How Online Leadership is Changing in Higher Education

online leadership hero

The following session was presented at Educause 2019 by Eric Fredericksen, Associate Vice President, University of Rochester; Richard Garrett, Chief Research Officer, Eduventures, National Research Center for College & University Admissions; and Ron Legon, Executive Director Emeritus, Quality Matters.

Who manages online programs at most universities? What does a chief online officer (COO) do, and how does that overlap with the head of IT?  

The most recent survey from Quality Matters and Eduventures Research of online officers across all sectors of US higher education answers these questions. In its fourth year, CHLOE – an acronym for changing landscapes in online education – gathered feedback from 367 respondents, up from 104 in 2016 ﹘ the largest response yet. 

“We’re quite happy with how the survey has taken hold, ” said Ron Legon, Executive Director Emeritus at Quality Matters.

COO on the rise

More institutions now have a COO than ever before. While only 15% of higher education institutions surveyed had a COO pre-2001, now almost all have one, even if the title varies. 

“In most cases, this position is situated on the academic side of the house,” Ron explained, although some report to the president of the institution.  

Richard Garrett, Chief Research Officer, Eduventures, National Research Center for College and University Admissions, at the podium giving a session at Educause 2019 about the latest CHLOE 3 survey results.
Richard Garrett, Chief Research Officer, Eduventures, National Research Center for College and University Admissions, explains how the relationship between the CIO and COO may be linked with enrollment.

What COOs actually do

How exactly do COOs help oversee online teaching and learning?

At least half of all COOs in the study oversees an array of responsibilities including instructional design and course development, quality assurance, LMS support/administration, online budgeting, online policy-making, and student/faculty training. In addition to technical knowledge, COOs need excellent collaboration skills as well. 

“One of the top duties of the COO is coordination between the academic units,” Ron said.

Relationships evolve

Considering the growing presence of COOs and the potential overlap in duties with IT, what is the relationship between those two senior officer positions? 

“This year, for the first time, we asked them how they relate to other senior officers at the institution,” Ron said. “Specifically, we wanted to find out the relationship between two top officers ﹘ the COO and Chief Information Officer (CIO).” 

Eric Fredericksen, Associate Vice President at the University of Rochester, echoed the mindset of many administrators. 

“The common question that comes up is: ‘What are our peer institutions doing?’” Eric asked. “We need the anecdotal experience of working faculty and administrators to find out what the working relationship is between the CIO and COO.  Is it collaborative? Are they separate parallel tracks that seldom intersect? Or is one person wearing both hats?”

In the majority of institutions surveyed, the COO and CIO collaborate as peers, from 56% of the time at community colleges to 77% in larger universities. The two roles tend to collaborate more in institutions that have restructured to maximize the benefits of online and distance learning. Looking at Carnegie classifications, Research and Masters institutions have a high incidence of collaborating roles as well.  

“It sends a message that as online learning grows, it benefits from a closer collaboration between these two officers and their organizations,” Ron said.

While the teamwork mindset is highly beneficial at that level of leadership, sometimes it can also be tough for faculty and staff. When duties overlap between CIO and COO, students and faculty don’t know who to ask questions, or where to get help. 

Richard Garrett, Chief Research Officer at Eduventures, sees the emergence of this strong relationship as reason to ask more questions about how it will mature in the future. 

“What is the optimal relationship here?” Richard asked. “Should it be a collaboration of these roles, where the COO focuses on remote students and the CIO on campus students? Or do the two roles need to merge?”

Two senior online officers collaborate and discuss strategies while pointing to two large computer screens.

Centralize or not? 

Given the amount of emerging technology for online and blended programs, it’s no wonder colleges grapple with the best way to introduce new solutions. New e-learning technology can come from the CIO, the COO, or from both offices. Sometimes departments choose their own internal systems. In past decades, universities have trended from decentralized to centralized and back again. 

“Does everybody get a sense that this is the wild west, or are we going towards a more centralized structure?,” asked Ron. 

Vendors frequently offer tools directly to faculty and departments, with cloud options that make a department-only pilot feasible. With the best of intentions, sometimes faculty groups roll out new tools without letting IT or even their department heads know ahead of time. With so many shiny new systems in the cloud, it can be difficult to stem rogue rollouts when vendors have turn-key systems. There can also be a fuzzy line about IT approval when programs are used first at home, off premise, and then slowly brought into the institution. 

This increased multi-level array of options may not always be a bad thing. 

“Today’s student, traditional or not, increasingly values the convenience of online learning, whether it makes up an entire program or just a portion. COOs and CIOs need to work together to ensure the student experience is as flexible and integrated as possible,” Richard said. “The CHLOE project will continue to explore this and many other online learning issues.”  

Next steps

The next iteration of the survey ﹘ CHLOE 5 ﹘ will launch next year with a focus on the online learning market. Moving forward, the survey will continue to look at changing landscapes in online education, after its namesake acronym.  

See the Quality Matters website for more information including full CHLOE survey results.  

Do your video tools give faculty an easy way to record, share, edit, and caption videos for online and blended learning? 

TechSmith Knowmia Pro provides industry-leading quizzing and analytics, mobile teaching and learning, and flexible accessibility options.

Learning Online 101: How to Teach Online Course Skills that Improve Student Success

teach online course skills

Can you teach students how to learn online?

A mid-size college without an official online program, CSU Channel Islands was going through a transition.

They knew their large segment of transfer students wanted online courses, so administrators introduced one or two sections of select e-courses — around 12% of total offerings — to provide a few online options.

But instructors initially had reservations. They wanted to make sure students still had a great learning experience, and that faculty wouldn’t be inundated with technical issues.

Jill Leafstedt, Ph.D Associate Vice Provost, Innovation and Faculty Development, explained the sentiment around campus. “Faculty wanted to teach online. But they didn’t want all the student questions that come along with it.”

Imagine what’s possible for e-course skills

Jill Leafstedt, Ph.D Associate Vice Provost, Innovation and Faculty Development, CSU Channel Islands

The learning design team started to brainstorm solutions, searching for a preemptive one that would prevent issues before they even started. What if they could teach students how to learn online, to make the entire process smoother for both faculty and students?

They liked the idea, but still had questions. Can a “how to learn online” student orientation reduces the technical support concerns of faculty? If so, what is the best way to prep students across all departments for online learning? According to research by Britto & Rush (2013), students who participate in an orientation have higher retention rates. That was inspiring in and of itself. 

It was definitely worth a try. The learning design team began to create an interactive course that orients students to the online environment.

Building a human-centered course

Working together to establish overall goals, administrators knew that the orientation should cover much more than just technical know-how. “We want students to feel more confident, more connected to the institution and each other,” explained Jamie Hoffman, design consultant.

The course also needed to prepare students for academic success, and of course, introduce and immerse students in the technology they’ll use in online courses.

Administrators started the program slowly. They recruited a student test group for feedback, which gave them a critical recommendation — include videos of students. After this first phase, a small group of faculty ran a pilot with their own students. After that, a larger pilot with 10 faculty gave feedback, and designers made changes from there. 

A self-paced one-to-three hour online course, “Learning Online 101” consists of five modules, including sections on how to have a positive mindset as well as how to navigate the online classroom, with details such as where to find assignments and how to use the LMS and find their instructor’s office hours. There is also an emphasis on time management and how to use the broader campus support system, including e-resources at the library. 

Going beyond tech

Initially unsure of the ideal course length, they instead made sure to cover the most important topics. “This was a little bit of a test because we figured students were going to orientation to learn technical skills,” said Jamie, “but they really appreciated the other sections, too.” Students liked the hands-on nature of navigating the course itself. “They were given the opportunity throughout the course to use the technology,” said Jamie, and they even got an overview of soft technical skills such as netiquette.

“I really wanted to get the technical stuff out of the way,” said Jill. “Going beyond the technical support and thinking about the larger issues — how do I manage my time, how do I connect, are essential.” Since self-guidance is an important skill for independent online learners, administrators knew it was important to include that as well. “We actually contemplated an entirely separate section about time management,” said Jamie. 

Relatable and personable

A key part of making the online course relatable was to include the voices and faces of people from the university. “Anywhere and everywhere we put human faces,” said Jamie. “We included a video with faculty talking about their experiences with students, to make it feel as human as possible.” Specifically, the course involved: 

  • A welcome video from the university president 
  • Faculty and student advice videos
  • Images from the Channel Islands community, including photos and images of campus

The humanization of the course was very important. “Students recognize some of their faculty or peers in these videos,” said Jill.  “It makes students feel like it’s their place.” The course also pointed to a real person students can contact for support. “They’re not on campus to create that connection,” explained Jill. “Any way we can help them create that connection online is wonderful.”

Students like the module on ‘Navigating the Online Classroom’ the best, followed by ‘Having a Positive Mindset’. “We thought that was an important start, but we weren’t sure how students would like that,” said Jamie. It was good to see that it resonated. After each course module, students were prompted to earn learning badges, which was a convenient way to track completion. “It also provides us with great data,” said Jill. “It’s useful on the faculty end, and also on our administrative end to know what’s going on in the class.”

By design, the course included interactive elements, which many students completed voluntarily. “It was really reassuring to see that,” said Jamie. Since there’s no way their single learning designer could grade interactive responses from everyone on campus, the course pilot tried several tools, such as AnswerGarden. “Students really enjoyed seeing their peers’ responses,” said Jill.

Rollout, results, and student response

The course, which launched in the fall of 2018, saw 961 out of 8,000 students (about 12% of campus) complete all modules, of which 87% earned a badge. The majority took the course (56%) to prepare for taking a fully online course. Interestingly, quite a few students decided to take the course to enhance existing skills — 68% completed the course even though they had already taken an online course before.

Students had a lot to say about how the course helped them, echoed in this self-reported feedback: “The Online 101 course I believe was very helpful. This is my Senior year at CSUCI and I wish I would have had this course earlier on to help me with past online courses. Although I have taken an online course before, I learned a lot about how to be successful and stay on top of online classwork. It also gave great tips on study skills and how to stay on track! I think it should be mandatory because of how useful it was for me!”

After completion, 63% of students said they felt very prepared to take an online course. 92% of students earned 80% or better on the knowledge checks throughout the modules. Only five students reached out for help on how to complete the course.

Collaboration during the pilot phases led to faculty buy-in, while word of mouth helped spread excitement about the course. “We rolled it out to faculty in a very individual way,” said Jill. Faculty were encouraged to add it to their own courses within the first week of class. “Canvas Commons makes it very easy to share resources across classes,” said Jill. Administrators used screenshots to show faculty how to add it within the LMS. “We really took all the challenges out of it for faculty,” said Jill. Since knowledge checks are automated in the Canvas quizzing feature, it’s easy for faculty to see when students submit their ‘complete’ badge. 

Next steps

Faculty and students like it explained Jill, “but we now have new questions. Is it actually helping student performance in classes?”  Is the impact the same across disciplines? Do students need something extra in different disciplines? “Are faculty receiving fewer technical questions? Does it increase retention in online classes, especially prior to that three-week mark?”  

Now, another CSU campus location wants to adopt this, and place it into their own LMS, BlackBoard. At Channel Islands, Teaching and Learning Innovations offers a voluntary online course meant for professors about humanizing online instruction. They also offer a working group to encourage pedagogical technical skills. While these are both voluntary, the goal is that these offerings will increase digital course skills across campus. 

The above session was presented by the following at Educause: Jamie Hoffman, Independent Learning Consultant, Noodle Partners; Jill Leafstedt, Ph.D Associate Vice Provost, Innovation and Faculty Development, CSU Channel Islands

Ready to create visuals that teach students to learn online?

With Snagit and Camtasia you can easily capture what’s on your screen as compelling screenshots and video lessons. Record, organize, and share videos and images with TechSmith Knowmia Pro along with interactive quizzing and analytics. 

The Top 9 Screen Recording Tips That Will Make You a Better Creator (With Video)

tips for screen recording

Screen recording is a powerful way to share any information that you have on your screen with your viewers.

Before you make your first screencast, these nine essential tips will help you create a quality screen recording that you’ll want to share.

Watch the video, read the post, or do both! Either way, you’ll be well on your way to creating better screen recording videos.

1. You can record anything on your screen

One of the benefits of screen recording is that if you can see it, you can capture it. Anything is fair game – PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets, webpages, and everything else that shows up.

The downside of capturing your screen is that you can accidentally record unwanted notifications and popups – sometimes even your cluttered desktop.

Before you start recording, clean up the icons on your desktop. Turn off notifications and disable popups, too.

Example of a messy desktop with cluttered icons, next to a clean desktop with no icons
Too many icons on your screen distract viewers. Instead, a clean desktop makes a better background for your recording.

2. Have a plan about what you’re going to say

It’s easy to ramble when you record. Instead, have a plan.

An outline or script will help guide you through your recording, for a better final video. Write down as much as you need to stay focused. This could be as detailed as exact words, a general list of steps, or any other details that help you stay on point and ensure you don’t forget anything important.

Matt Pierce of TechSmith talks into his webcam, with the word "Ramble"
Without a script or some general direction, it’s easy to be too wordy in your recording.
Example of a screen-recording script including columns describing action and narration
Write down general talking points, or even a full script, to keep your narration focused and concise.

3. Length can impact effectiveness

How long is the ideal screencasting video? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer – it depends. Short videos are great, but if you skip important information, viewers will be annoyed and unhappy.

On the other hand, if you make a long video that has way more information than viewers need, they’ll be bored and stop watching. To get the best video length, focus on the content itself. Include just enough relevant information and your video will be as short as it can be.

4. Audio quality matters

Sound can make a big difference in the overall quality of your screencast recording. Let’s face it folks – one thing that turns off viewers faster than almost anything else is bad audio.

The best way to record good audio is to plan for it before you even start recording.

Don’t use the microphone built into your computer

It’s convenient and works in a pinch, but it won’t give you the best results. Use an external microphone to increase the quality of your audio dramatically. Even an inexpensive USB mic will work.

Get rid of background noise

Your microphone can pick up any noise around you, including relatively quiet ones such as fluorescent lighting and HVAC units, as well as louder ones like your neighbor’s barking dog down the street.

Some screencast programs let you ‘clean’ this type of noise out of the recording afterward, but it’s much better to eliminate them in the first place.

Strategically place your microphone

Make sure it’s located where it can pick up your voice easily and your audience can understand you clearly.

5. Record an appropriate size

It’s easy to record everything on your screen, but you can end up with a not-so-great viewing experience. Instead, record only what’s important. Most screen recording programs let you record just a section of your screen so you can focus on details.

📚Recommended Reading: Getting Crisp, Clear Screen Video

Avoid showing areas that distract, get in the way, or that just don’t help your video’s goal.

If you want to only show one window on your screen, then record only that portion. Your viewers would see the rest of your screen as a distraction.

When you record a section of your screen, make sure the dimensions work wherever you’re going to host your video. Stick with standard ranges. Odd sizes – too tall or too wide – can leave your video with dark filler-bars on the sides or top when viewed on YouTube, Vimeo, etc.

If you’re not sure which size to record, it’s okay to include everything on your screen. It’s better to capture it all than to miss something important.

6. If you’re using webcam, make sure it looks good

Don’t underestimate the value of eye contact. Webcam footage builds credibility. Your audience can look into your eyes, see who you are, and more easily relate with your message.

Get yourself in a position to look good on camera. Pay attention to what’s behind you. If there’s something in the background you don’t want to be seen, move it or clean it up.

When recording webcam, take time to position it correctly. Make sure it captures your face – not pointed up your nose, at the top of your forehead, inside your ear, or any other distracting angle.

All that said, you don’t have to use a record your webcam. If you aren’t getting a good result, don’t use it. Your screencast recording can work without it.

7. Watch your mouse cursor

One element you’ll use in almost every screencast is the humble mouse cursor. It shows people where to look on the screen. It helps them follow along and see every movement to make sure they know where you are and what you’re talking about. The mouse cursor is important, so make sure you’re it’s as effective as possible.

Don’t circle things

Moving your mouse cursor around and around as if you’re talking with your hands is going to leave your viewers confused and unsure of where they should look. Instead, move your mouse cursor deliberately, and with purpose.

Don’t move at the speed of light

If you’re moving your mouse across the too fast, your audience won’t know where to look, struggle to follow along, and, ultimately, will stop watching your video.

A frantic cursor is distracting. Instead, keep your mouse humble –  slow it down.

Smooth out cursor motion in screen recordings

The Cursor Smoothing Effect in Camtasia is a great way to add polish to your screen recordings.

The effect takes the movement of the cursor in a screen recording, and turns it into a smooth line, from one point to the next.

8. If you can, cut out mistakes and unneeded content

Mistakes happen to the best of us. You’ll be recording, and your mouse will move to the wrong place, you’ll click on the wrong thing, or another unexpected thing will happen. It’s okay – it’s fixable.

Use a video editor to cut out any problems after the fact. Even if you don’t make any mistakes, there are other reasons to cut out content.

Not only does it help your video be more concise and to the point, it also makes your end result seem more polished and professional.

screen-recording-sharing-tips

9. Know where you’re going to share your video

Where to host your video is a burning question you should answer at the start of your video creation process. Decide where to put your video early-on, so you’ll know:

  • Which file type do you need?
  • What dimensions should your video be?
  • What information makes sense to include along with the video file?
  • How will I upload my video (manually or direct)?

The more you know up-front the better, as it helps you create a better video for your viewers.

Well, now you’ve got the basics! If you need a screen recorder, TechSmith offers solutions to capture any area of your screen, edit, add effects, music, and more.

Why You Need Audio Descriptions to Make Online Course Videos Accessible

caption online video courses

Not only does the ADA Section 504-refresh highlight the need for audio descriptions in higher education videos, but it’s also an accessibility best practice that has the potential to benefit all students.

Learn the different types of audio descriptions, how they work, and how to create them so your institution stays compliant.

Are audio descriptions like captions?

Sort of.  Here’s the difference: captions use text to describe what’s being heard on-screen. Audio descriptions (AD) talk through what’s being seen. Put another way, captions help people who are hard of hearing, while audio descriptions help people who have difficulty seeing.

Audio descriptions are also sometimes called ‘video descriptions’ or ‘descriptive narration tracks.’ They all refer to the same thing – an option that gives you all the information from a video without ever opening your eyes.

You’ve probably watched movies that have embedded audio descriptions, even though you didn’t use them yourself (or even know they were there!). Ever see the AD symbol on a DVD? That means the movie has an audio description track that can be turned on as needed. Many movie theaters offer audio description support, too.

Audio descriptions icon

An example – what they sound like
Although visuals are a core strength of video’s ability to convey information, it can be difficult for people with sight loss to understand what’s going on based on standard audio alone. Audio descriptions bridge the gap by narrating what occurs on screen so everyone can understand the meaning.

Here’s an example that demonstrates how audio descriptions can describe important on-screen action that makes the video easier to understand for sight-challenged viewers.

Audio descriptions icon on a still-frame of a popular movie clip, The Lion King

In higher education, audio descriptions are important and providing them is legally required. This is good news because it makes crucial on-screen visuals in online and blended courses available to every student.

Audio descriptions help many types of learners

Audio descriptions help people with a visual disability (more than seven and a half million adults in the United States alone) as well as students with lesser degrees of vision loss.

They can help other students, too. Some people learn better with both audio and visual inputs or are primarily auditory learners. Non-native speakers may like hearing audio descriptions to better understand the language. Students on the autism spectrum can benefit from hearing social/facial cues read aloud.

Student on a jostling bus, using headphones to listen to a video lesson with audio descriptions

Some students turn on audio descriptions simply because they prefer to hear the video lesson. Whether they’re jogging, reviewing a video lesson at night with headphones while their roommate sleeps, or watching videos on a jostling bus, there are many reasons why having the option to treat the lecture like a podcast makes sense.

How to add audio descriptions

There are two main ways to add audio descriptions:

  • Embedded voice descriptions – In this method, audio descriptions are their own separate digital “track,” behind the scenes. They can be turned on as needed. This is the most advanced and versatile method because all students have the same version of the video, and only listen to audio descriptions if they need them.

The best of today’s accessible video platforms now offer features that make it easy to add audio description tracks to videos. In TechSmith Knowmia, formerly TechSmith Relay, you simply log in, go to your video, click on the ‘Accessibility’ tab, and then ‘Manage Audio Description.’

Screenshot of how to add audio descriptions in TechSmith Relay. Click on Accessibility and then Manage Audio Descriptions

Then, upload your audio description track, which can be an Mp3 or M4A file type. Once your video has an audio description track, students can easily turn it on by clicking the AD Track button on the video player.

Screenshot of what video looks like once an audio description track is included, with the AD icon
  • Separate video – Usually only used when embedded tracks are not available, this involves creating a duplicate video with audio descriptions permanently part of the audio, or “burned in.” There’s no option to turn on or off the audio description narration with this method. While this is great for students who always use the narration, having two copies of every video can be confusing and double bandwidth and storage costs.

Create audio descriptions yourself, or outsource

The easiest way to create audio descriptions is to outsource it to a company who does this as a service. Many of the same vendors who create captions can also create audio descriptions and usually charge about $15-$30 per minute.

Another option is to create audio descriptions in-house. It’s more affordable, and you retain complete control of the wording and phrasing.

An instructor creating audio descriptions

Before you begin, learn from those who have done this before and can share best practices. There are a number of preferred ways to explain what’s happening on-screen. It’s helpful and will save you time when you understand common practices. One great resource is the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP), which has a handy description key and other resources with tips and techniques that will make your audio descriptions easier to create and understand.

When you record your audio descriptions, keep in mind that they don’t need to synch perfectly with the visuals. As long as they are approximately nearby the on-screen action, they will be effective.

Another tip is to time your narration so that it doesn’t interfere with on-screen dialogue or other audio in the original video. Record audio descriptions in the empty spaces in between the existing audio. You don’t need to verbally explain every single thing that happens on the screen, as long as you describe the gist of what’s happening.   

Alternatives to audio descriptions

An annotated transcript is an alternative to audio descriptions. Instead of narrating what’s happening visually, you write it out and provide it separate from the video.

For example, if a complicated chart is shown in a health sciences video, an annotated transcript would include an extra section that describes what the chart looks like, in detail.

One benefit of this method is that deaf and blind students can use assistive devices to ‘read’ these transcripts, whereas audio descriptions are only helpful to those who can hear. Extended transcripts may also help other types of students who want to review material through written words, or struggle to process visual information for other reasons. Cons include extra time creating the transcript and maintaining another resource.

Health sciences instructor explaining a medical skeletal model in a video lesson

A final alternative to audio descriptions is simply to verbally describe all visuals within your original video. This takes the concept of providing an AD track and makes it part of the video itself. This method works particularly well for educational videos and demonstrations where descriptions of on-screen action are a natural addition.

For example, if you’re making a video lesson with a chart, verbally explain the main points. If you’re hand-writing a calculus proof, talk through it as you go. Demonstrating a chemistry experiment? Describe what you’re doing along the way, so students have the audio and visuals.

There’s a lot to understand about audio descriptions. This topic will continue to grow as more video platforms offer this functionality, and more colleges and universities begin including audio descriptions alongside video captions as standard accessibility accommodations.

Learn more about TechSmith Knowmia and its accessibility solutions including Audio Description track support.

Simplified User Interface: The Beginner’s Guide

Mocked-up website with a simplified user interface

It can be difficult to onboard users to new and complex interfaces and workflows. Too much information can easily overwhelm the user and make it difficult to keep the focus on the essential feature or functionality.

Additionally, software updates tend to be frequent. These regular updates, coupled with localization processes, can make documentation work in the software industry quite demanding for technical content creators. How can we face these challenges without having to constantly update supporting content?

What if we designed our visual content in a way that is easy to follow, and is able to withstand future UI tweaks?

Let us introduce a design technique used by TechSmith’s User Assistance team and others – it’s called simplified user interface.

Simplified User Interface: What is it?

A simplified user interface (SUI) is a visual representation of a software interface that removes  unimportant elements and reduces them to simpler shapes.

Simplified User Interface graphic showing PowerPoint UI
An example of SUI (pronounced “sue-ee” by the TechSmith User Assistance team).

The elements that are fundamental to the instructions or for the user to understand are purposefully kept visible and the SUI graphics serves as a visual aid to support the instructional content given, via the sub- or figure text.

SUI graphics allow for easy-to-follow instructions which enable the reader to get to the point quickly and avoid distractions.

Keep it simple, Stupid!

SUI graphics leverage the famous K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, Stupid!) principle: systems perform better if they are kept simple and when unnecessary complexities are avoided. By reducing the graphics to a simpler state and by removing distractions, we can allow the user to focus on only the essential information, which creates a better experience.

Josh Cavalier,an eLearning expert, describes cognitive load as the “amount of information being processed by the brain”. When you reduce the amount of distractions for your audience, they are better able to focus their attention on what is important.

Simplified User Interface graphic with one menu item exposed
In this example, only a single menu item is shown so as direct user attention to something specific.

In a recent blog post from The Interaction Design Foundation, it’s explained that a user is focused solely on how useful something will be for them. This is true for both the product design itself but also for the how-to documentation and instructions.  If it’s hard to understand how to use a product, the value that it has to offer, or how a product can solve a particular problem, then users will struggle.

SUI graphics build upon these principles: using a simplified user interface in help documentation can aid in user success by giving them only the information they must have in order to be successful, increasing their success and satisfaction with a product.

Keeping content up to date

Keep your content current, longer. A quick survey with attendees at STC Technical Communication Summit revealed that keeping content up to date is one of the biggest challenges faced by technical communicators today. And that makes sense, if we look to software as an example: release cycles are shortening and new features and functionality are being added frequently. And with each feature addition and related tweaks to the user interface, the instructions that the technical documentation team laboriously put together are at risk of becoming quickly out of date, even if only slightly. So what is a technical communicator to do?

Again, simplified user interface graphics can play a strategic role in one’s content strategy. The removal of a button or addition of a feature will easily confuse the user if this change is not reflected in a precise screenshot. However, a simplified user interface graphic can often sustain multiple software versions and updates before needing further updates. The simplified design is more forgiving to minor interface changes and additions as it is already an abstract representation of the interface. Technical content creators can use this technique to extend the shelf-life of their visual content or even for repurposing content in similar scenarios.

Faster content localization

Any content creator who has been through the localization process knows that it can be time-consuming and expensive to create screenshots and graphics for each locale. Yet, the localization of onboarding materials and other graphics can be trivial for any organization that wants to be successful internationally. As Day Translations points out, we should all “scrap the idea that English is the language of business”. It’s important to cater to different customer bases by providing them with content that speaks to them…in their native language.

Most technical communicators know the effort it takes to create and manage unique screenshots for each language. In order to simplify this task, one can design the content to use SUI images instead of language-specific screenshots. The same graphic can often be repurposed across multiple languages with little to no adjustment. Additional information or instructions can be conveyed through the sub- or figure text.

Simplified User Interface used in both German and English dialog boxes.
In this example, the same SUI graphic is used in the software preference dialog for all languages.

Again, this is another area that helps to reduce creation and maintenance efforts while still providing the user with clear instructions.

How to create a Simplified User Interface Graphic

Creating a simplified user interface (SUI) graphic is easier than you think. The best way to get started is to begin with a screenshot and then transform it. To do this, you need screen capture and image editing software. At TechSmith, our tool of choice for creating SUI images is Snagit because it provides both of these functions, though there are other capable image editors.

Step 1: Capture the screenshot

Using Snagit, capture a screenshot of the user interface you want to turn into a SUI graphic and open it in the Snagit Editor. Crop the screenshot to the dimensions of your desired output.

Screenshot of a web page for Bridge Street Insurance featured a Request a Quote call to action button

Step 2: Simplify the screenshot

Simplifying an image is a process that involves covering up and removing visual noise like unrelated text, menus, buttons, or tool tips to reduce an image’s complexity and focus attention on the important parts. Snagit provides two ways to help make this an easy process with the Simplify tool available in Snagit.

The first option is to simplify a screenshot manually by selecting the Simplify tool, and using the graphic elements to hide unimportant details in your image and direct attention to the ones that matter. After choosing the Simplify tool, Snagit automatically detects the colors in your screenshot, creates a color palette, and provides a set of tools that match and are ideal for simplifying images.

The second way option is to automate the process. Snagit’s Auto Simplify feature recognizes shapes and text and then automatically covers them with the themed elements. Remove, add, and change the color of any of the elements Snagit adds to achieve the look you want.

Watch the tutorial below to see the Simplify tool in action!

Step 3: Save it

When you are done, save your file as a .png or .jpg file to be used in your documentation. We highly recommend also saving your final image as a .snag file. This is the Snagit project file type and it allows you to reopen the project to edit and adjust the image later on. This makes updating your image easy so you won’t need to recreate your SUI graphic every time.

Bonus Tip: Use a tag to easily access this file any time in the Snagit library.

Key takeaways

The benefits of using Simplified User Interface graphics in your technical documentation are twofold: First, these graphics visually enhance your instructions and improve the onboarding experience for your users. Second, the graphics make technical communicators’ jobs easier, as they reduce the need for screenshot updates and help with localization.

Integrating SUI graphics into part of one’s content strategy is therefore a smart business decision that all content creators should consider, regardless if your favorite aspect is the improved user experience, having evergreen content, or faster localization. Even just a few simplified user interface graphics can make a big difference!

If you aren’t using Snagit yet, download the free trial today, and get started creating your own SUI graphics!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2012 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Allison Boatman

Allison Boatman is a member of the Marketing Team at TechSmith. Follow her on Twitter @allisonboats She can often be found aimlessly wandering around local craft stores. Personal motto: "Work hard, stay humble." Favorites: Alaskan Malamutes, Iceland, and 90's pop culture.

Video: Your Secret Weapon for Incredible Software Tutorials

Your customers rely on your software tutorial content to ensure they can actually use your software. But what happens when your help content doesn’t actually help anyone? Software tutorial videos to the rescue!

Unfortunately, it usually means unnecessary calls to your tech support department, angry and frustrated customers, or worse — users who may actually just decide to buy from a competitor.

But great software tutorial and how-to content can actually delight your users help create customers for life. Plus, you’ll take a huge burden off your tech support team!

In this post, you’ll discover:

Video tutorials can be a game changer for both your customers and your company! No one wants to read through pages and pages of software documentation hunting for the answer to their question.

More and more, users want self-service content that can help them do what they need to do without sitting on hold or waiting for an email response to their question.

But I’m not here to convince you that video is an essential part of your customer education content. You already know that.

For most people, the problem is that they simply don’t know where to start. Some people think videos are too time-consuming or expensive to create.

Or, maybe you think you need to be a video professional to create professional-quality videos.

What if I told you that you can start making incredible software tutorial videos with no experience. Not only that, it’s also actually really cost-effective and takes way less time than you may think.

It’s true!

The Best Tool for Creating Engaging Software Tutorial Videos

Camtasia is your secret weapon for creating powerful and effective software tutorial videos to help your users use your software to its fullest!

Download Camtasia for Free

Is your software tutorial content actually helping anyone?

Here’s the long and short of it: If your software help content is text-based, you’re behind the times. Today’s consumers are used to being able to find how-to videos of all sorts via YouTube and if they can’t find all the ways to provide great help content, giant walls of text is most likely the least useful. Research shows that people don’t just prefer video and visual content — they actually perform better when its provided. They even remember it longer! It’s literally a win-win-win.

When your users can see how to perform tasks, they understand faster what they need to do.

Remember, though, that not all of your users will be able to consume your visual and video content in the same way. Always create content with accessibility for users with disabilities in mind. All images should include alternative text and all videos should include an audio description and captions.

Of all the ways to provide help content, giant walls of text is most likely the least userful.

How to create incredible software video tutorials (right now!)

You don’t have to be a video professional to create professional-quality software how-to videos. Here’s how to get started today!

Step 1: Choose your software

While it’s incredibly easy to make software tutorial videos, they don’t make themselves. That means you need to choose your video software.

There are a lot of options out there, but we happen to think that Camtasia is the best software for creating software tutorial videos. In fact, we have an entire library of software how-tos created with Camtasia. Pretty meta, eh?

But seriously, with Camtasia you can record your screen, add audio, effects, animations, and more with a simple drag-and-drop interface that’s easy enough for anyone to use.

Plus, you can download it free to use for 30 days. What do you have to lose?

Step 2: Record your video

Once you have Camtasia downloaded, you’re ready to get started.

Now, I could write out all kinds of instructions on what you need to do, but why would I do that when we have so many great tutorials?

Here’s an overview of how easy it is to get started.

You can see how easy it is to get started recording and editing your videos. Of course, we recommend that you have a plan for what you want to show. Keep your videos short and to the point. Cover one topic for each video whenever possible to avoid confusing your users or giving them too much to understand or remember.

Adding some professional polish

While a basic screen recording may work for some videos, adding animations, callouts, cursor effects and more can go a long way in enhancing your video’s effectiveness.

Camtasia makes it ridiculously easy to add powerful effects and more.

Want to take it even further? It’s just as easy.

Step 3: Share it with the world

Once your video is ready, you’re ready to share it! We recommend hosting your videos in a library on your website where your customers can easily find it.

But, it’s also a good idea to have a library of videos on a site like YouTube where many people go to look for help content.

Camtasia offers exporting to many of the most popular hosting destinations, including YouTube, so you can find your customers where they are!

Software tutorial videos aren’t just great for your customers

Your tech support team works hard. Probably too hard. You can help with that!

Think about what YOU do when you need help with a product. For me, the first thing I do is go to Google and search for the problem I’m having. My first choice is rarely to go directly to tech support. I want to solve the problem on my own. Chances are, your customers want to do the same.

A great library of tutorial videos helps your customers help themselves. Solve the most common issues and most of your customers won’t ever need to contact support.

And that frees up your tech support team to handle the really tricky issues.

Keep up with the pace of innovation

One of the hesitations with creating video tutorials is that the minute you update your UI or add a new feature, they may become obsolete.

New software features can come at any time. Keeping your videos up to date can be a challenge, especially with more complex video editors.

With Camtasia, it’s ridiculously fast and easy to create videos to highlight new capabilities and UI changes — or edit existing videos to include enhancements.

Video templates allow you to create new videos. But it’s just as fast to edit existing videos, as well. Simply open your project, remove the outdated content and drop in the new content. You can adjust timings as needed and get your new tutorials out quickly and easily.

No lag time. No hassle.

Help your customers help themselves

So whether you’re on a customer support team, a content marketer, or someone in between, these tips will will help you produce help content that makes more successful users.

The Best Tool for Creating Engaging Software Tutorial Videos

Camtasia is your secret weapon for creating powerful and effective software tutorial videos to help your users use your software to its fullest!

Download Camtasia for Free

Ryan Knott

TechSmith Marketing Content Specialist and manager of the TechSmith Blog. More than 25 years of communications and marketing experience. Geek. Science and sci-fi enthusiast. Guitar player. On a mission to pet all the dogs. He/him. A few things about me: 1) Mildly (or not-so-mildly) obsessed with the movie Alien, 2) two rescue pibbles (Biggie and Reo), and 3) friend of ducks everywhere. Ask me about my seven+ years as a roller derby coach.

How I Improved My Videos

How I Improved My Videos

Video creation skills aren’t “built in a day.” Like everything else worth learning, it’s a gradual process that you’ve got to embrace every step of the way.

To share the story behind his stellar video creation skills, Jeff Batt, Learning & Development Specialist and Founder of Learning Dojo, joins The Visual Lounge

He takes us back to where it all started to talk about his humble beginnings in video creation. Jeff also explains his production process and shares some insightful advice for anyone looking to up their video-making skills.

Jeff has a wealth of experience ranging 10+ years in the digital learning and media industry. He also has a strong background in web development and is a regular conference speaker covering eLearning technologies such as Captivate and Camtasia.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

Things to consider when you’re just getting started in video creation

Speaking from experience, Jeff advises beginners to strive for perfection but not to wait until they’re perfect before showcasing their work.

It’s all part of the learning process. So, don’t wait to buy that fancy camera or audio equipment before you put yourself out there.

Another thing to consider is scripting. Jeff had a whole back and forth relationship with scripting when he was starting out.

At first, he thought he needed to script out his videos to sound more fluent. But it just ended up making him sound a bit robotic. As an alternative, he recommends coming up with bullet points and using them as speaking points.

Jeff’s third major thing to consider is practice…you need lots of it. The more you practice talking about a topic, the easier it is to teach or speak more fluently on camera.

Finally, Jeff talks about feedback and how to receive it when you’re first getting started. It’s easy to get deterred, especially if you’re unsure of yourself. However, feedback isn’t a condemnation of your work, rather it’s an indication of the areas you need to improve on.

So, accept constructive feedback, apply it, and watch your video skills level up.

Look at feedback as a way to improve, not a sign that you've failed.

Jeff’s gear guide for beginners

If budget constraints exist, you should start with a Blue Yeti microphone. As Jeff tells us, “they’re still top of the line.” But if you have a little more money to play with, then the Shure SM7B is a good way to go.

However, Jeff’s best audio investment so far is the Rode Procaster, which allows him to control up to four microphones at once.

If you’re just getting started in video creation and looking for a good audio setup, get yourself a good microphone first and foremost.

As far as lighting is concerned, an excellent place to start is with a ring light. But, if you have the budget, Jeff recommends Godox lights.

Common challenges when developing video creation skills

Chances are, as you’re just starting out, you don’t have fancy, expensive equipment to get the video quality you want.

Like most newbie video creators, Jeff faced this same challenge in his early days, but he powered through with what he had.

First, he didn’t have the high-grade DSLR camera he uses today, so he started out using his iPhone to shoot videos. An iPhone isn’t a bad place to start, but it posed quite a few challenges, especially when it came to matching video quality with sound and getting the right lighting.

Speaking of lighting, that was a tough one to figure out as well. Jeff got started with a ring light, which is fine if you know how to manipulate it properly. He had to combat harsh shadows in his background in most of his early videos, but that all changed as he learned a little more and upgraded his setup bit by bit.

Another major challenge Jeff faced, mainly on the L&D front, was deciding whether to script or not to script. He eventually went with the latter.

Key takeaway? It takes patience, flexibility, and the ability to tweak your work to perfect any areas you’re lagging in.

Adopt an “Agile” approach over a “Waterfall” approach

This links back to Jeff’s advice about perfection — sure, it’s great to strive for it, but never let it hold you back.

The Agile methodology involves trying your hand at things and learning as you grow. On the other hand, the Waterfall approach requires that you get everything right every step of the way.

In Jeff’s opinion, the Waterfall approach isn’t a great way to level up your video creation skills. Instead, In Jeff’s opinion, the Waterfall approach isn’t a great way to level up your video creation skills. Instead, you should put something out there, see how it performs, learn from it, apply any upgrades, and then move on to the next lesson.

It’s a tried and tested way to get better.

Bottom line, don’t be afraid to fail. According to Jeff, failure isn’t the end of the line, it’s just an Bottom line, don’t be afraid to fail. According to Jeff, failure isn’t the end of the line. It’s just an opportunity to learn a few more lessons which is ultimately the only way you’ll improve your video skills.

For more pointers on how to upgrade your video-making game, check out the resources in the TechSmith Academy.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

Proximity Bias and Hybrid Work: What You Need to Know

Proximity Bias and Hybrid Work: What You Need to Know

As employees return to the office, companies embracing hybrid work arrangements face a challenge: proximity bias. 

In hybrid work environments, proximity bias could lead to the incorrect assumption that those working in the office are more productive than their remote teammates. 

Managers and employees alike are concerned about the effects of proximity bias and hybrid work. In fact:

  • Two in five employees are worried that less face-to-face time with company leadership will negatively impact their career growth
  • 41 percent of executives say potential inequities between remote and in-office employees are their top concern
  • A study found remote workers were less likely to be promoted than their in-office colleagues, despite being 15 percent more productive

At the same time, hybrid work is the new norm. Most employees favor a hybrid work model, so forcing everyone back to the office isn’t the solution. 

That’s why it’s more important than ever to be aware of proximity bias and make sure everyone on your team feels included. 

The good news is that managers and employees alike can take steps to avoid proximity bias in the workplace. 

Here’s what we’ll cover in this post: 

How proximity influences our perception of colleagues

Our brains take shortcuts all the time, using processes to simplify the information around us to make more efficient decisions. 

But sometimes, our brains misinterpret that information, and it affects the accuracy of our judgments. In the case of proximity bias, our brains overvalue what is around us and undervalue what isn’t. 

If left unchecked, proximity bias can create a company culture where in-office employees are rewarded for their presence with resources and promotions while their remote counterparts are left behind.

Illustration of a hybrid meeting. Some participants are sitting at a conference table speaking with another while another group is on a large screen.

Examples of proximity bias in the workplace

Proximity bias can show up in both big and small ways. Here are a few examples of proximity bias in the workplace:

  • Offering in-person employees more exciting projects or professional development opportunities
  • Leaving remote stakeholders out of decision-making or important discussions
  • Providing in-person employees with more perks

While bias is often unconscious, knowing how proximity influences your decisions can help you recognize and overcome it. 

What managers and leaders can do to prevent proximity bias

The reality of the hybrid model is that we have to adapt to new ways of collaborating. 

Remote team members cannot be an afterthought. Successful hybrid leaders set up processes that allow employees to flourish regardless of where or when they work. 

Adopt a remote-first approach to communication

When everyone isn’t working in the office simultaneously (or at all), key decisions can’t be made at the water cooler. 

Adopting a remote-first approach to how your team communicates will help prevent people from feeling left in the dark when working from home.

That means when one person is remote, everyone is remote. Digital and asynchronous forms of communication should be the default method, regardless of an employee’s location.

Asynchronous communication: communication that doesn’t happen in real time. Common examples of asynchronous communication are emails, video messages, and comments in which the sender does not expect an immediate response.

Make sure discussions about projects and tasks happen in a digital messaging app like Slack or Teams, where all relevant team members can contribute and benefit from the conversation. 

It’s not just remote employees who benefit. Remote-first, asynchronous communication will: 

  • Enable employees to take time off without feeling like they’re falling behind
  • Allow new employees to get up to speed more quickly
  • Archive information in a way employees can reference at any time
Matt Pierce

It’s important that you don’t have the people who are in the office vs. the people who aren’t in the office. The more that we can use these tools and communication methods to level the playing field, the better everything is going to be.

– Michelle Massey, Vice President of Community and Customer Operations at TechSmith

Stop relying on real-time meetings

When your team works across locations and time zones, relying on synchronous communication can be frustrating and unfair. Schedules and location can prevent everyone from being able to participate fully. 

If you’re like most office workers, you probably feel like you waste a lot of time in meetings anyway. Here’s the sign you need to take back your calendar. 

There are several types of meetings that are almost always better in an asynchronous format: 

  • Status updates
  • Project demos
  • Data shareouts
  • Informal training

Anytime you’re scheduling a meeting to share information, consider recording a video instead. 

Let’s say you want to share results from a recent marketing campaign with your team. If you were in a Zoom meeting, you’d probably share your screen to walk through a dashboard and provide context around the results.

With a screen capture tool like Snagit, you can accomplish the same thing in less time without interrupting your team’s day for yet another meeting or leaving someone out.

 

In just a few minutes, you can create a quick video that your team can watch on their own time (and even at 1.5x speed). Snagit can even simultaneously record your screen and camera, replicating the “face-to-face” feeling of an in-person or virtual meeting. 

Of course, there will be times when meeting in real time makes the most sense. There are a few things you can do to help level the playing field for remote team members:

  • Have everyone call into virtual meetings individually to prevent in-person side conversations
  • Make sure everyone has the equipment they need, like cameras, microphones, or bandwidth, to be fully present
  • Record the meeting so those who cannot attend can watch it later

Measure employee performance by output

In a typical office environment, employees can try to impress by being the first person at their desk in the morning and the last one to leave at the end of the day. 

But focusing on hours worked as an indicator of performance can leave your team feeling pressured to be “always on” when working from home to make up for their lack of physical presence.

Instead, shift your mindset to focus less on time spent in the office or online and more on the quality and quantity of work your employees produce. 

Be intentional about checking in

When working in the same physical space as an employee, you naturally have more opportunities to observe their work, offer feedback, and recognize their success. 

To effectively manage a hybrid team, you have to be intentional about how you connect or risk in-person employees receiving preferential treatment. 

Start by keeping track of when and how you engage with your team, both in-person and virtually, and identify disparities. 

You might find that you offer feedback more frequently when working in the office. If that’s the case, employees who are remote full-time may miss out on opportunities to improve their work. 

Incorporating virtual forms of feedback into your communication could help level the playing field for fully remote employees.

How employees can be more visible when working remotely

It’s no secret that flexible, hybrid, and remote work can feel isolating. More than half of people who started working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic feel less connected to their coworkers. 

But, if you’re proactive, you can still make meaningful connections with your colleagues and establish a presence on your team while working away from the office.

Turn your camera on during virtual meetings

Many people don’t enjoy being on camera, and “Zoom fatigue” is a real phenomenon. However, video conferencing can help us feel connected even when we’re not in the same place.

When you’re on camera, it’s easier to establish a sense of presence and a shared sense of being together even though we may be physically separated from across the globe.

— Diana Howles, author of Next Level Virtual Training: Advance Your Facilitation

When you’re on camera during a meeting, your colleagues can see your nonverbal behaviors and better understand who you are and what you’re saying. 

Turning on your camera will help people get to know you better and allow you to communicate more effectively. Research has even shown video conferencing can create perceived proximity.

To avoid video burnout, pace yourself and take breaks as needed. Identify which meetings you’ll benefit most from being on camera, and when it might make sense to step away.

Turning off the “self-view” option once you have established yourself in the frame during a meeting can also help relieve camera fatigue.

Stop relying on text-based communication

Asynchronous communication is essential for keeping hybrid and distributed teams on the same page, but it can sometimes feel less than human.

That’s because we often default to text-based ways of sharing information when research shows most people understand information better when it’s communicated visually. 

The next time you’re about to send a mile-long email, consider if a video message could be more effective. 

Suppose you’re providing feedback on a project. Text-based communication can easily lead to misunderstandings. But, when your teammates can hear your voice and see your face, they’re less likely to need clarification. 

Even better, with Snagit, you can record your screen and draw attention to the areas of a project needing attention with arrows and callouts while you walk through your feedback.

What could have been a boring or confusing email thread can be transformed into an opportunity for communication that feels more like the face-to-face interactions you might have in an office environment. 

Ask for advice

Proximity bias can put remote workers at a disadvantage when it comes to professional development.

For example, when leadership teams are working primarily in the office, in-person employees may be more likely to be top of mind when new opportunities arise. 

While your company is hopefully taking steps to address proximity bias already, you can help move your career forward by proactively seeking advice and mentorship from others at your company.

We often avoid reaching out to others for advice because we are afraid we might be bothering them or appear incompetent. 

However, studies show that asking for advice facilitates meaningful connections with our colleagues and also helps us make a positive impression on our mentors.

The secret to making hybrid work “work” is effective communication

Many of us have spent most of our professional careers working in an office space. It will take time to unlearn habits that no longer make sense and replace them with new ways of working.

Embracing asynchronous communication tools like Snagit will transform the way we work for the better.

Move work forward from anywhere with Snagit

From creating video messages to annotated screenshots, Snagit is an essential tool for hybrid teams.

Snagit

Strategies for an Effective Hybrid Workplace

Strategies for an Effective Hybrid Workplace

Whether you’re a video creator, learning and development professional, or even a software engineer, your industry is probably embracing hybrid work in one way or another.

Hybrid work isn’t a challenge we can master overnight, but all it takes is the right information to get you moving in the right direction. Michelle Massey, VP of Community Outreach and Customer Operations at TechSmith, joins this episode of The Visual Lounge to share some practical steps and advice that make for a more wholesome hybrid work environment.

She talks about organizational culture and how it affects the hybrid work setup and doles out a few tips on communicating better in a hybrid work environment.

Watch the full interview here: https://youtu.be/z5gaL3UA9wE

Michelle is responsible for maximizing the impact of the customer experience and growing TechSmith’s philanthropic impact in K 12. education.

As well as having over 25 years of IT industry experience, she’s also well-versed in community engagement, business operations, corporate planning, and proposal development. She received the 2021 Athena Leadership Award and Downtown Lansing Inks Downtown Dreamer Award for her contributions to the Lansing community.

To listen to the full podcast episode, hit play below.

What is hybrid work?

Hybrid work is when people work from different locations — some work from home full-time, others work in the office, while the rest combine both work setups.

But that’s not all there is to consider when it comes to hybrid work.

The main challenge of hybrid work is ensuring that everyone gets the same corporate experience.

Let’s take a simple meeting as an example. How do you make that shared experience the same for the people who aren’t physically present? Their vision and ideas are still valid and need to be heard by the group.

As Michelle tells us:

That’s where tools, norms, and practices come in.”

Why the topic of hybrid work is important

First, the world has changed drastically over the past couple of years, and there’s no going back.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, people rely more heavily on remote tools than ever before. We are now entirely in the age of Slack, Zoom, Teams, and other similar tools.

And it’s not just that way in the business world either. We’ve had to figure out how to weave hybrid living into our world in our personal lives.

Even if you’re not working in a hybrid environment, most of us still interact virtually. And technology is key to making all that possible.

Sadly, when the topic of tech comes up, some people start to get nervous.

But in today’s world, it’s essential to know how to use technology to make our businesses and personal lives better. New software, tools, and apps will keep popping up, but we must learn how to wield them. And once you know how to use these tools effectively, your life becomes much more manageable.

Addressing organizational culture in hybrid work environments

Research shows that one of the biggest concerns companies have today is losing their culture in the hybrid environment.

Especially in the tech industry, people are always looking for ways to either:

  • Differentiate themselves from the competition, or
  • Just differentiate themselves from others, trying to enhance their own set of employees

With the talent drain, there are lots of jobs available and not enough people looking to fill them.

So, what do you do if you can’t bring potential hires into the office to experience how your company is different?

Michelle’s simple solution isn’t to completely change the company culture. Instead, it’s about adapting it to suit all parties involved. So, if your culture is about transparency, integrity, and honesty, don’t throw those out the window. Figure out how to enhance them in a hybrid environment.

There are various ways to think about organizational culture, but the best way to approach it in a hybrid environment is to focus on good communication.

Leaders need to make sure they’re not just communicating to people but also listening to and understanding them. Employees also need to realize that many leaders are navigating uncharted territory at this point.

“So, for both parties, a little bit of grace, a little bit of understanding, and then also being able to let each other know what’s working and what isn’t in a constructive way is what’s needed.”

Tips for enhancing meetings and communication in hybrid work environments

It’s clear that communication is key in hybrid workspaces. Michelle shares a few tips she’s gathered over Communication is critical in hybrid workspaces. Michelle shares a few tips she’s gathered over her many years of leadership.

1. The proper equipment matters

First things first, make sure that everyone has the right tools, they’re operational, and that they know how to use them. That may include looking at bandwidth, Wi-Fi connections, microphones, and even computers. Consider equipment both in and out of the office to ensure that the same experience is shared.

2. Don’t assume everyone knows how to use the tech available

Even if everyone knew the ins and outs of using specific tech before the lockdown, don’t assume they all still remember now. It’s easy enough for things to slip people’s minds, especially if they’re not regularly practicing with them.

A solution is to offer little refreshers to ensure that people understand the tools and technology at their disposal.

3. Have meeting norms

Meetings in hybrid work environments may seem pretty much the same on the surface, but there are a few nuances to consider.

In a typical meeting, people just jump in, throw up agendas, and everyone dives in. But it’s not as easy to pull off in a hybrid work environment. You need some good norms and rules of thumb so that people feel comfortable when it’s time to speak up and contribute.

A few things Michelle mentions include:

  • Zoom to zoom: It’s easy for a few voices to get lost in the mix over Zoom calls. Ensure everyone has an opportunity to speak or share their thoughts during the meeting. 
  • Use collaboration tools: People should be able to ask questions and receive feedback, and collaboration tools are one way to go about this. It’s also great because no one feels singled out, and people feel more at ease when expressing themselves.
  • Record meetings: Not everyone will attend every meeting, so if there’s a shared file or drive they can access to get the lowdown, it’ll streamline operations.

Not every meeting needs to be a meeting either! Michelle says asynchronous communication tools like Snagit that allow you to capture your screen and make quick, informal videos have opened up a whole new world of communication and employee creativity.

Michelle says asynchronous video messages can allow leadership to communicate consistently without the challenges of aligning schedules or getting everyone in the same room for a “town hall.”

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

Lighting Tips for More Professional Looking Videos

Lighting Yourself on Camera

Here’s the thing about lighting, it doesn’t just affect picture quality. It also sets the mood and tone for any video you’re creating. So, if you’re looking for tips on how to use camera lighting to your advantage, this episode of The Visual Lounge is a good place to start.

Matt Pierce, TechSmith’s Learning and Video Ambassador, delves into everything you need to know, from using natural and artificial lighting to how to get good lighting on a budget.

It’s an episode packed with useful information that’ll bring you one step closer to mastering video lighting.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

Why is video lighting so important?

Matt kicks things off by saying that the right lighting goes a long way to make your video quality better, even if you’re working with a low-quality camera. If that doesn’t highlight the importance of camera lighting right off the bat, then nothing will.

But there’s more to good lighting than just improving overall picture quality. It also has a huge effect on the overall mood and tone of a video.

The most important thing to remember? Your camera loves light.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a DSLR camera or a budget webcam. Cameras are built to take in light to help make the camera’s vision clearer and crisper.

Can you have too much light?

Short answer, yes. Using lighting in videos is all about finding that sweet spot that’ll highlight the subject in the most flattering way possible.

Having too much light does the opposite of that. While some parts of the picture may look fine, the subject may lose some of its crispness or even go out of focus.

Matt’s solution:

Experiment and tweak things a little until you hit that sweet spot.

What to do when you have no lights?

Before backlights and fill lights, people relied on good old mother nature for their on-screen lighting. Luckily, that method still works today, but it comes with one big downside – unpredictability.

Sadly, we can’t change the weather.

One rule of thumb Matt has when using natural lighting is that you have to think carefully about positioning. Let’s say the light is streaming in through your window, you should be facing the window as opposed to having your back to it.

Why? Well, when you’re facing the window, you could find your shot has too much light and your image becomes distorted.

But positioning isn’t the only thing to consider when dealing with natural light. Weather conditions play a huge role too.

You might think you’d get better image quality on a sunny day than you would in gloomy weather.

But as Matt tells us, gloomy weather wins this round.

Remember, natural lighting is highly unpredictable. With the sun ducking behind clouds every now and then, you’ll have a hard time controlling the intensity of the light.

It’s the exact opposite on gloomy days. The lighting is pretty much one tone. So, while you may not appreciate the dullness, you can rest assured that you’ll get the same level of brightness for your videos. That’s ideal when you’re making multiple takes for a video.

Lighting on a budget

The great thing about video creation is that there’s always a solution, regardless of your budget. Sure, the image quality may differ from someone using a full studio to another using a smartphone camera, but you can still get a solid video either way.

If you’re on a budget, go for options like metal cans with LED light bulbs in them or curly light bulbs. Whatever you end up settling for, remember to match color temperatures while you’re at it.

Avoid mixing blue bulbs with orange bulbs or picking bulbs that don’t match your background.

Here’s a handy tip, let’s say the general lighting in your background is fluorescent, it pays to figure out what temperature the bulb is. That information is usually printed on the packaging or the bulb itself, and you can use that to match any additional lighting you want to use.

Ring light, yay or nay?

First and foremost, Matt encourages everyone to make the best of the lighting they have. So, while you shouldn’t throw out that ring light just yet, it’s a good idea to really figure out how to use it to its full potential.

But here’s the thing about ring lights. Since your camera sits in the middle of the light source, some of the angles aren’t evened out. You may get an even glare from above, but without the sharp angles that three-point lighting offers, it ends up creating shadows below the eyes.

The only exception to this is if the subject is positioned quite close to the ring light. But with the light so close, you may end up getting a bit more light in your shot than you bargained for.

One thing to keep in mind is that ring lights are better than no lights at all. So, experiment with it as much as you can to find what works.

There are lots of moving parts that work together when it comes to video lighting. In Matt’s words:

There are a million more things you can learn about lighting.

So this is a little something to give you a nudge in the right direction.

If you want to dig deeper for more knowledge on lighting, there are multiple resources available on TechSmith Academy.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

How to Improve Your On-Camera Presence

Improving Your On-Camera Presence

When creating live training or pre-recorded learning content, there’s one question you should ask yourself – what is your on-camera presence like?

In the learning industry, your on-camera presence is key to getting your message across.

But what if you’re not a natural in front of the camera? Don’t worry, the truth is most people aren’t. If you want to learn how to improve your on-camera image, we’ve got just the episode of The Visual Lounge for you.

Diana Howles, CEO and Co-Owner of Howles Associates, shares some tips for success and breaks down all the little details you should think about to improve your videos and give a great impression to your audience.

Diana is an award-winning speaker, author, and international virtual trainer with 25 years of experience in the learning industry. She has conducted live online training for clients since 2000 and has taught virtual classes in more than a dozen countries. Diana is also the author of the book Next Level Virtual Training.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

What is an on-camera presence and why is it important?

In Diana’s words, presence is an idea of shared community and connectedness. In the modern world, where many of us interact virtually on camera or get involved with virtual training, Zoom and pre-recorded video content have become more commonplace.

With it has come the importance of how we present ourselves on camera. The impression we make on our audience is key to establishing a connection.

Why is this important? If you want to teach or influence your audience, you can only do that if you’ve built rapport and trust. By building connections, you’re building relationships and credibility, and helping to deliver your message more effectively.

Top mistakes to avoid when you’re on camera

To learn how to improve your presence on camera, a good place to start is to learn what not to do.

Background issues

One of the top mistakes that Diana sees is when people don’t think about their background.

Sometimes you’ll be on a Zoom call and see someone with an awkwardly placed plant behind them, and you spend the whole session imagining it growing out of their head rather than listening to them. Or maybe someone will have a distracting ceiling fan right behind them.

The problem with these little quirks is that they can distract from your message.

If there’s too much going on in the background, your viewers will end up looking at that instead of listening to you.

“We know especially for learning and development, learning absolutely necessitates attention. So we really do a lot to minimize distraction.”

Lighting

Another common mistake is having bad lighting in your video. Even if you’re just on a Zoom call, bad lighting can be distracting for everyone.

Bad lighting can be caused by people having a window behind them or ceiling lights that create a halo effect or make you look washed-out. To learn how to get perfect lighting in your videos, check out this blog.

Bad framing

The third biggest mistake Diana sees is poor framing. Some people will have their face or even just part of their face in the bottom corner or looming at the top, which creates an awkward angle either way. Anything that covers your face or is distracting can get in the way of your message.

Clean up your on-camera image with B.L.E.A.C.H

So what can you do if you want to improve your camera presence? Diana has a handy mnemonic that helps her remember the most important principles of virtual meetings and training.

Her phrase is: clean up your on-camera image with B.L.E.A.C.H.

This stands for:

  • Background: Ideally, you want a background that’s professional and not too distracting. Professionals like attorneys might want a logo of their practice in the background, for example.
  • Lighting: Avoid lighting from the back, always light from the front and try to have soft, even lighting to avoid harsh contrasts.
  • Expressions: Using gestures, movement, and facial expressions is great, just be sure to avoid blocking out the camera with those gestures.
  • Angle: Avoid using a low-angle camera (e.g., from a cell phone or laptop) because it can feel like an intimidating posture.
  • Clothing: Remember that solid colors pop better. The golden rule is if you have a light background, avoid light colors, and vice versa with a dark background to avoid the classic floating head look.
  • Headroom: A good rule of thumb is to ensure there’s a gap of about three fingers above your head and the edge of the frame. This helps you check you’re not too big or small in the frame.

Ways to feel more comfortable on camera

Not everyone likes being on video, but if you have to deliver video training, Diana has some simple tips.

Hide your video

Part of the reason so many people get screen fatigue is the feeling that you have to constantly “perform,” because you’re on camera. Hiding the self-view is a simple trick that can help with that.

Many video conferencing platforms now let you hide the self-view, which can become really distracting.

This way, you can still establish that face-to-face connection with others without spending the whole time worried about how you appear.

Focus on your audience

We have a tendency to think about ourselves when creating live or pre-recorded videos, but the trick is to focus on your learners or audience instead and what they need. Diana likens video to a “conduit between you and your audience.”

“When you put the focus on you, that creates sort of this angst that doesn’t need to be there.”

Sit versus stand: Which is better when recording videos?

Of course, it’s down to personal preference, but Diana highlights that standing naturally gives you more energy. Standing can also help you feel more comfortable using gestures that can help you communicate better.

When you sit down, you can sometimes lose some of that energy. Her tip is to try to generate twice the amount of energy you usually have because it takes a hit as it travels through the screen.

To learn more from Diana, be sure to check out her website and awesome new book, Next Level Virtual Training, which has a chapter all about camera competence and one about hybrid learning.

In the meantime, check out more resources on improving your video skills in TechSmith Academy.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

How to Create Compelling Video Content for Learning

Compelling Video Content for Learning

When it comes to creating learning video content, the key to success is how engaging it is. A video can have all the right information and be clear and comprehensive, but it can fall flat with the viewer unless it’s compelling.

A compelling video keeps viewers engaged, meaning any message you want to convey is much more likely to stick.

But what’s the secret to creating compelling instructional videos?

Mark Lassoff, Video Instructor and Founder of Tech Learning Network, is on The Visual Lounge to share some words of wisdom on his process and advice for others. Mark breaks down the three must-have elements of any video and explains why talent and expensive cameras are overrated.

The Tech Learning Network produces broadcast-quality learning content that focuses on digital skills such as design, coding, and digital productivity.

Before launching the Tech Learning Network, Mark started several companies in Connecticut and Austin. He’s currently an in-demand speaker and has traveled the world sharing his wisdom. Mark has also authored eight books on programming and was awarded the prestigious Learning Guild Master Award in 2017.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

A media-first approach

Mike has a slightly different approach to learning content than most people. Many instructional designers and video creators start with the educational aspect and build content around that like you would with school or training.

But Mark likes to take a media-first approach. His main aim is to build good media that’s compelling, interesting, and informed by educational theory.

“I’ve tried very hard to marry the idea of compelling media and educational content, to make something that I think is a little more watchable than typically what’s produced.”

Why does this approach work so well for Mark?

In his eyes, a common mistake people make is assuming that viewers are comparing their learning content to the last educational video or course they watched. In reality, viewers compare it to other media, like what they last watched on Netflix or YouTube.

In an ideal world, the teams producing learning content would be composed of instructional designers and media creators to get better results overall.

What makes a piece of content compelling?

The number one complaint people have about instructional video is it's boring. So if you can engage with graphics and some narrative, that will help you make better videos.

Everyone reacts differently to content, true. Some might find a video enthralling. Others not so much.

But for the best chance of engaging your audience, your videos need to take three must-have elements into account.

1. Content style or format

Mark’s first tip is to match the content and style with the reason people are consuming it.

On the one hand, if people are looking for an immediate answer to a question, they’ll appreciate a short, straight-to-the-point video.

On the other hand, if people want to learn about spreadsheets, that content will need to be longer, multi-topical, and broken down into different videos.

You should learn more about your potential viewer to get this part right. Who are they? Why are they watching this? What’s their expectation after the video?

Learning more about the position your viewers are in when they watch your video will help you tailor the content and style to what they’re looking for.

2. It needs strong visuals and good production

The next important element is what the video looks like. It should have strong visuals that are compelling and don’t distract the viewer. You might want to use graphics to highlight a learning point or change camera angles to keep people engaged.

A common roadblock people face is the assumption that you need very expensive equipment or an entire studio to produce quality content.

In reality, Mark says it’s more about skill than equipment or natural talent. He breaks it down as the following.

Compelling video content requires:

  • 90% skill
  • 10% equipment or resources
  • 0% talent

Anything you don’t know, you can learn. And when it comes to equipment, knowing the best ways of using it is far more important than the type of equipment.

You can make a high-quality video on a cell phone these days if you learn how to do it right. If you don’t learn the skills, even a $10,000 camera isn’t going to save your video.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of buying expensive equipment. I think you can start pretty low-end with what’s in your pocket. There have been entire feature films shot on iPhones.”

3. Introduce the idea of narrative

The narrative should be an essential feature of your content where the format allows it.

Everyone relates to a story. Even highly technical tutorials on YouTube use narrative to get their point across. The narrative also introduces “stickiness,” so viewers come back for more.

When working with narrative, you want to make sure “your narrative’s appropriate for your audience and the purpose of that particular video.”

If you can integrate stories into learning, people are more likely to remember the message, making the video much more compelling to watch.

The problem with using synthesized voices

I think it's a big mistake to have a screencast-only production with a synthesized voice and no instructor on screen. One of the reasons video works is because we can connect with the presenter.

A common learning video type is a screencast with a synthesized voiceover. This type of video is easier to produce in some ways, but Mark warns against using them.

Without a presenter and an authentic voice, these videos can be “dehumanizing” and create a disconnect between your video and the audience. It’s much harder to connect to a robotic voice talking through a screencast than watching a video with an engaging presenter.

“When we create videos, we always act as if only one person was watching. And we want to make that connection with them.”

Mark’s process for creating videos

Mark says that when he’s going to teach a piece of software, he starts by documenting every feature that will appear on the screen. Then, he and his team arrange that into an order that makes sense.

By the time it comes to shooting the video, it’s not just about that single video. He’s also thinking about shooting microlearning, course videos, and promotional videos. This approach lets him “get more bang for our buck” with each video.

During the shooting process, this is usually done with an instructor on screen to help focus people, even if it’s a screencast with a bunch of annotations. Once the shooting is done, the team will edit it for different formats and start sending it out there.

“One of the reasons we’ve been successful is the ability to multi-purpose video and shoot once and use it a number of different ways for different audiences.”

While the process is a bit more complex than this, Mark says, this is it in a nutshell, and it’s safe to say it’s been working pretty well for Tech Learning Network.

To learn more awesome tips for creating compelling instructional videos, be sure to check out TechSmith Academy and Mark’s Tech Learning Network YouTube channel.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

How to Develop an Effective Communication Strategy

Don’t Jump to the Media First in Remote Communication

Whether it’s internal team communication or communication with customers and clients, it’s easy for mixed messages and confusion to crop up. Especially in remote or hybrid work environments. The solution? Build a communication strategy.

That’s Jesse Lahey’s, Co-founder and Strategic Partner at Workforce Communication, secret for communication success. Jesse joins The Visual Lounge to break down his strategies and frameworks for communicating more effectively – without relying so much on media to paint a picture.

Jesse is also a consultant, speaker, and author with over 25 years of experience in leadership and workforce communication. Previously, he was an HR communication leader at a Fortune 500 manufacturer with nearly 20,000 employees worldwide. Since 2012, he’s also hosted the Engaging Leader podcast, which has been downloaded millions of times by leaders worldwide.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post. To listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more.

Why a communication strategy is important

Communication is a natural part of everyday life, and yet most people don’t consider how they communicate.

For Jesse, the key to becoming a better communicator as an individual or a brand is to start with intentionality.

Building a communication strategy means building a plan of action to accomplish a specific outcome – but most people don’t approach communication in that way.

Communication, for many, is seen as intuitive. After all, we’ve been communicating our whole lives, and so “we think we’re really good at it.” But sadly, that’s not always true.

When leaders come across a problem, many will skip the planning process and jump right into the tactics like firing off an email or creating a video. But if you don’t take the time to strategize before acting, that email or video could have mixed or unclear messages, which adds to the confusion.

The essential elements of a communications strategy

It starts with intentionality and a strategy. A communication strategy simply means ordered planning to accomplish a specific outcome.

Jesse has a handy cheat sheet method he calls the 5M Framework for becoming more intentional about communication.

1. Mission

The first M is mission – what are you trying to accomplish? What are the specific business outcomes this type of communication needs to achieve?

2. Members

The second M is all about who your specific target audience is. Who will receive this communication, and what do you know about them?

3. Messages

The next one is what do you want people to know? Your aim might be to transfer knowledge, change a behavior, or clarify something. You could also call this the narrative or story part.

4. Media

This is the stage that most people jump straight to after they notice a problem. But think carefully about which communication channels are best to use. Do you need a video, a poster, or an email? It’ll depend on the audience and the content itself.

You might even consider using multiple mediums, like social media posts, emails, or videos, to make sure the message gets across to everyone who needs to hear it.

5. Managers

These are the key stakeholders or influencers in your organization. How do you help them make this communication a success?

Jesse believes if you can think about the 5Ms even for a few minutes, you are much more likely “to actually achieve your objective as opposed to being disappointed.”

The next step in your communication strategy: execution

A powerful story creates an emotional bond. So people are more likely to be open or even motivated to change.

The next step once you’ve built a solid strategy and are clear on your aims is to execute that strategy. Jesse uses a simple model called the SVS model, which is great for both on-site and remote employees and audiences.

This stands for:

  • Simple
  • Visual
  • Stories

Simple, visual stories are very effective in increasing how well you connect with people and inspire trust – which increases the likelihood of driving action.

1. Simple

Jesse breaks this down into three things: short, purposeful, and well-crafted.

In other words, the shorter your content, the better. Purposeful refers to the mission you’re trying to accomplish. The third area, well-crafted, is about ensuring that you’re doing a good job at delivering your message.

2. Visual

On the visual side, Jesse says there are three things to think about: metaphors, images, and characters.

These elements stimulate paradigms in people’s brains and set expectations. In this context, we’re talking about using an image or analogy that’s familiar to the audience.

“Our brains tend to be lazy. We tend to fall back on things that we’re already familiar with. If we can help people make a connection with something they’re already familiar with, it speeds up the process of learning and adopting.”

3. Story

Story also has three components:

  1. Connection
  2. Entertainment
  3. Action

The story side of your message is about how you connect with people’s minds and hearts. A story makes something real and builds a connection.

It’s important to highlight that your message is a real issue affecting real people – not just something management wants. 

Honor the power of communication

Jesse’s take-home message is this – “honor the power of communication”.

We are always communicating, whether intentionally or not, so if we think more strategically about it, we can improve it tenfold.

His advice is to think of yourself as a communicator, not just a leader, but someone who’s actually engaged in the conversation. Think about how you can make the most of and be intentional with moments of communication.

For more tips on communicating and building effective training content, check out TechSmith Academy where you’ll pick up plenty of tips and resources like this.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

Mic Check! Upgrade Your Microphone for Better Audio

Mic Check! Upgrade Your Microphone for Better Audio

Are you ready to upgrade your microphone but aren’t sure where to start in the complex world of audio equipment and microphones?

You’re in luck. This episode of The Visual Lounge is all about audio – how to pick the best equipment, how to use it correctly, mistakes to watch out for, and much more.

Host Matt Pierce shares some helpful need-to-know tips and even tests some of the most popular microphones on the market.

You can check out our full list of microphones and audio equipment mentioned in this episode here.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

Why audio is so important to your videos

When people start creating videos, naturally, a lot of their focus goes into the visuals. Visuals are important, no doubt about that. But don’t overlook audio.

When we did our Video Viewer Study 2021 with Dr. Jane Bozarth, we talked about video viewer preferences. The number one thing we found was the most important aspect of a video was audio quality.

If you’re not making videos with good audio, there’s a good chance you’ll lose your audience.

Bad audio makes it harder to watch, harder to take in information, and your audience is less likely to share it with others. That’s why out of everything, it’s worth learning about audio and your microphone so you can master that skill first.

Shopping for your mic

When you're picking your microphone, remember to pick one that's going to work for your environment.

With so many microphones on the market, it’s hard to know which one’s right for you.

If you don’t already have one, your best first step is to just get one. Don’t worry too much about what mic it is. You don’t have to be picky and blow hundreds of dollars on your first one. A budget one is a great starting point, and you’ll be able to learn a lot if you play around with it.

A good rule of thumb for a decent microphone that won’t cost a fortune is to shop in the $75 to $150 range. But you can just as easily pick up a mic that’s cheaper.

A great example of a good all-round affordable microphone is the Blue Yeti. It can be around $100 on sale, and it’s a great pick for most purposes.

USB versus XRL mics

One key part of shopping for a microphone is deciding between a USB and an XLR mic. Most budget mics are USB and plug right into your computer.

The great thing about this is it’s plug and play, you don’t need to buy anything extra to get it set up. Good examples of USB mics are Audio Technica mics and the Blue Yeti.

USB microphones are great for most people, but the other type to know about are microphones with an XLR cable.

The main difference is that an XLR cable is not going to plug directly into your computer. You will need to get some kind of mixer to plug it into, which makes it a more expensive option. The good news is that a mixer will give you more control over your audio, so you might prefer that anyway.

Are you talking into your mic correctly?

The next most important thing to think about with microphones is your environment. Where will the mic be in relation to you?

A common mistake people make with microphones, especially the Blue Yeti, is they set it up all wrong so they’re talking into the top of it. In the case of the Blue Yeti, you should actually talk into the side because this is where the polar pattern is.

The polar pattern is a fancy term for how the microphone is picking up your voice. Every microphone has a pickup point where the sound is going to come into, which is key to recording the best quality audio.

That’s why one of the first steps you should take when using a microphone is to get to know where its polar pattern is.

Play around with the gain

Buying the best microphone won’t help your videos alone. You need to know how to wield this equipment correctly, and part of that is getting to know your microphone settings.

All mics will likely have different ways to alter settings. Some will require you to hook up a mixer, others will have little dials on the mic itself.

The Blue Yeti has a dial for gain which lets you adjust how loud it is. So, if you’re sitting further away from your desk, you might want to dial it up to pick up your voice better.

But, if your gain is too high, you might end up picking up sounds you don’t want, like your laptop fan or traffic outside. It’s a delicate balancing act that you might have to experiment with.

Unless you've got some super high-end software that's like magic, distorted audio is super hard to clear up.

One thing to watch out for if you’re using USB mics is that your computer will have some gain controls as well. So, you’ll need to balance them out with whatever dials are on your microphone. The last thing you want is to set everything too loud and introduce distortion to your audio.

Distortion is super hard to clean up, even with the best editing software out there. So it’s best to try and avoid it by being careful with the gain.

Do you really need a big expensive mic?

A few years ago, we set out on a mission to review different microphones at TechSmith, and we found our number one choice was the sE2200. Popular with musicians, this one is on the pricey side but produces fantastic audio.

But do you really need a mic like this?

That depends on your needs, budget, environment, and style of mic you want. While it’s great for audio quality, one downside to a big, heavy mic like this is that it’s hard to hide it out of your shot.

If you don’t want a giant mic in front of your face on videos, you might want to opt for a shotgun mic or lapel mic instead.

That’s why when shopping for any microphone, you should consider your own needs and environment above all else. What works for one person won’t be a good fit for another. So, don’t feel like you need a big expensive mic to make your videos great.

Test out your mic before recording

Before you go to record a once-in-a-lifetime event or conference only to realize you didn’t record audio, there’s a simple way to avoid this.

Test out your audio before you hit record. Get to know what it sounds like, check everything’s working first, and then you won’t end up in a tricky position when you come to edit.

If you are unfamiliar with your mic, then it’s even more important to test it out first. You’ll want to know exactly how your microphone works in terms of settings before you go recording anything important.

Overall, the takeaway tip from this episode is to consider your own needs first, test everything out, and get to know your equipment well.

For more audio tips, check out TechSmith Academy for more resources just like this.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

Stop Reinventing the Wheel for Faster Video Creation

Creating videos can be a work-intensive process – especially when you’re doing everything from scratch.

Creating videos can be a work-intensive process – especially when you’re doing everything from scratch.

But it doesn’t need to take eons to come up with a well-rounded video, and that’s what Andy Owen, the Social Engagement and Video Manager at TechSmith, discusses in this episode of The Visual Lounge.

As Andy explains, recreating every element of your video from scratch is just not practical as your career progresses, it’s important for content creators to embrace the efficiency that comes with templatizing in order to make the most of their time.

Andy also discusses various ways to tap into your creativity while staying consistent with templates. As a bonus, he shares a few templates that he uses in Camtasia.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

What to consider before making a video

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of whether you should reinvent the wheel with your videos or not, Andy says you need to answer one vital question…

Do you really need to make a video?

It’s easy to believe that the most important parts of video creation are done during production or post-production, but it’s actually this brainstorming stage that takes the cup.

Sometimes video isn’t the right medium. Perhaps the information could be presented better as a PDF document or a graphic. While it’s cool to see things in video form, it’s not always the best way to get your message across. In fact, it’s one of the most time-consuming ways of doing it.

If you’ve thought really hard about it and decided that a video is the right way to go, then Andy has another important question you should ask yourself.  

What do you care about, and if you made a video about it, would you watch it? You can’t very well create a video about something you have zero interest in because that disinterest is bound to translate.

So, start from your interests, then graduate to what your audience is interested in.

Ultimately, the content is for them, so you really need to dig into factors like niche and demographics. Both these things feed into attention span and interests.

While every member of your audience is a unique person, it’s important to learn more about what they care about, generally speaking. That way, you can create a video that meets their needs as closely as possible.

The bottom line is that knowing your audience well is one of the most important steps to making a video that hits the nail on the head.

Benefits of creating a template for your work

If you create videos, then you already know that it’s not the most straightforward process.

When you’re not designing titles, you’re probably creating graphics, picking frames, or adding in your screen recording content. Of course, all of these offer a great opportunity to up your skills and get some practice, but they aren’t particularly time efficient.

When juggling all these different elements, Andy says that it’s sometimes better to make a template that pieces everything together. By doing so, you can save valuable time and energy.

How to balance consistency and creativity

It’s true that using templates takes away a bit of that creative edge you have when creating videos. If you’ve got a set intro and outro and a templated script, it can feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over again.

However, Andy says there’s still room to satisfy the creative within. It’s just not going to be as elaborate as crafting a whole video from scratch. This is especially true when it comes to tutorial videos or learning materials of any kind. You can add elements of “art,” but at the end of the day, it’s more about the lesson and how you get your point across that matters most.

The editing process is also a great creative outlet in itself. Even when you’re using templates to speed things up, there’s still room to clean things up in editing and add a little bit of flair in the process.

Altogether, you shouldn’t think of templates as tools that stifle your creativity. In fact, a benefit of automating even part of your work is that it eventually frees you up to be creative in areas where it can be most impactful.

So, it’s not one or the other when it comes to consistency and creativity. In fact, people tend to be more creative when they have something to build on as opposed to going with the flow.

Should you create a template for your video scripts?

According to Andy, “scripting templates is huge!”

But scripting isn’t just about outlining every single word you’re going to say in the video. What it does involve is creating a sort of structure to build the rest of your video on. It also ensures that you have a tried and tested framework on how to speak to the particular audience you’re targeting.

Once you’ve done the research and you’re clear on what your audience is interested in, then it’s easier to stick to what you know will draw them in.

"If something in your video bothers you as an editor, it's going to bother your audience." - Andy Owen

The most crucial part of a video is the beginning. It sets the tone for everything, but it’s so easy to get carried away adding fluff. Andy stresses the importance of scripting down relevant information because it can make all the difference between captivating and losing your viewers. It also means you’re far less tempted to add fluff.

The same thing goes for the end of a video, especially if there’s a call to action right you want to highlight. Andy recommends highlighting the CTA to ensure that people actually know what you’d like them to do.

Using a template for your scripts means you don’t have to start from scratch every single time. You could easily use one template to build seven videos and tweak the little details as you deem fit.

Some of the other things you can templatize include:

  • Logos
  • Transitions
  • Audio points
  • Title cards
  • Screen recordings
  • Intros and outros
  • Music
  • And so much more!

The great thing about templates is that though they’re pretty consistent, they aren’t set in stone. There’s room to move things around every now and then for a breath of fresh air or simply to optimize your template for your audience.

"The great thing about templates is that they're modular, changeable, editable, and you can grown with them." - Andy Owen

For more tips on how to create value-packed, time-efficient videos, check out TechSmith Academy.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

The Art of the Demo

The Art of the Demo

Are demos a necessary tool in L&D? Well, according to Troy Stein, TechSmith’s VP of Customer Advocacy, they’re super vital. He joins this episode of The Visual Lounge to explain why and share some tips on how to do demos the right way.

The way Troy sees it, demos are to instructional videos what trailers are to movies. They don’t just give a sneak peek into what’s coming, they also pique the viewer’s interest and make them want to know more.

But there are key elements that need to be on point before a demo is considered successful. In this episode, Troy discusses everything from demo length to the importance of context, and he even shares a few demos he’s worked on himself.

He also shares a bonus tip for video creators: Do everything at 1080p.

Before becoming the VP of Customer Advocacy at TechSmith, Troy held a range of roles with the company spanning a decade. He also played a pivotal role in making Camtasia the popular software it is today.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

What role do demos play in the world of learning and development?

As an instructional designer, it’s only natural to wonder if more people should be watching your videos.

You’ve got this great content, and it should be selling itself, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Do you know who’s had the right idea all along? People in the movie industry. Months before the release of any motion picture, they’ve already saturated the market with a movie trailer, and usually more than one. It’s not just to show that they’ve been hard at work throughout the duration of production. The aim is to drive attention to their movie and pique people’s interest.

The same thing can happen in the L&D community. The secret? Utilize demos.

With demos, you don’t just appeal to your audience’s mind, but you win their hearts in the process.

Things to consider when creating a demo

1. Remember, it’s not an exact replica of your instructional video

“Demos aren’t meant to be wholly instructive. They’re meant to grab your attention and make you want to know more.”

It’s worth remembering that, much like a movie trailer, your demo doesn’t need to give too much away. And sometimes, you need to move things around and switch their order — think of it as another form of storytelling.

Rather than giving a progressive narrative as you would in your instructional video, try to create a bit of cognitive dissonance. That’s a sure way to pull people in without necessarily spilling the beans.

As Troy tells us,

“Teasers and trailers aren’t necessarily meant to be wholly instructive, they’re supposed to grab your attention and make you want to learn more.”

So, apply the same principle to your demo.

2. How accurate does a demo need to be?

Going in, you should adhere to one cardinal rule. Never lie.

Sure, you’ll find yourself cutting things out and perhaps bending people’s perceptions of things. But all the information presented in your demo should be 100% factual.

You don’t need to give everything away but withholding information in your demo is different from outright lying. Remember, the aim is to draw people in, and you can’t do that if you tell them everything. Just don’t tell them anything that isn’t true or is misleading.

3. Strike a balance between simple and complex

Troy recommends that if you’re looking to make a feature demo, simply introduce the feature, set the stage for the problem the feature solves, and then show how it solves the problem.

It’s a simple approach, but it gets the message across without revealing the “how-to” of it all.

But that doesn’t mean all demos have to be simple. In fact, it’s often to your benefit to show something that’s a bit more complicated. You’re trying to sell them a skill they don’t have, so feel free to add a bit of finesse to the mix. Don’t show them something the average person can pull off.

4. How long and fast should your demo be?

Right off the bat, Troy says that you should aim for about 30 seconds or less. Then again, it depends on the type of demo you’re creating.

For instructional designers with a knack for squeezing complex information into little videos, Troy stresses that it’s important to let go of the clutter. Then, keep squeezing and zooming in until you can fit the demo into 30 seconds.

When it comes to demo speed, Troy says,

“If you have to pick between going a little too fast versus slow, go fast.”

You’re creating a teaser, not the instructional video, so the demo should whet appetites but not totally satisfy them.

 5. Why context is important in demos

As mentioned earlier, demos run pretty fast and sometimes don’t follow a linear train of thought. So, offering context is a very important aspect of demo creation.

But while creating context, remember to “get rid of the extra stuff.”

Take Camtasia, for instance. It has well over 100 features in the works. You can’t possibly fit all of that in a 30-second video. So, you need to hone into one or a couple of features and create context in a way that doesn’t lose your audience.

The same principle is applicable if you’re running a web application. Chances are that you have a few tabs open and other distractions vying for your attention. While sharing your screen for your video, none of those things need to show up. Look for ways to draw attention to just the part of the screen that’s relevant to your tutorial.

6. Apply Hitchcock’s rule to your demos

“When you get to the point of your demo where it’s time for your feature to shine, don’t forget to zoom in or make it the center of focus.”

There’s a lot to be learned from the master of suspense when it comes to content creation of any kind. But in this case, it’s all about focus.

Hitchcock’s rule states that “The size of any object in your frame should be proportional to its importance to the story at that moment.”

How does that apply to demos, you ask? Well, when you want to highlight a special feature or topic in your demo video, be sure to zoom in, or add an element that draws focus. Make it the most important thing in the frame.

For more information on how to create great demos and ultimately draw more attention to your instructional videos, check out the resources on the TechSmith website.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

Make Helpful Images Not Just Beautiful Ones

Make Helpful Images Not Just Beautiful Ones

How do you balance aesthetics and helpfulness when creating videos? Diane Elkins, the Co-owner of Artisan E-Learning and E-Learning Uncovered joins The Visual Lounge to discuss.

Diane is a national e-learning expert. She helps people create courses they can be proud of — and visual aids play a big part. It’s not simply about creating visuals that look great. They also have to be purposeful, offer value, and complement the rest of your content.

For the yes’s, maybes, and absolutely-nots of creating visual content that gets the message across, watch the video, listen to the podcast episode, or keep reading.

The role of visuals in e-learning

What makes good or bad e-learning?

That’s a popular debate in the L&D community, and while it doesn’t just boil down to visuals, they play a huge role.

First, it’s important to note that “good visuals can’t fix bad training content.” Before you consider adding visuals, double-check that your content can hold its own and deliver value to its target audience.

As L&D professionals, the aim is to put information in people’s hands, so that they know how to do their jobs better. That should be the driving force, not pretty images, and mind-blowing graphics.

Conversely, if your training material looks bad, that could ultimately inhibit learning.

You could have the best content in the world, but if it's in the wrong package, people won't listen to you. - Diane Elkins

Anything from clashing colors to unreadable fonts and even complex diagrams can halt your message in its tracks. In most cases, people learn better when there are simpler design elements at play.

However, remember that while learning is the key aim, it’s not the end of the road. You want your audience to adopt and apply your message where it’s relevant. If your message is presented in a sub-par package, people may take it in, but they’ll be wary of applying it.

Things to consider when creating visuals

Within Diane’s framework, there are three levels of professionalism for creating visuals:

  1. Simple
  2. Average
  3. “Oh my gosh, that’s beautiful!”

For the most part, it’s OK to stay at the simple level, and if you’re not a trained professional, it’s highly advised.

Besides the levels, you should also consider the three-font, three-color rules. You’ll rarely need to use more than three colors — dark, light, and an accent. In terms of the font, you just need one for the heading, another for the body, and an accent.

It’s equally a good idea to avoid mixing patterns unless you really know what you’re doing.

Bottom line: less is more when it comes to combining design elements, so keep it simple.

Guard against going overboard with graphics

It all points to the driving force behind your content.

If the main concern is how “cool” your work will look, then you’ve missed the mark. To conquer this “aesthetics-first” mindset, Diane recommends changing the prompts in your head.

Rather than thinking things like:

  • What should my slides say?
  • What should my bullets say?
  • What image should I add?

Use prompts like:

  • What visual aid will help me get my message across?
  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • What visual will help me accomplish my goal?

Basically, this ensures that you’re not predisposing your answer, but picking the best-suited design element for your content. This mindset shift will help you stay on track and focus on what’s important and helpful.

Is your content helpful?

Whether it’s visual or textual, it’s important to ask yourself whether your content is helpful. Sure, it can be cool or flashy but is it serving any other purpose?

If the answer to that question is ‘no’ then the first thing to do is to look back at your content. Especially when it’s conceptual information, you really need to look back at why you’re putting it together in the first place. Why? Well, conceptual information is a lot harder to illustrate and you may fall into the trap of decorating it instead.

So, if your content is in this category, take a look at it and ask yourself if it’s actually being helpful. Can someone easily pick out practicable tips from this content? How would they use this visual?

Helpful tip: analogies can help you create great visuals, so lean into those when you hit a brick wall.

How to combine visuals with analogies

Your slides should make no sense without you - they aid your message, they aren't your message. - Diane Elkins

You have a great analogy to ease into your training material. How do you incorporate it in a way that doesn’t inhibit the message?

According to Diane, the answer lies in telling the analogy first. But why does the order matter? Let’s say your topic is patience and your analogy is about a tortoise. It wouldn’t make sense to pop a picture of a tortoise on the first slide. People are going to wonder why they’re looking at a tortoise.

Start off with the story, add your visual, then explain how they work together.

There are tons of ways to ensure that your visuals are adding value to your content. Check out TechSmith Academy to learn more!

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

How (and Why) to Add Music to Tutorial Videos

Graphic hero image

A lot of tutorial videos aren’t exactly what you’d call entertaining. In fact, some of them can be pretty boring. But, adding music to a tutorial video can transform even the most mundane topic.

A song or sound effect used strategically can engage your audience, add a level of professionalism to your content, and make your product stand out.

According to our research about people’s video viewing habits, the most critical characteristic of a video is the audio quality.

However, it’s a challenge to get it right with instructional-style videos. Music can easily become distracting or even make it harder for your audience to learn a concept.

That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t add music to your videos! This post will cover everything you need to know to add music to a tutorial video effectively.

Here’s what you’ll learn

Easily add music to your videos

Camtasia makes it simple add music to your videos, remove background noise from your voice over, and more.

Camtasia user interface

How music affects the brain and impacts learning

Listening to music is like a workout for your brain. Research suggests that music is good for us in many ways, including improving our mental alertness and memory.

So, is a tutorial video with music more effective than one without? Yes and no.

Music can improve your mood, leading to better learning outcomes

A simple task can be daunting when you’re having a bad day. When you’re in a good mood? It might feel like anything is possible.

Studies have shown that a student’s good mood can positively impact learning outcomes. That’s where music’s mood-boosting powers can take your tutorial video to the next level.

The right track used purposefully can help your viewer feel more optimistic about the task they’re trying to complete and help them form a positive association with your product.

Music can overload your brain, making it harder to retain information

At the same time, listening to music is a lot of work for your brain, and the Cognitive Load Theory suggests it can only do so many things at once.

Suppose you’re watching a tutorial video about building a treehouse. A narrator shares what materials you will need to secure your structure to the tree. At the same time, a pop song plays in the background.

In this case, your brain has to figure out what information is more important— the narrator’s voice, or the music — leaving less energy for it to retain the information you need.

When you’re making software tutorials, there is usually a lot of information on-screen for the viewer to follow plus voice over.

That’s why it’s critical to make sure your background music matches the tone of your video and your volume levels are balanced. We’ll dive deeper into how to do that later in this post.

 

How to Select and Source Music for Your Videos
Matt Pierce, Andy Owen, and Justin Simon talk through the ins and outs of adding music to videos in this episode of Video Workflow.

When (and when not) to use music in a tutorial video

Does every video need music? It depends on what you want to achieve.

Before adding music to your video, consider how it might help accomplish the overall goals of the tutorial.

Remember, music should be more than just “filler.” Let’s go over a few ways you can use music in a video.

1. Evoke a specific emotion or feeling

Your instructional video may not be a high-stakes drama, but you still want your audience to feel something, right? The right music can help your viewer feel energized or optimistic about what you’re teaching them.

2. Shift between topics or segments

Music is an excellent tool for indicating a transition to your audience. Consider using intro or outro music instead of playing a song continuously in the background of your video.

3. Set the pace of your video

You can use background music with various tempos to change the pace of your video, making it more dynamic and exciting to watch.

You might use music with a faster, more upbeat tempo while introducing a feature and switch to a slower, low-key track when showing the individual steps of a process.

4. Draw attention to specific information

You probably use arrows or annotations to draw attention to essential elements in your screen recording, right?

You can use music in the same way. Pairing an animation with a sound effect can help it stand out. You can even cut your background music at a specific point in the voice over to snag your viewer’s attention.

💡PRO TIP: Consider the context of your video when selecting music. Is this video a series that customers will watch in succession? A riff or melody may be pleasant the first time, but irritating after a few listens.

When in doubt, leave it out

Most videos benefit from music, but sometimes it makes sense to scale it back or leave it out. If the music in your video is distracting or you’re not sure it complements the rest of the elements, it’s pretty simple: Don’t use it.

Where to find music for tutorial videos

Before you begin adding music to your videos, it’s helpful to understand copyright laws.

It may be tempting to download a track from your go-to streaming service and start editing. Unfortunately, that will likely get you in trouble.

Most popular songs are copyrighted, which means you’ll owe royalties to the copyright owner each time someone watches your video.

Sites like YouTube and Facebook can detect potential copyright infringement as your video uploads. Even if you are uploading your tutorials to a learning management system or internal site, copyright laws still apply.

The last thing you want is a strike against your YouTube channel or a lawsuit. So unless you want to compose your own music, you’ll need to use royalty-free music in your tutorial videos.

💡PRO TIP: Have the perfect song in mind for your video, but it’s copyrighted? Use it as a reference while you’re searching. The copyrighted track’s attributes are a good starting point, like beats per minute or genre

Free vs. paid royalty-free music options

It’s not impossible to find music that is genuinely free to use in your videos. YouTube’s audio library is an option if you need the occasional background track or sound effect.

While free to use, there are often limitations to free music sites, including:

  • Fewer songs to choose from
  • Less diversity of genres and styles
  • Restrictions for use, i.e., non-commercial purposes only

If you’re working on a lot of video projects, it’s worth investing in a subscription to a premium music collection like TechSmith Assets for Camtasia.

You’ll be able to download as many songs as you want, and since all the tracks are royalty-free, you can use them as many times as you wish. The music library is constantly updated, so you’ll always find fresh songs and sound effects for your tutorial videos.

How to choose the right music for tutorial videos

Selecting music for your tutorial video can be a daunting and time-consuming task. While you can’t wave a magic wand to find the perfect song instantly, you can follow a few best practices to make the process more simple.

Know your audience

Understanding your audience is critical to every stage of creating a successful product demo or tutorial video and will also help define your music choices.

Think about a specific person who represents your audience. Why are they watching your video? What type of music will resonate with them?

Use the information you know about your customers to guide your music selection and listen to feedback from viewers.

When I started adding music to my Excel tutorials, viewers complained that it was too much. They didn’t complain that it was there. So, I had to learn to be tasteful and judicious in how I used music

Oz Du Soleil, Microsoft Excel MVP, and Author

Identify the tone of your video

Music plays a significant role in setting the tone of your video. Your music selection process will go a lot smoother if you know the spirit of your video going in.

Maybe your video educates customers on a complicated but critical feature, and you want your viewer to feel motivated to try it out themselves. Upbeat and positive music will help reinforce those feelings in your audience.

💡PRO TIP: Not sure if a song works? Listen to the track preview while watching your tutorial video or reading your script. You’ll quickly get a sense of whether the piece fits or not.

Filter by genre or mood

Identifying the genre or mood you’re looking for will help narrow down your results. It will always depend on the video, but a few genres tend to be the best background music for tutorial videos:

  • Ambient music has a reputation for being boring but is often great at adding atmosphere to a video without distraction. 
  • Corporate music tends to be cheerful without being too overwhelming. The mood of corporate music is usually positive and welcoming, which is excellent for learning. 
  • Chill Out music is relaxed, like ambient, but a little more upbeat, a great combination for instructional-style videos.

In TechSmith Assets for Camtasia, you can quickly filter results by genre or mood. Use filters to find the right music for your video more quickly.

You can filter by beats per minute (BPM) and length to further drill down your results. For example, a good dance track will typically be around 115-140 BPM.

Matching a song’s length to the length of your video will help you avoid having to make cuts to your audio or find convenient places to restart it.

Stick to simple instrumental tracks

Regardless of the genre you go with, make sure your viewer will still be able to understand the content.

Background music that includes singing may make it harder for viewers to understand the voice over, especially if the song’s lyrics are in a language that they speak.

Remember the Cognitive Load Theory? Additional voices will give the brain extra work, making it harder to retain the necessary information.

Tracks with simple melodies and chord progressions are often better for tutorial videos.

💡PRO TIP: Instruments like the guitar and violin can have similar tones as the human voice and conflict with voice over.

Stay on brand

Music that aligns with the overall feel of your business will create a consistent experience for your customers.

You would probably be surprised if you walked into a surf shop and classical music was on blast. A viewer may be just as surprised to hear a country ballad paired with your cutting-edge software product.

Refer to your brand guidelines when selecting tracks for your videos. If specific guidance on music isn’t available, consider how music might align with your core values and mission.

How to add music to a tutorial video

While selecting the right music track for your tutorial video may take some time, adding audio to your video is surprisingly quite simple, especially with a video editor like TechSmith Camtasia.

  • Step 1: Import your music file. With your Camtasia project open, click import media and add your audio file to the media bin.
  • Step 2: Drag and drop your music onto the timeline. Depending on your needs, you can add it to an existing track or a new track. Click and drag your clip to position it on the timeline. 
  • Step 3: Adjust your volume levels. When you select an audio track in the timeline, a line with shading will appear. To adjust the volume of your audio track, drag the line up or down.

It really is that straightforward! Remember to be sure your music doesn’t conflict with your voice over.

Matt Pierce

If the music levels are too low, it won’t have an impact. Too high, and no one will hear and understand what’s being said. Take the time needed to make sure, if you are using music, that it is going to help you accomplish your goals and not cause problems.

Matt Pierce, Learning and Video Ambassador at TechSmith

This helpful tutorial goes into more depth about editing audio tracks in Camtasia.

Shortcut: Automatically adjust your music levels to your voice over track

Manually balancing the volume of your vocal voice over and your background music is time-consuming and challenging to get right.

The latest version of Camtasia does all of that work for you.

After your voice over and music tracks are on the timeline, go to audio effects, and select audio emphasize.

Then, choose which audio track you want to be more prominent (hint: your voice over) and use the slider to make adjustments.

You can apply this effect across multiple clips and even use it to fill gaps in your voice over automatically. It’s a real game-changer! Download a free trial of Camtasia and try it out.

Get feedback, and watch your video on multiple devices

Music can make or break your tutorial video. Before you hit publish, solicit feedback from others! That is the best way to catch any issues with your audio before your tutorial reaches customers.

Ask them to make sure that:

  • Your voice over is easy to hear and comprehend
  • The music fits the tone of your video
  • You can hear the music, but it isn’t distracting from your content

It’s always a good idea to watch your video on multiple devices so you can hear your audio through different speakers. Remember, many people watch videos on their phones or other mobile devices.

You may have high-quality studio headphones on hand, but your viewer may be listening on standard earbuds or through their computer speakers.

Because different devices provide varying levels of sound quality, what sounds good in your headphones may sound different when played from a phone’s built-in speaker.

Andy Owen

Music is going to impact how a viewer feels about your video, what they remember about your video. So you have to choose it carefully, you have to edit it carefully. It’s not going to be easy but get in there, get your hands dirty and try adding music to your video.

Andy Owen, YouTube & Video at TechSmith

Frequently asked questions

Should tutorial videos have background music?

Background music is a great way to add atmosphere or energy, but it can be extra challenging to make it work in a tutorial video. If your music is too loud or distracting, viewers won’t be able to understand the voice over.

Always use caution when adding music to tutorial videos. It’s worth the extra steps to make sure your music is complementary to your tutorial and not distracting.


Does music impact the way people learn?

It certainly can! Music can help alleviate stress and improve your mood, leading to better learning outcomes. At the same time, music can distract our brain from taking in more necessary information. It depends on many factors whether or not the impact of music is positive or negative for learning.


Where can I find music for videos?

If you’re creating videos often, your best bet for finding high-quality, royalty-free music will be from a premium subscription site like TechSmith Assets for Camtasia.


Is royalty-free the same as copyright-free?

No. If a song is royalty-free, you’re paying a one-time fee to use it instead of a per-play type of fee structure. That doesn’t mean the music is copyright-free.


What is the best genre for background music?

The best genre for background music will always depend on the context and style of the video. However, genres like ambient and corporate tend to work well as background music.

Out of the Box with Camtasia

Out of the Box with Camtasia

Want to take your video editing skill to the next level (we’re talking ‘coloring outside the line’ levels)?  Then this episode has your name on it.

Cristi Cotovan joins The Visual Lounge to take us through some of the ‘out of the box’ work he’s been doing on Camtasia.

Cristi is a video editor, educational content creator, developer, and Founder of Design Catchup and Graphicious. One of his superpowers is having a “visual brain,” and that certainly comes in handy in his line of work.

One of Cristi’s core focuses is Camtasia, which he uses to produce some advanced-level material that can only be described as “out of the box.”

Whether you’re just getting started in video creation or you’re further down the line, there’s something to be learned from Cristi’s approach to video making.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

The best approach to mastering Camtasia

One of the many great things about Camtasia is that there’s so much you can do with it. Sure, using Camtasia for the first time can feel daunting. But the good news is you can become a master of it with a bit of practice.  

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your Camtasia mastery won’t be either. So, Cristi’s suggestion is to approach everything with a fun, “let me try this” attitude. Exploring the software and trying out new things will help you discover and unlock everything Camtasia has to offer. 

Another tip he has is to avoid getting caught up in the technicalities because that’s only one aspect of video creation. Instead, approach video creation and editing as a package that you can pick apart one piece at a time, and everything will start to fall into place.

Tips on how to go “out of the box” with Camtasia

Cristi is always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with Camtasia, day-in, day-out. But it didn’t happen overnight. He applied a few principles, made a few mistakes, and picked up a thing or two along the way. Here are some tips that’ll help you level up quickly.

Out of the Box with Camtasia

1. Use custom animations

Animations are a great way to get your message across, whether you’re delivering a tutorial or creating a marketing video.

But working with animations can get a little tricky, even with Camtasia’s handy “zoom and pan” functions. What’s a better alternative? Cristi recommends trying out the custom animations in Camtasia.

It’ll open you up to a whole new world of possibilities and add a unique flair to your videos.

2. Draw inspiration from things that aren’t video-related

You don’t just have to watch other people’s videos to pick up some inspiration. There’s a whole world of content out there and no limit to what can inspire you.

Cristi likes to draw inspiration for his ‘out of this world’ videos from book covers. With his prior experience designing book covers, he’s got a knack for packing as much value and information into videos, regardless of their length.

It’s all about paying attention to the world around you and picking out useful designs and ideas wherever you can.

3. Don’t shy away from constraints

There are lots of things no one knew were possible in Camtasia. It just takes a little exploring and an inquisitive mind like Cristi’s to dig them up.

That’s why one of his main tips is that you shouldn’t back down, even when something you want to do is seemingly impossible. If you can push beyond what’s considered typical in Camtasia or other editing software, you’ll be able to develop your creativity and exercise your “out of the box” thinking muscles.

4. When a project becomes too busy, it’s time to stop tweaking

There will always be just one more thing you can do to make a video better, so in a sense, a video is never really finished. But you have to stop somewhere.

As a general rule of thumb, the best time to stop is when the video becomes too busy.

Having too many elements in play, one after the other (or at the same time), is bound to distract the viewer. And once the viewer is distracted, it’s easy for the message you’re trying to communicate to get lost in translation.

5. Check out videos created by other people

Out of the Box with Camtasia

If you want new ideas, techniques, and inspiration, watching other people’s videos is a great way to get them.

With so many high-quality resources and talented creators out there, you’re bound to find a few video gurus that’ll help you level up your skills.

6. Pay attention to layouts

According to Cristi, you simply can’t get away with ignoring proper layouts. If you do, you end up with videos that aren’t just visually unappealing, but also distract the viewer from understanding your message.

So, pay close attention to:

  • Your margins. “You don’t have to fill every pixel with content,” but try to make the most of your space without bombarding your viewers. Based on the kind of video you’re creating and who it’s for, you’ll be able to make the judgment call to go with either a “less is more” or “more is more” approach.
  • The placement of your video elements should be visually appealing. Don’t have items overlapping each other unless you’re specifically doing it to drive a point across.

Think of yourself as a director. Your videos may not be feature-length movies, but they should still take your viewers on a journey. Lead them where you need them to go and make the shift from point “A to B” as informative and visually appealing as possible.

For more tips on video creation, editing, and design, check out the TechSmith Academy.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

Powerful Stories and Your Message

Powerful Stories and Your Message

Storytelling can be a powerful tool in the L&D community.

But, as it is with most tools, you need to know how to use it to get the desired end result. That’s what Hadiya Nuriddin, Learning Strategist, speaker, and CEO of Duets Learning explores on this episode of The Visual Lounge.

Hadiya doesn’t just have a wealth of experience developing and delivering both technical and professional development courses, she’s an advocate for storytelling.  She believes that the right stories can deliver context, spur empathy, and inspire people to take “expected” actions.

As Hadiya explains, there’s always a story. It’s up to us to figure out how and when to use it.

Listen to this episode of The Visual Lounge to learn how to leverage the power of storytelling for everything from compliance training to customer service training.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

When to use storytelling?

For starters, storytelling is simply a tool. It’s just one of the many ways we convey information in order to inspire a particular action.

So, knowing when to leverage this tool depends on your intent. One of the best ways to reveal your intent is to ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you want people to do with the information?
  • What do you want them to feel or believe?
  • How do you want them to act afterward?

Once your intent is clear to you, you can use it to build your story and give your audience the right context.

If you’re in L&D, you already know there are topics that everyone can relate to and others that tend to alienate people. But with the right context, you can connect those dots and fill those gaps to deliver a narrative that a general audience can relate to.

This more focused approach to storytelling and being intentional could be the very thing to spark the performance you’re looking for.

The relationship between storytelling and emotions

You don't want people to plant a copy of your story in their heads. You want them to invest in it and recognise themselves in the narrative. - Hadiya Nuriddin

If you ask a group of people what makes storytelling so compelling, most of them will say it’s all about the emotions they trigger.

Hadiya points out that people respond to having their emotions triggered in different ways. So, you have to find out the particular emotions that’ll drive your desired outcome.

One way to approach this is to make them feel that something is at stake for them personally – because risk or loss are universal fears.

Of course, you can’t make people act or learn, but it’s possible to create circumstances where they’ll be more likely to take action.

Layers of storytelling

It’s true that you can find a story in any situation.

But stories don’t form at random, you have to put some thought into them.

Some people have cracked the code and can spin a story on the spot. But, if you’re just getting started, there are two layers to storytelling you can use as a guide:

1. The academic aspect

It all starts with an intense understanding of the narrative structure. With elements like climax, conflict, and resolution, it’s easier to give your story more substance. You can learn how to weave these elements into your stories by reading books or using your observation skills.

2. Vulnerability

If there’s one thing that audiences can relate to, it’s vulnerability because that’s where their pain points lie.

More often than not, the things that motivate you to take action are the same things that motivate others.

But here’s the thing, showing your authentic self practically creates a variant of the story that’s no longer yours. Based on that, Hadiya advises people to withhold stories that’ll end up compromising their psychological safety.

If you choose to share a personal story, remember that your audience isn’t just listening. They’re also filtering your words through their own experiences. Because of that, they may not come to the same conclusion as you.

However, with a compelling story, there’s a good chance that they’ll find something to relate to in your narrative, and that’s ultimately what you should aim for.

Is it necessary to use stories in learning and development?

Your stories need to inspire change because, without that element, it's simply an anecdote. - Hadiya Nuriddin

Some messages can definitely be delivered without a story. But, as Hadiya says,

“There’s always a story, the question is if you can find it.”

But whether that story is necessary is a whole other ball game. You need to ask yourself whether people will be able to easily create their own context to understand your message.

Is the topic too foreign, or are there too many barriers to understanding?

If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then it’s time to try turning your message into a story.

However, if you think the audience is unlikely to remain patient enough to digest the story, then it’s advisable to skip it altogether. There’s no harm in trying out either method and seeing the results.

For more pointers on how to use storytelling to get your message across, head over to the TechSmith Academy.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr