We are very pleased to feature a guest author, Mr. Dennis Crane of the excellent Dr. Explain help authoring software.  Dennis has written a fantastic article about how to make a video demo to help sell your product.  Enjoy!

Intro

A picture is worth a thousand words. A video is worth a thousand pictures. There is no doubt that a well made video can demonstrate more benefits of your software in just two minutes than dozens of text pages, even if the text pages have good screenshots and illustrations.

Another strong point of live demos is sound. You have an exceptional opportunity to act on people’s emotions not only visually but also audibly, with a voice, sound effects and music. Once your demo is ready, you may put it on your website, include it in presentations, share it with bloggers, or upload it to video portals.

Making a product demo video yourself is not an easy task. During the learning curve, you will likely make a lot of mistakes, tests, and remakes before you get an acceptable result. My own learning curve was pretty long. However, now I can tell about my experience creating demo videos for software products and save you some time and effort.

Our final work is the live demo for TBS Cover Editor – software for designing 3D box shots and virtual covers. In this article I will tell you how we made it, from recording to publishing.

Screen capturing

You might be surprised to know that creating videos isn’t as expensive as it seems. There are a lot freeware tools and utilities that will save you a bunch of money.  The first one I’d like to mention is CamStudio (http://camstudio.org/). We used CamStudio for capturing video from screen. I’d recommend you use the following recording settings:

  • capturing area size : 1024×768;
  • highlight a mouse pointer with a color spot;
  • output frame rate: 25 fps minimum;
  • output format codec: PICVideo MPEG;

I also turned off the sound recording as we planned to add a voice over and background music later.

CamStudio is quite easy to use. The result of our efforts gave us an MPEG file that served like a draft for further work. Later we sliced it and removed some unfavorable fragments – switching screen blinks, occasional mouse clicks, pauses, etc. So we had a draft of video, and then we were ready to take care of audio.

If you have a video draft made by other method or tools (e.g. captured from camera) I’d recommend converting it into MPEG format with minimal frame rate of 25 fps for further processing. You will find information about video conversion tools further in this article.

Voice over

The ability to use sound in your movie is a great advantage of live demos, compared to simple text or graphics. Start with a written script that describes what is happening in the movie. If English is a second language for you (as it is for me), then you should have your script proofread by a native English speaker to make sure it sounds natural. Then you need to hire a voice talent to read your script. In our blog, I wrote a post about two valuable on-line services that helped us with script proofreading and voice over recording. When you’re ordering a voice-over service, ask the talent to make pauses in the speech so you can easily cut it into phrases and later synchronize them with video episodes.

Along with human voice, we added background music to our demo. Music creates the proper mood by addressing spectator emotions, it fills long pauses between phrases, and it makes the whole demo more dynamic and inspiring. We have no capabilities to record our own music loop so we purchased a royalty free music loop on www.royaltyfreemusic.com for about $10.

Montage (movie assembling and editing)

Montage is the most time consuming process. Assembling numerous episodes sliced from the original movie draft, adding and synchronizing voice and music, inserting effects (fades, dissolves, split screens, double and triple exposures) may take up to two or three days, especially if you have no previous skills and experience.

Although there are many tools for video editing, we used Pinnacle Studio ( http://www.pinnaclesys.com ) as it’s affordable (currently ranging from $50 to $130 per license) and easy to use.

I’m not going to describe the montage in details as it must be another topic or even series of topics. The process of adding and editing the movie episodes, sound files, titles and effects is intuitive and consists of repetitive routines and operations. This will require some training at first, but then you can work pretty fast. The longest operation was rendering the output file. It may take up to half of an hour for 5 minutes of fully assembled video. So, making smaller experimental exports will dramatically save you time.

At the beginning and at the end of the movie we added static splash images with the product title and contacts. Also, we added a text label with the product URL that is shown all the time in the bottom corner of the movie. Seeing the URL, people may put the demo on pause at any moment and immediately go to the product website to know more about it, to download a free trial copy, or even to instantly order it.

The only important details I’d like to point out regarding using Pinnacle Studio are format specifications of the output video. We made an AVI file encoded with AVI Intel Indeo 5 codec, with dimensions of 1024 x 768 pixels, because it gave a pretty high quality to compression ratio.

Converting to different video formats

After we had made the final Indeo 5 compressed AVI video file of about 350 Mb, we needed to convert the AVI video file into several other formats that were suitable for distribution in different marketing channels: live demo on the TBS Cover Editor’s website, video on YouTube, as well as video without additional compression for offline presentations.

For converting media files from and to different formats, we use two freeware utilities which cover all our needs: XMedia Recode ( http://www.xmedia-recode.de ) and SUPER ( http://www.erightsoft.com/SUPER.html ). SUPER has a clumsy interface and sometimes you have to repeat conversion several times because it may unexpectedly fail.

Uploading to site with embedded FLV player

For putting a live demo on the product website, we converted the video into FLV format resized to 640 x 480 pixels. The 5 minutes of video took about 15 Mb in FLV format.

I think that there are many freeware embeddable FLV players available for playing FLV video right on the web page. We use an embeddable FLV player by AF Components. You may find a free version of it at the company’s website http://www.afcomponents.com/components/ along with instructions on installation and embedding it into HTML code of your website.

Uploading to YouTube

YouTube may be another good source to share your video. There are several benefits of using YouTube. First, it’s a crowded portal with millions of visitors daily. Your video almost immediately will be indexed by YouTube’s search engine, and by Google, and will be instantly available to many viewers. Don’t forget to use niche targeted keywords in the movie’s title and description so you can be found in relevant search results. Use your website URL in the movie description also.

Another benefit of YouTube is the ability to easily embed a YouTube movie into any CMS, blog, forum post, or even into a static HTML page. When you are approaching bloggers or news editors you may just send them link to your demo on YouTube. They can insert the movie into an article without any problems as YouTube provides ready to use HTML snippets.

Before uploading to YouTube, we recompressed our movie with H.264 codec as it’s one of the recommended formats there. Upon uploading, the movie was automatically resized to 480 x 360 (4:3 SD). Keep this in mind as some small details in your demo may become almost invisible.

Using live demos in software marketing

Although this article is more about live demo production, I’d like also to list the most important ways of using live demos to promote your software:

  • Put it on your website in front of your visitors
  • Upload it to popular video portals like YouTube
  • Include a link to your live demo into your press releases and messages to bloggers, press editors, and prospects
  • Promote your video with social bookmarks like Digg.com and StumbleUpon.com
  • Show it at off-line events: presentations, conferences, and trade shows
  • Add it to your giveaway promotional stuff on CD or USB flash
  • Put it on view in the reception area of your office

I’m not pretending that our process is the most effective, but it allowed us to receive our desired results at a reasonable cost. If you have any questions or need any help in live demo creation feel free to contact me, either in comments or privately through http://indigobyte.com/company/contact/ .

Nowadays, live demo can be an absolutely essential tool for marketing any software product or service. This is a unique opportunity to show all the benefits of your product in just a couple of minutes.

25 Responses to “Make your own video demo”

  • JohnG says:

    Thanks Dennis for describing the process. I loved the video. Product looks great and I want it!

    Thank Sue for publishing this great article.

  • Susan Alta says:

    John, you’re most welcome!

  • aati says:

    Hello…
    Nice article…
    One thing I want to know, I want to record demo in my own voice.
    Can you plz tell me the name of tool, which I can use for audio recording.

    Thanks…

  • Dennis Crane says:

    Thanks for feedback!

    @aati: From my toolkit, mentioned above, I can advise two tools for recording audio:
    CamStudio – you may record voice simultaneously with video capturing of the screen.
    Pinnacle Studio – you may record a sound track from your microphone during the montage step.
    I’m sure there are also many other specialized tools for voice recording.

  • Really nice article Dennis.

    Many thanks; bookmarked for future reference!

  • Leslie says:

    Audacity is a great open source program you can use to record and edit audio files, then add them to your movie during editing in Pinnacle.

    I found this article while trying to work with CamStudio AVIs in Pinnacle Studio Ultimate 12. CamStudio’s lossless codec provides crystal clear picture, but I can’t get it to load into Pinnacle. I tried the PicVideo codec after reading this article, but that codec produced a pixelated video right from the start.

    Does anyone know if there is a good codec for CamStudio that produces crystal clear images like CS’s lossless codec, but will also import into Pinnacle? Or, perhaps I’m not setting something correctly. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • Mapper99 says:

    Very informative article. Thanks!

  • Alex F says:

    Superb job! It is a very well articulated article. I love it and will use it for the upcoming project – first time doing this BTW.

    Thanks, Mr. Crane.

  • Very informative, thanks for this article, useful. Is it possible even to use parts of it in our site? (with credits of course), it can help our clients as well.

  • Harsanik says:

    Great article for beginners, I’m in the midst of learning video editing and I could use some of these tips in my own venture. Thanks again.

  • Hey thanks a lot, I like to make videos, I have some part that I want to edit in a video, this is helpfull for me, thanks a lot.

  • Greg says:

    Thank you for this post. I discovered that Microsoft’s Expression Encoder 4 has a free version that will do awesome screen capture. You can then send it to the encoder and use VC-1 Advanced codec, which is the best codec I’ve found for screen capture (I did 960×720 and the WMV file was literally perfect – indistinguishable from the original capture file despite being much smaller).

    The only problem is that when I import that WMV file into Pinnacle to to voiceover and music, I have trouble making a movie with anything larger than 640×480 resolution. That’s probably user error though – I don’t know much about codecs, just that Pinnacle doesn’t seem to offer VC-1 advanced, and you can’t do voiceover in Expression (at least not in the free version).

  • Gorbo says:

    I like the article, it is always a pleasure to learn something new, thanks Dennis, thanks Sue.

    Martin – Juegos.gs

  • Brook says:

    I was feeling pretty down about how long it was taking me to make my demo video. It was nice to read that I’m not along in that experience. Getting the voice over and the video synced right, among other things, is a real challenge. Great info. Thank you.

  • Heather Todd says:

    Really great Article on make your own video demo,much apreciated