Show off Your Skills with a Screencast

February 27, 2009

In my family, I'm the unpaid, plainclothes version of the Geek Squad. If there's a problem with something electronic (which, these days, is everything), my phone rings with a vengeance. In some cases, it's easier for me to just fix things with my own two hands; in other cases, the greater good is affected if I show the distressed party how to fix things themselves.

This is particularly true with computer-related problems, but it's difficult to show someone how to perform computer tasks from afar. You don't really know hell until you've spent two hours on the phone attempting to teach your grandmother how to fix her mail server settings in Outlook. Thankfully, the screencast has matured enough to help me—and it's a nifty tool for a variety of other purposes.

The basics on screencasts

Simply put, a screencast is a recording of what someone is doing on a computer—a digital version of looking over your buddy's shoulder at his monitor, really. This isn't a new concept, but the convergence of better recording tools, the explosion of web video, and the increasing reliance on computers for the most basic tasks have made the screencast more useful and relevant than ever. Essentially, you record a video of what you're doing, step-by-step, add commentary, and send it away to those in need. In some cases, you can output the video, load it up to YouTube, and embed it in a web page.

Some of the more popular tools include ScreenFlow (Mac), Camtasia Studio (PC), and Flowgram (browser-based). Features vary; some services allow you to intersperse external media, such as music or video, some provide you with film-like panning or zoom effects, and some allow a degree of interactivity. With most, thankfully, the learning curve isn't too steep, and you can have your first presentation ready in minutes.

What a screencast is used for

Ultimately, you're only limited by your creativity. Yes, you can use a screencast to avoid a lengthy and painful phone call with a technophobe, but that's just a start. Here at Digett, we've been looking at recording some simple training videos that will help our clients better employ the tools we provide. Because we prefer show over tell, we quickly assembled a test video with a short tutorial on creating an email campaign in CampaignMonitor, the email service we recommend to clients for campaign management. Take a look:

In the coming days, we'll spend some more time on this, doing a better job branding it, tweaking the script, and working on the audio (our conference room sounds like an echo chamber). The first version took little time to create; a polished version won't take too much longer, making this a very powerful tool.