Creating Good Flash Demos, Part 2
By Roman Strobl on VI 19, 2005
Last time I wrote about software which you can use for screencasting. No matter how good the software is, without proper preparation your demos will look crappy. I have for you some tips you could consider before creating the demo.
If you want your demo to be successfull, choose a set of features people are really interested in. From my experience these are mostly features a lot of people are using and are somehow an issue. For example, GUI building in Java has always been a challenge. When I've published the demo of our new GUI builder which makes building GUIs easier, the interest was enormous. Another example are features your product was known to be not so good in but it's changing recently. People using your product will be very interested in such features.
Keep it simple. It's better to show fewer code so that people can understand it easily. Sometimes less can be more. In my experience the ideal length for a demo is 3-5 minutes. While this seems to be a very short time, longer demos are not good, because your viewers loose their attention and eventually become bored.
Make it dynamic. There has to be something happening all the time and unless you want to give the viewer time to absorb what he just learned, don't waste the time. Whenever there are some dead moments, this may mean loosing your viewer's attention and eventually interest in the demo at all. You don't want the viewer to switch to the other window.
If possible, use voice. There can be many reasons why not to use voice, starting by your level or English, that's it's more difficult or just because the software you are using doesn't allow it. If you want to make something really cool, speak to your users. They will be happy they don't have to read the text and can just sit and enjoy the demo. By absorbing the information both visually and acousticly it's much easier to learn anything and it's much more enjoyable. Speech makes your demos more human, you will create a connection with the person on the other side, while text is still impersonal. There are many reasons why to use speech so use it if you can. If there's any tip for creating good demos I would like to emphasize, it's this one.
Create a script. Before actually recording the demo, it's a good idea to jot down what you will demonstrate. Launching the IDE and clicking to show something doesn't work. If you are including speech, it's a good idea to write the speaking points down. Ideally if you have time, write the whole speech down. Then record the demo in two steps - at first the video part and then the audio part. Both audio and video can be cut, so it's relatively easy to synchronize them.
Decide which recording method to choose. Most softwares offer two possibilities - either to make screenshots of individual screens and combine them into a stream or to capture the demo as avi video (this video is embedded in flash afterwards). Depending what you are demoing, choose when to use either of these methods. The first one is more space efficient, but will not capture every moment. So if you are doing a lot of drag & drop or the screen is changing a lot, the second method is better. However count with the fact that avi video cannot be cut easily.
Post-process the demo. You'll use this tip after the demo is recorded, but it's good to count with it from the beginning. Most screencasting softwares offer you the possibility to cut dead scenes or to speed up or slow down anything. You can also add text labels and bubbles explaining what is going on.
That's all for today, next time I'll write about how to actually create the demo and provide tips how to keep the demo size small, what to do during recording and what not to do, etc.