Screencasting for public speakers

While I’m back on the topic of screencasting, I’ve been meaning to mention another important use of the medium. Recently a colleague reported severe trouble trying to present demos that rely on a live connection to the Internet. My solution is a variation of the old joke:

Patient: It hurts when I do that.

Doctor: Don’t do that!

To avoid the pain I use screencasts instead of live demos. There are a variety of reasons for doing so. An obvious one is that it makes you immune to network glitches.

A subtler reason is that it’s hard to show software in use without wasting effort and motion. You reach for the wrong menu item, you fumble while typing. These are perfectly normal and natural behaviors, but they only add dead time to your presentation and therefore, by definition, they detract from it. When you edit out the wasted motion and false starts you create an effect that isn’t quite real — it’s hyperreal — but that’s exactly the effect that you want (or anyway, I want) a presentation to achieve.

Another subtler reason is that video playback gives you more control over timing. It can be hard or even impossible to replay a piece of a demo in response to an audience question. Likewise, it can be hard or impossible to fast-forward a demo if you’re running short on time, or if you’re losing the audience. When you’ve canned your demos as screencasts, you have a lot more flexibility.

Finally, there’s just the peace of mind that comes with only having to keep track of one single media file, as opposed to lots of moving parts. When you are speaking and showing demos, the fewer moving parts, the better.


  1. And the bonus is that its easy to share it later and/or interlace it with any video/audio that was taken.

    Live coding is definitely an adrenalin rush, but all your points are valid, and I plan to use screencasts in future. Perhaps with “deliberate” errors and pretending to type on the keyboard to keep up the illusion! :P

  2. So do you “hide” the fact that it’s a screencast from the audience or do you make it obvious that you’re showing screencasts? I can see pros and cons either way, curious what works for you.

  3. @Brian – I haven’t used them in the past, but I’d personally be transparent about it, or at least make it obvious so you don’t waste 30 seconds explaining what could be obvious.

    Either that, or pretend to pluck someone out of the crowd and have them “operate the demonstration” but really they are just starting and pausing the screencast. That’d be fun.

  4. @Nic: LOL, I love the idea of plucking a volunteer out of the audience! That’s good schtick, I’ll have to try that one soon… :-) Thanks for the suggestions.

  5. “So do you “hide” the fact that it’s a screencast”

    Nope. The fact that it’s playing in QuickTime kinda gives that away.

    To be clear about this, there are times when it’s critical to demo live. When keynoters like Scott Guthrie pull that off, it’s a high-wire act that I regard with awe.

    But there are also a lot of times when it isn’t necessary. When you’re not trying to prove that some new piece of software really works, but simply trying to tell a story. There’s no deception involved here, just careful preparation and respect for the audience’s time and attention.

  6. @Brian
    I would not recommend a screencast when the audience expects live presentation. But, even in that case, benefits of making a screencasts are at least threefold. First, as mentioned, screencasts are excellent “fallback strategy”.
    Second, after time invested in a screencast preparation, I know that I am very well prepared for a live presentation.
    Third, concrete product as a bonus, I’ve recently created a blog for sharing my screencasts.

  7. Thanks for a great idea! From now on, I’m doing screencasts for presentations to clients. Nothing that I do (at present) requires a live demonstration, and fumbling around during a presentation really detracts from the credibility of the presenter (and lordy, have I seen that happen!).

  8. Jon … I like this idea … I am presenting an “Audacity 101” session at the Podcast and New Media Expo in Sep07. Do you think it would work in a ‘training session’? It would seem like to me that it would be very efficient and give me more focus to talk about a topic’s specifics than to worry if I’ve got the audio example files loaded and in place, etc. – Steve

  9. Very nice.

    I would think that, if you have co-workers in the room, you could easily take notes on the questions and then either voice-over the questions and answers or even re-purpose the screencasts later with the questions and answers over them–it almost becomes the demo that the client wants.

    We’ve done these with Flash, but more as a play-and-watch demo, with little discussion and control around it. In fact, it’s mostly viewed later and without any ability to be in the room, so this could be another way to gain some of that control back.

    Pretty cool use. I can see doing this in the future, as well.


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