“Let’s record a demo for our customers!”

I worry every time I hear those words. It’s not that I don’t appreciate that someone is willing to roll up their sleeves to produce something that can help out our customers, it’s just that video demos can go horribly wrong when what gets delivered doesn’t provide a good user experience. Usually the person recording the demo video is someone highly competent, whose time is very valuable, and I hate having to ask them to re-record their work.

With that in mind, here are some guidelines for recording video demos of software. I hope it’s helpful. Please let me know what I’ve missed.

Clean up

You want viewers to focus on what you’re demonstrating, no distractions, No unnecessary cognitive load.

Dock: On Mac, should be auto-minimized with a minimum set of apps pinned on the bottom. Just pin apps that are used in the demo. Don’t show date - that just calls attention to a demo being out of date before it’s time.

Launch Bar: In Windows, similar to the macOS Menu Bar, minimize the number of controls and information shown, don’t show the date.

Menu Bar: Minimize the number of controls and information shown, e.g., don’t show battery level, airplay, date/time, and user name. Inconsistencies can lead to continuity glitches when you string separate videos together.

Desktop image: Show a plain colored desktop background, don’t show a default image for the OS version, that will make your demo age quicker.

Desktop: Remove icons on the desktop, you don’t want viewers wondering if these are part of the demo.

Competitors: Don’t show any references to competitors unless there’s a good reason. Your viewers can pause and screengrab any frame in your video, and you don’t want to embarrass yourself. Seems obvious, but I’ve seen this occur in videos.

Notifications: Turn off notifications; turn on Do Not Disturb on macOS.

Users: When using fake user names in your demo, have generic names, don’t have trademarked names (Luke Skywalker) or whimsical names (Some One) or employee names. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer champion showing your demo to their senior executives - would your user names make them cringe a bit?

Profile images: Use images that you have permission to publish, stock photos often look fake. Employee headshots can work well, assuming you’ve gotten written permission (just an email or Slack message works).

Location bar. To avoid browser history, search history, and bookmarks from showing up when you type a URL, clear these out of any browser you’ll use.

Favorites: To avoid favorites from showing up in a blank browser window (which can confuse the viewer into thinking they’re part of our demo), remove all these.

User interface colors: If your product allows for custom color schemes, use the defaults across all videos, so you don’t have continuity errors.

Browser size: Maximize your browsers so you’re using all screen real estate.

Legibility

Empathy is key here! You’re probably recording on a nice big monitor with good office lighting that’s just a couple of feet from your eyes. But your video might be viewed on a screen from the back of a large conference hall, or in a customer’s meeting room with a lousy projector, or on a mobile device when commuting to work, or on small viewport on some webinar system, or by a budget holder over the ripe old age of 40 who needs reading glasses due to presbyopia - a condition experienced by one-third of Americans.

So, there are a lot of good reasons to make it easy for viewers to read everything you’re showing.

Quality: Record at 1080p or better, it’s ok if this slows down the computer during capture. You can always drop frames in post-production. 720p is not enough! Often we need to do screen grabs from videos and 720p grabs are often fuzzy.

Aspect ratio: Record all videos at 16:9, not 4:3 and ensure that browser windows are maximized to fit this aspect ratio.

Readability: Record the video on a laptop, not a large monitor. If you’re demonstrating a web app, hit command+ (ctrl+ on Windows) a couple of times so that the font is easier to read from a distance. If you’re demonstrating a non-web app, make your fonts bigger on Mac or Windows.

Visible clicks: Have a single, subtle circle appear on click for all videos, so you are consistent (QuickTime > Dropdown button > Show Mouse Clicks in Recording).

Audio

Video first, then voiceover: First record your video, then later record your audio track. You always pause the video if you need more time to get your spoken points across.

Sound quality: Find the quietest room you can, with the fewest amount of glass (which causes echoes). Get a nice noise-canceling microphone such as this one. Keep it in a foam cover to minimize echoes.

Write it out: Write out, in spoken English (simpler than written English), everything you say in easy to read, bullet-point format.

Sound natural: When speaking your talk track, sound conversational; avoid sounding like you’re reading.

Other

Filenames: If you have multiple video files, the video filenames should start with their sequence number so you can assemble more easily.

List of integrations: show as many supported integrations as possible.

App version: Use the latest version of your app, or even a beta version if available (and close to the final version) so that your video doesn’t age as quickly.