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.