Creating Project Demo Screencasts

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We often do bi-weekly sprint iteration demos for our client projects. In these demos, we get the chance to showcase the work we’ve done over the past couple weeks.

Live demos are stressful. Of course it is important to sit down and have a live interactive session with a client to get their feedback and ensure usability, but within the context of a showcase meeting, I think a much better option is to make a screencast of the demo. There are several benefits to making videos.

Meetings are expensive and should be made as short as possible. By creating demo screencasts, all of the videos can be linked to from a presentation slide with all following in quick succession, eliminating the need to re-connect each person’s computer or change who is presenting on a hangout.

It is important to prepare for meetings to maximize the efficiency. A demo screencast can quickly run through the features according to scripted steps to make sure that they are properly presented. Demo screencasts make sure you have done your homework, and in doing so they reduce stress. (See also “Meetings: Where Work Goes to Die”.)

Creating a video beforehand helps ensure that the feature is actually completed before the showcase, though really the feature should have gone through QA at this point. If there are rough edges you know about, you can create a screencast that intentionally avoids situations where those known issues appear and cause embarrassment. Creating a demo screencast also is a great way to do your own QA, making sure you’ve fully tested the feature as you work through the steps to showcase it. This happened to me recently, where I thought a feature was complete, but when I went trough creating a screencast, I caught a bug in something I assumed was complete but wasn’t.

For anyone that wasn’t able to attend the meeting, screencasts provide a way for others to see what they missed. Even more importantly, screencast videos are sharable and you may find a compelling screencast going viral among among the client’s ranks.

Lastly, having demo screencast also provides our team a great archive of videos to showcase the history of the project. We can refer back to these videos to see how far we’ve come. We can also use these screencasts as a way to share what we are doing across the team in company-wide updates. And finally, these videos can be very helpful when engaging with potential clients to showcase our prior work.

As for the mechanics of making and sharing a screencast, a great builtin tool to record them is QuickTime Player which comes built-in on Macs. With QuickTime, you can create both full-screen and cropped recordings via File > New Screen Recording. It can highlight mouse clicks and you can even record your voice along with the video (not something I do often). Here’s a screencast example I made recently for the Customize Posts plugin:

I uploaded this video to YouTube, which is a good option because you can mark screencasts as public for any features being worked on in the open, or you can make videos unlisted/private for any features that are client-specific. Another good option for uploading videos is Cloudup.

Sure, making demo screencasts may take more time than giving live demos, and this is a downside. But there are many advantages to keeping this discipline of making screencast demos.

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