Video, Powerpoint and the Back of a Napkin

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Jun 12th, 2008
Jun 12

A screencast is " a digital recording of computer screen output, also known as a video screen capture, often containing audio narration."  I completed a screencast recently, and would like to share the final results and the process to create it with the readers of this blog.


In my last post here, I wrote about the video coverage project I put together for my company’s annual user conference. This video project went extremely well (despite a few hiccups, especially with wi-fi and cell coverage). In the week after the event, I had to put together a report to share the results with internal employees and with the audience for the Citrix blog


On the flight home, I was thinking about the format I wanted to use for the report. I felt that a video about the video coverage was the best way to communicate the results. I dabbeld with the idea of using the Nokia N95 cell phone to do a Qik video, but quickly discarded that notion. The view of my big head adds nothing to a report.


I had just finished reading an excellent book called "The Back of the Napkin" by Dan Roam. This was a very eye opening book about the process of using visual thinking to solve problems and communicate ideas. While Dan’s focus in totally on white boarding, it occurred to me that his process applies to any type of visual communication, including powerpoint presentations and screencasts. I resolved to create a screencast of the Synergy Underground results that follows Dan’s model for the types of questions to ask and answer in a visual manner. 


In addition to using the visual thinking frame work from "The Back of the Napkin" I used several other techniques that I have discovered during my journey down the road to more effective speaking. As I have written about before, I used a mind map for the outline and included it as the agenda slide. In several slides, I followed the Lessig Method for text. The great majority of the sides were simple visuals which I narrated, consistent with the principles of Garr Reynolds book (and blog) Presentation Zen and the research of Richard Mayer.







I am very pleased with the overall results. This screencast is certainly not perfect and has given me the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons as I reflect on the experience.



Voice over – The mic I used was not very high quality. I spent a lot of time trying to clean up noise. Camtasia is great for editing video, but I found the audio editing capabilities of my version to be lacking (or at least my knowledge of how to use them). These lessons have been useful in my preparation for the new podcast series I am putting together for Citrix. I have upgraded to a studio quality condenser microphone (an AKG Perception 200 from ebay), an Alesis Multimix USB mixer and a home made "Porta-Booth" to minimize noise. I have also started using Adobe Audition specifically for audio editing.


Overall, I am not thrilled with my voice over. My voice was very flat in the beginning. In several places I stumbled as I narrated then slide. Two main factors contributed to my lackluster voice over- insufficient practice and the very late hour when I did the final cut. 


Preparation – I spent the lion’s share time trying to get all the other pieces right (the outlines, slides, Camtasia screen recording, etc…). I set a deadline when to finish this, and spent most of the time changing the outline and redoing the slides to fit with the new structure I learned from Dan Roam’s book. Recording the voice over at 2 am was probably not the best choice to maximize the tone and rhythm of my voice. Since I have not done a screencast in some time AND I was using a new framework for the overall structure of the presentation, I should have given myself more time to complete this project.


Visuals- I am very pleased with the content of the screencast overall. One issue does stand out however. It is very obvious now that the video is too long. While I did get many questions about how I did the live video streaming from the Nokia N95 cell phone, I can see now that I should have made that into a separate video. That one changed would have cut the length by about 4 minutes.


My goal for the over all structure was to follow the "Visual Thinking Codex" from "The Back of the Napkin"  (pg. 141). I chose the relevant  frame work questions and selected one of the recommended visual methods  to answer each question. Mind mapping  this new frame work helped a great deal, but took much more time than expected due to numerous revisions.


Using the simple visuals, minimal text and the basic bar charts recommend by Dan Roam for "How many?" questions did help save a great deal of time. Unfortunately, when Camtasia converted the video to wmv or avi format on the first few attempts, there were significant issues rendering the rapid text changes. That issue took an inordinate amount of time to solve.




Despite these issues, I am very happy I went through this process. I learned a lot of important lessons that will help me in the futre. I hope that my writing about this process will help some of you as well.



My ultimate goal here is to create a repeatable process that allows me to communicate even more effectively.This combination of visual thinking from "The Back of the Napkin", powerpoint and video along with other lessons I have learned in the past are moving me closer to that goal.  I appreciate any feedback you have on the progress to date.







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3 Responses

  1. Eric Lee Says:

    Great Blog post. I am going to bookmark and read more often. I love the Blog template if you need any assistance customizing it let me know!

  2. Jonathan Steele from Says:

    This is very interesting.

    You said…”My ultimate goal here is to create a repeatable process that allows me to communicate even more effectively.”


    “I appreciate any feedback you have on the progress to date.”

    I just about clicked out a few times even though I thought it was interesting.

    There was no hook for me. Nothing beyond a book you mention that I have not read.

    What caught my attention was two things at the end. The number of visitors and the thing that attracted the visitors.

    In other words, you shared the most wanted response of your audience which was of interest to me.

    What if you were to move that to the beginning? Even ask a question?

    An oversimplification…How was it possible to get over 24K page views? More importantly, why would those visitors want to view? Then go into your presentation.

    Still, it was very interesting and informative.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Barry Flanagan Says:


    Thanks for the feedback.

    I can see your point that there could have been more of a hook at the very opening. I opened with the standard intro, the went to an agenda, then went into a “Why am I here?” story. I normally like to open with a “Why am I here?” or “Who am I?” story right out of the gate, but in this case I did a standard intro before jumping into the story. Perhaps a more compelling opening would have been to open with a brief story about a specific incident where one of the viewers of our Underground coverage told me how much they enjoyed the coverage. I recognize that I spent far more time on building the visuals (and getting the recording done) than I did on the narration, and I should have given the narration equal time. Learning from the experience is the main reaosn I posted this screencast on this blog.

    A part of the issue here is you are not in the intended audience for this screencast. I put that screencast together for the technical audience that reads the Citrix blogs (my employer). Each question answered is one I received from that audience. The specific content of the screencast is not the reason I posted it here. The reason I posted this screencast is to write about the process I used to create it. I thought I made that clear in the post, but clearly I did not make it clear enough. I apologize for the confusion.

    The 24K number is unique video views, not page views. I probably should have used the full label “Video Views” in the slide, instead of just “Views”. As to why would those visitors want to view the Synergy Underground coverage, that is not a question the intended audience for this content would ask. I can see why someone who is not a in the Citrix technical audience would ask that question. The audience that reads the Citrix blog is interested in Citrix technology and what happens at our annual user conference.

    If your point is to provide a potential example of how I could have made a more compelling hook at the beginning, I concede that the opening was not nearly as interesting as it could have been. I appreciate the ideas.

    Thanks for taking the time to read the post, watch the screencast, and comment on it.

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