6 tips for great videos of your presentations or demos

clapper-boardDo you record videos of your talks, presentations or demos? Videos can be a great way to spread your message, while building your credibility and experience.

The 6 tips in this post should save you lots of time, because I’ve refined them over about the last 5 years. (And my most popular YouTube video currently has over 200,000 views.)

You can use the tips (as I have, too) for all these types of videos, and more:

  • Slides being presented by a speaker
  • Someone talking directly to camera – often called a talking head
  • Demos of how to do something (like use software) – often called explainer videos

The names of the 6 tips form an acronym (“ASPECT”) which I hope’ll help you to recall the tips, and also to be systematic when you approach your video-based projects.

If you’d like to jump straight to any of the 6 tips, you can click these links:

Otherwise, let’s look at each tip in turn

1: AudienceScroll to contents ↑

When you craft a message (for a video or a live talk), do you start by considering your topic, or your audience? I maintain it’s far better to start by carefully considering your audience, so you can approach the content from their viewpoint.

For instance:

  • Suppose you’re making a video about mentoring. If you started by considering the topic, you might end up with a “brain dump” of what you (or your subject-matter expert) know about mentoring – regardless of how well that fits your audience’s specific needs.
  • In contrast, if you start by considering your audience, you’re far more likely to meet their needs – and have a much more successful video as a result. For example, if your audience consists purely of mentors (not mentees), you can more sharply focus your content, fine-tuning your examples and wording to your audience.

So, it’s very fitting that ASPECT puts your audience in 1st place!

You might be wondering what you should consider about your audience. Well a great question to always ask yourself is:

What do they already know?

That lets you skim or skip content they likely know, so you don’t waste their time (or insult their intelligence).

For example:

  • If you’re making a how-to video about using a new computer system at work, you can almost certainly skip showing people how to log in. That’s because, for most people, entering a username and password is something they already do often.
  • Or, if you’re making a how-to video about Adobe Photoshop, you most likely don’t need to show people how to open a file, because the process is much the same as in other programs.

Conversely, what terminology should you avoid (or explain) because only a few of your viewers will know it?

For instance:

  • Imagine your video’s about retouching photos in Photoshop Elements, and your audience is new users. In that case, you might choose to avoid the term “alpha channel” because it’s totally foreign to your audience, and instead you might simply say “transparency”.
  • On the other hand, you’ll probably want to explain the concept of “layers”, because it’s central to using the program.

Here’s another key question to ask yourself about your audience:

When they watch the video, what’s their goal?

To make your video as useful as you can, shorten people’s path to their goal – which brings me to the next point

2: ShortnessScroll to contents ↑

To meet your audience’s needs, it’s vital you keep your video short. After all, you’ve likely heard that people’s attention spans are shorter than ever. (If you’re like me, you’ll find even a 20-minute TED talk’s too long, which is why I tend to play them at 1½× normal speed!)

One of the best ways to keep your video short is to decide beforehand how short you’d like it to be. Then, if your unedited recording is longer (as it probably will be), think hard about every bit you can cut out, or how you could do a shorter 2nd take. (In this section, you’ll find several ideas to help you.)

So how short should you make your video? I recommend these as maximum lengths:

  • Talking head: 2 minutes
  • How-to video: 5 minutes
  • PowerPoint slideshow: 15 minutes – as explained below

Admittedly, there’s no science behind those numbers, so they’re purely “rules of thumb”. Still, they’re based on several years’ experience.

Another great approach is to just show one clearly-defined task or message. If you have more content than that, it pays to make a separate video for each piece.

For instance, if you record someone presenting a PowerPoint slideshow for an hour, I highly recommend you edit the result into several videos of at most 15 minutes each. Far more people will watch those than a 1-hour recording!

Whatever type of video you make, always edit it to cut out unneeded parts, like the housekeeping at the start and end of a typical recorded WebEx presentation. Likewise, you can usually cut out many small parts of a how-to video, like these:

  • When you’re typing something, you might cut out the middle of the shot, so people just see you start to type and then see you finish.
  • If your computer’s slow to respond, such as when you click Save or Search, edit the video so your viewers don’t have to wait too!
  • If you make a mistake during your demo, cut it out during editing. That makes your video shorter, smoother, and more professional.

You might groan at the thought of doing those edits, but they’ll make you stand out from the crowd, and you’ll reap rewards through audience engagement.

To get full benefit from your edits, encourage views of your video by telling people how short it is whenever you share it. For instance, you might publish a tweet that says:

“Want to find vital emails more easily – without even searching?
This 3-minute video shows you how.”

Also, you can reduce the amount of editing you need to do by preparing well (before you record), as you’ll see in the next section

3: PreparationScroll to contents ↑

Getting a smooth result in your final video means your viewers won’t get distracted from your core content. And you get a smooth result through:

  • Editing out any unneeded parts (as described above)
  • Preparing yourself and your computer

It’s well worth rehearsing, so you and anyone else taking part can refine your presentation, or the exact steps you’ll take in a how-to video.

I also recommend you write brief notes of what you want to mention (not even in full sentences), which you can glance at while you record. But I don’t recommend writing out a full script, because reading aloud tends to sound unnatural.

Here are 6 steps you can take before you record a how-to video:

  • Hide toolbars and other clutter, like your desktop icons.
  • If you’ll browse for a file during the video, put it in an empty or near-empty folder, which reduces distracting clutter.
  • Open the required programs, folders, tabs etc, to shorten the path to the goal (unless people need to learn those steps).
  • Copy required text to the clipboard, so people don’t have to watch you typing it. (Or, edit out most of the typing afterwards, as discussed above.)
  • Maximize all windows, to help your audience focus on one window at a time.
  • If your video will show more than 1 window, consider using a 2nd monitor and moving the windows onto it. That way, your video won’t show you clicking the windows’ names on the taskbar (or pressing Alt+Tab) when you switch between programs.


4: End resultScroll to contents ↑

This part of ASPECT relates to starting your video not only with “the end in mind” but with “the end in plain sight”. In other words, a great way to start your clip is with you succinctly showing or telling people what they’ll get out of it, which lets them quickly judge for themselves whether they want to watch it all. In a how-to video, most often that means you start by showing the end result.

For instance:

  • Suppose your video’s about saving time and effort by having PowerPoint automatically expand abbreviations you’ve set up (using AutoCorrect). In that case, you might start by typing the abbreviation SFDC to show that the program can automatically replace those letters with Salesforce.com (rather than starting with the detailed steps of how you set that up).
  • That way, people can see whether your clip will help them reach their goal. And they don’t have to watch your whole clip to find out. Nor do you have to explain in words what your clip shows.

In any video, briefly tell people up-front the 3 or 4 main steps or points you’ll cover, so they know the big picture of where you’re headed. Then, having briefly set the scene, show the steps in detail for the rest of your video.

5: ClarityScroll to contents ↑

The previous tips help you keep your video clear by focusing on your audience and their end goal, preparing your PC by removing clutter, and editing the video to cut out distractions. In this section, you’ll find more steps you can take to make your video even clearer.

While you’re recording:

  • In a how-to video, use your mouse (so people can see what you’re doing) instead of using little-known keyboard shortcuts. For example, if you’re inserting a hyperlink in Word, click Insert and then Hyperlink (or right-click and choose Hyperlink) rather than pressing the equivalent keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+K).
  • However, when you’re not using your mouse to click (during a how-to video), keep it dead still so you don’t annoy your viewers by letting it dance around your screen!
  • “Show and tell”, which are 2 different things:
    • In a how-to video, while you show people the steps, tell them what you’re doing. For instance, while actually doing what you’re saying (in sync), you might say:

      To insert that link, first, right-click on the word “example”.
      Then, choose Hyperlink from the pop-up menu.

    • In a PowerPoint slideshow, show visuals (charts, diagrams, tables, photos) with few words, and tell people the words that you’d (in the past) have put on each slide. (See how to remember the words that aren’t on your slide.)

While you’re editing:

  • To show details clearly in a how-to video, zoom in as needed, which you can do in most editing software (such as Camtasia).
  • Consider adding on-screen annotations to number or label the main steps or sections, to visually reinforce where you’re up to. For instance, if you’re demonstrating a 3-step process, you could show the number 1, 2 or 3 for a few seconds at the start of each step.


6: ToolsScroll to contents ↑

The tools you need include:

  • A microphone
  • Recording and editing software
  • A camera (if you’re filming a speaker)
  • When you use a camera, you’ll also need a tripod, and possibly lights

You might be tempted to focus most on the tools you’ll use. But in fact, provided they meet some basic criteria, I believe your tools are the least important factor in getting an effective result. So it’s apt that they come last in ASPECT.

The basic criteria your tools need to meet include:

  • Put your microphone very close to the speaker, so you record high-quality sound. If the speaker’s on camera, use a lavalier microphone (also known as a lapel mic).
  • If you’re using a camera (rather than recording your screen), make sure the speaker’s brightly lit (with no strong shadows on their face), and put the camera on a tripod so there’s no “camera shake”.

This table shows video recording software you can use (according to who does the demo or presentation you record):

Who does the demo
or presentation?
Examples of
recording tools
You Camtasia
or SnagIt
Someone else
(anywhere in the world)
WebEx or
Adobe Connect

Often, online collaboration tools like WebEx or Adobe Connect record in a proprietary format, which can restrict the options you have for editing, sharing or playing back your recording.

For instance, Adobe Connect doesn’t let viewers save time by playing back a recording at higher speed. However, with both WebEx and Adobe Connect, you can save your recording to an MP4 video file, which gives you and your viewers many more options.

Your turn

I hope you found some helpful advice among those 6 tips. Please let me know:

  • What questions do you have about videoing your talks?
  • Or, what tips have you found useful when making videos?


Also check outScroll to contents ↑


5 thoughts on “6 tips for great videos of your presentations or demos

  1. Great tips and I love the acronym! Many people are afraid to create videos but you just have to plunge in and do it. A few tries and it will be easier. I sometimes do 10 takes to get 1 minute of talking head video, but that’s OK. I also use Camtasia, especially for editing. I use it as you say to zoom in and add callouts, but mostly to edit out “ums” and overly long pauses.


    • Thanks for taking time to comment, Ellen. In just a few words, you’ve raised some very important points – about doing as many takes as you want, and editing out “ums” etc. Both those tasks can take quite a lot of time, but they’re vital to produce a highly watchable video.

      By the way, I love acronyms, and find them really handy. Last year, Nick Morgan published a post (on Forbes.com and on his own blog) attacking acronyms. You might be interested in that post (What’s wrong with acronyms?) and the comment I left on it.


      • Read your comment on Nick’s blog and his funny answer. I like short acronyms, like my BARE system for choosing images. You commented on that post and said you liked the acronym. I guess as they get longer, it’s harder to remember what each letter stands for. Stories are good, as Nick says, but so are images. People remember pictures better than words and in fact, one of the reasons stories work so well is that they help people picture a situation.


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