Sunday, November 1, 2009

Tips on videoing presentations using ScreenFlow

I talk at quite a few conferences, as regular readers will know, and have been experimenting with videoing some of my presentations for a little while now. I thought I would share some of my experience on techniques I've tried and how they've worked.

Basic Approaches
Of course a basic option is just to take a single digital video that includes the speaker and/or the slides. Options include setting this up yourself by putting a camera on a small tripod, or even a table, or getting someone else in the audience to do the filming. You can get reasonable results doing this - certainly better than not seeing the presentation at all! A recent example of this approach was my "cowboy georant" at AGI GeoCommunity.

That was just taken on a cheap Flip video camera and it gives a good idea of the presentation - but it misses out quite a bit too. You don't get to see most of the carefully crafted slides :) (though maybe the cowboy hat was more interesting in this case!). One way to enhance a basic video like this is to upload files to SlideShare, and then imbed the video and slides next to each other, like this.

One other scenario where it makes sense to use a simple approach like this is when doing live streaming. Dave Bouwman and Brian Noyle have done a good job in live streaming presentations from various events for geogeektv (some older recordings here). This is very easy to do - all you need is a webcam (an external one is probably most flexible in this scenario), and a free membership of one of various online streaming services like ustream. Most of these services have the ability to both stream live and record for later viewing.

Using ScreenFlow
But with just a little effort you can combine videos of the presenter and the slides so you get a good view of both. The software I use to do this is called ScreenFlow, which runs on Mac only. It can record everything happening on your screen (from basic slides to video and software demos), and also gives you the option to concurrently record video from an internal or external webcam on your computer. ScreenFlow gives you nice capabilities to position the two (or more) video streams within your final output. I have used this on quite a few occasions with my built in webcam and a "picture in picture" style. The following is an example of this:

GeoWeb 2009 presentation by Peter Batty from Peter Batty on Vimeo

This approach works pretty well. If you watch for a few minutes you will see that the small window showing me talking can be easily moved around the screen, to avoid overlapping with significant items on a slide. This adds a bit of work to run through the presentation file in ScreenFlow and move the video window as needed depending on the current slide, though it's straightforward to do this. If you designed your slides appropriately with this approach in mind, you could potentially avoid (or at least minimize) the need to move the video window ... though I have to confess I haven't been organized enough to do that yet! But this definitely works well and doesn't need any equipment other than a laptop with a webcam.

A couple of minor drawbacks with this approach include the fact that using the built in webcam gives a slightly odd angle looking up at the presenter, especially if you are tall as I am, and the video window showing the presenter is rather small. I recently bought a new HD video camera (a Lumix GH1), and decided to try a different approach for my recent presentation in Duluth. I set up the video camera on a separate tripod focused on the presentation podium. I could have recorded the slides while I presented (which would have been easiest), but actually I recorded them separately in ScreenFlow after the fact (following along with the video to get the timing right). This is a useful option to have if you don't record the slides at the time for some reason, but you have a video of the presenter.

Having the video of me presenting in a wide screen HD format (1280x720 pixels) gave me the idea of putting the slides and presenter video side by side as in the following (click through to see it in a larger format, including the HD version):

The Geospatial Revolution (Minnesota) from Peter Batty on Vimeo

ScreenFlow has this nice ability to rotate the videos in a 3D space, which makes them slightly narrower without losing any content, as well as giving an interesting perspective effect. Putting the slide video on top crops out one side of the presenter video (which is just static background) and the other side is cropped by the edge of the overall frame. Overall I really like this layout - it gives you a clearer view of the presenter, from a better angle than using the webcam, and you can also see the whole of all the slides. One other nice little graphical touch I added is to include a 50% reflection below both videos - another cool feature of ScreenFlow. I can provide more specific details on putting this together if anyone needs that.

Specific tips on using ScreenFlow
Make sure you have plenty of spare disk space - ScreenFlow stores video in high quality for the full screen resolution and the webcam, so a raw file can easily take up a few gigabytes (once you output the final presentation video it will be compressed and a lot smaller). Once I didn't have a lot of spare disk space on my laptop, and got into a long discussion after the presentation without turning recording off, then the disk filled up and I lost the whole recording (enhancement request to the ScreenFlow folks ... it would be great if you could recognize an impending full disk and stop recording cleanly before crashing!)

These days when presenting I usually use "presenter mode" where I can see speaker notes and other information such as elapsed time and the next slide on my laptop screen, while the projector displays just the current slide - both Apple Keynote and Microsoft PowerPoint have this feature. It's especially useful if you're using more of a "presentation zen" style where you have simple pictures on most slides and do away with bullet point lists (which I highly recommend!). Anyway, if you do that you need to make sure that ScreenFlow is recording what is happening on the external display rather than the built in display. It defaults to using the internal display so this is easy to miss, especially in the heat of the moment when you're just about to start presenting. An added complication is that if you don't get to plug in your laptop until immediately before the presentation, you can't select the external display until the last minute (once you are connected to the projector) - which increases the chance of messing up this step. I have done at least a couple of presentations where I accidentally recorded the presenter screen instead of the audience screen. That's not the end of the world as you can re-record the slides after the fact, but that takes extra time of course. So another enhancement request for the ScreenFlow folks is to either default to recording the external screen (or have a preference to specify this), or at least give a warning when starting recording if there are two screens connected.

I have mainly used the internal microphone on my Mac for recording, and that has generally worked pretty well, but on some occasions the sound has been a little quieter than I would like. So it is worth considering an external microphone - one that I have used is the Snowflake, which worked well for my presentation in Perth but unfortunately I left it on the floor afterwards and someone stepped on it :(!

Publishing your video
YouTube has an annoying 10 minute limit which makes it inconvenient for traditional conference presentation formats. I like to use vimeo, which doesn't have this limit and also handles high definition videos nicely (though youtube has upgraded its support in that area recently). Vimeo also gives you the option of letting users download the original video file, if you want to. I now have a geospatial presentation channel on vimeo.

How does this impact conferences?
Kirk Kuykendall commented on my recent video post and wondered how this type of video recording may impact conferences - is there a risk of reducing conference attendance? There might be a slight risk of that, but overall I think it is probably more likely to have the opposite effect and encourage people to attend. A lot of the value of attending conferences is in meeting people, and in the informal (or formal) discussions that happen there. Conferences like Where 2.0 already video their presentations and put them online. TED is another example of a conference that puts all its presentations online, but still charges $4500 for conference attendance and sells out. But hopefully it will help conference organizers focus on providing a good all round experience for attendees.

It also presents a similar dilemma for speakers like myself who talk at a number of conferences. Obviously you sometimes re-use some material, so publishing online increases the risk that some attendees have seen parts of your presentation before. But again I feel the benefits outweigh the risks - you get an additional audience for your presentation, it may encourage some additional people to come and see you speak live, and it also gives you an incentive you to keep refreshing your material!


Lynn said...

HI Peter,
Really nice and helpful post. I appreciate that you took us through the steps you went through to arrive at your present set-up. It's a great usage of ScreenFlow
Your ScreenFlow feature requests are good - I'd love to see them included on the ScreenFlow Feature request page on the blog.
Thanks, Lynn Elliott

Mark Power said...

This looks like it might just be exactly what I need. Thanks, Peter!

Quick question...I filmed a presentation at a recent conference on an HD Flip camera and I've imported that into iMovie. Why ScreenFlow interests me is that the video doesn't capture the slides particularly well due to exposure.

Can I use ScreenFlow to do as you did in one of your examples and run through the slideshow, timing it to match the presentation. Then importing the video file and stitching the 2 together? Or would I have had to record the original video using ScreenFlow in the first place?

Thanks! Mark

Peter Batty said...

Hi Mark, yes you can combine the video with your slides using screenflow after the fact. In order to match the timing it helps to have two computers. I played back the video of my presentation on my desktop, and at the same time stepped through my slides on my laptop, matching the timing of the presentation, and had ScreenFlow recording on the laptop (you can turn off recording from the webcam and sound recording, etc). So then you have a screenflow project just containing a recording of your slides. Now go to the top right and click on the "Media" icon, and then you can drag your original Flip video of you presenting into that panel to import it. Then drag that video down on to the bottom timeline and you have the two video "tracks" that you can position as you wish, just as if you'd recorded them in ScreenFlow originally. Let me know if this isn't clear or you have other questions.

Mark Power said...

That's great...thanks for taking the time Peter...much appreciated! :)

Anonymous said...

ScreenFlow looks very nice, I've heard MediaSite from Sonic Foundry is good too, but what about an OpenSource alternative? Does anyone has some suggestions or tips?
Ludovic, webmaster in Montreal

Unknown said...

Hi Peter,

Well, its a year later but I had cause today to dig out your article and give Screenflow a try myself. I also went with your HD 16x9 approach for the post production, with the video/audio capture on the left tilted in -- worked great.

Thanks for posting this, it really was useful to me.