing software, it’s a simple matter to click and drag to select the offending portion and then delete it.
- Adding or removing blank space: Sometimes you speak too quickly and other times you may have paused for quite a bit in order to recover from a flub or to get your bearings. You can insert swaths of silence or remove dead spots in your audio to improve the pacing. You want to have only about one second of blank space before you begin speaking and after you are finished speaking.
That’s it, there’s really not much you have to do with the audio.
You might be wondering about intro music or whatever, but the truth is that stuff gets added in separately later (if at all) when you are editing the video in your screencasting program. That is not a part of this piece of audio.
The Next Part in This Series:
We’ll be going over Recording and Assembling Your Media Collection for a Screencast.
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