The theory behind a “preflight” checklist is simple. It enables one to know whether they are ready to begin some task and make sure they are as prepared as possible to handle events that will arise during that task.
I have created at this point at well over 500 successful screencasts. This number doesn’t include several hundred attempts that resulted in disaster, retries, and more editing, because of simple, preventable issues. My screencasting preflight checklist below covers the top issues and that ensure my recordings will not go to waste.
THE CAUSES OF RUIN
There are four basic categories of issues that can ruin your screencast recording.
- Interruptions – Audio or Visual or Physical events that manifest themselves as unwanted artifacts in your screencasts or cause or blocks in performing the screencast
- Embarrassing revelations – Things seen in the screencast which would have better been left out for the sake of your personal privacy or for business reasons
- Workflow – In the execution of the steps of your screencast, things that require unneeded delays or explanation or that interfere with the scenario you are trying to demonstrate
- Recording – Incorrectly using your screencasting software. Typically this means you haven’t configured your screen capture software correctly.
Interruptions are unwanted Audio or Visual or Physical events
- Close communication applications that can cause pop-ups and alarms. Typically these are applications such as your email, instant messaging applications. Close anything that could make a unwanted sound. This includes web browser windows open to social network sites such as facebook.
- Update your system and applications. This not only avoids the “new updates are available” messages but also the minimizes the chances your computer will need to be restarted during the screencast.
- Mute any phones near you. I typically turn off my cellphone completely because sometimes even the sound of it vibrating can be caught by my microphone.
- Minimize outside distractions. Close the door to the room you are in and hang a sign outside your letting people know you are recording and to send email instead
- Clear out your physical workspace. I have to confess I had lost several screencasts because I unwittingly gestured so broadly with my arms that I knocked over a cup of water onto my desk. Also, due to using a too-short USB cable for my microphone, I have accidentally disconnected the audio on several occasions.
The point here is to avoid revealing personal information or if your are recording in your office, content that is confidential to your business. Once source of embarrassing revelations was interruptions, which I covered above. The next set consists of artifacts and traces of artifacts are visible in your screencast workflow.
- Hide sensitive files that are located in any file locations you are going to visit. Typical locations that you should check: the desktop, your “My Documents” folder, any default “file open” and “file save” locations
- Clear your Most Recently Used lists. This is a dangerous one because it is easy to forget and easy to miss. Even if you’ve moved all your sensitive files to safe locations, many apps still have “Most Recently Used” lists that are visible from the file menu. Learn how to clear these out. This also holds true for the Windows Start Menu which shows both recently used applications and files.
- Clear your browser navigation history. You want to avoid your browser suggesting sites that are irrelevant to the screencast.
- Clear Search Engine History. Search engines often show you your lest few searches. These can also be sources of embarrassment.
In the scenario you are going to demonstrate, you want to have to avoid having to talk about or showing things that aren’t critical to the steps.
- Clean “output” from previous attempts. Some screencasts involve creating some output – for example a word doc. If you’ve already been doing some trial runs, then you may have created several of these. Avoid having the user see the results of these previous sessions by deleting them before your record for the final session.
- Launch any needed applications. Unless it’s relevant to show these applications starting up, have them already up and minimized if needed.
These issues are the last remaining things that can result in wasted time and effort and are all related to the screencast software. Conduct a simple screencast recording for a few seconds to verify the following settings
- Check if the audio is correctly recorded
- Verify that your cursor is being captured.
- Verify the capture region and resolution is correct. I typically record at an HD resolution (1280x720) so that things look nice on modern monitors.