At TechSmith, we’re always looking for ways to improve our video content for our viewers. One great way to do that is to include customers or subject matter experts in our videos. The only problem? Time, distance, and budget constraints make it nearly impossible to visit everyone in person. Although with technology like Skype and Google Hangouts, we don’t have to. Instead of traveling on site, we can capture interviews in video calls then bring those recordings into the videos we create.
Capturing Skype, Google Hangouts, or any digital video communication can be a useful way to interview subject matter experts, customers, or even market research subjects. The footage you take can be used in a variety of ways: marketing videos, internal presentations, market research, etc. Using quotes from experts in customer-facing videos has worked well for us here. (We’ll talk a bit more about permissions for this type of video at the end of the post.)
I’d like to take a moment here to point out some differences between Skype and Google Hangouts. While Skype currently has no way to record video calls within the app, it is true that Google will let you record a Hangout. The catch is you have to record what are called Hangouts on Air, and Hangouts on Air must be live broadcasted to your YouTube channel or Google+ home page. If you’d prefer a private Hangout (perhaps for an interview that you’d like to edit before it goes live or an internal meeting), you’ll still have to record it with an external app.
Thankfully, there are a lot of great options for recording your Skype calls and Google Hangouts! Both Snagit and Camtasia will get the job done nicely for you. Although I will include some technical information throughout, we’re not going to get into the nitty gritty of using Camtasia or Snagit this time. Instead, we’ll be covering tips on getting the best recording possible from your Hangout or Skype session.
If you’re interested in the technical details, head on over to our tutorial section for more information:
Before You Record Your Video Call:
Before you hit record, there are a few simple steps you should take. First, be mindful that it takes a lot of computer processing power to record video and run programs like Google Hangouts and Skype at the same time. To get the best results, turn off any unneeded application. Don’t just minimize them, really turn them off. It will help with overall performance of your machine.
Next, you’ll need to make sure all notifications are turned off. I’ve seen it happen, I’ve had it happen, and even heard it happen to folks on national radio broadcasts. You don’t want a notice about your next appointment, or an incoming email ruining a perfectly good video. Besides ruining your video, it feels amateurish when it happens. And you, my friends, are better than that.
Camera and lighting
Got the computer taken care of? Good. Next you’ll need to adjust your camera, lighting, and the room you’re recording in.
This video will walk you through everything you need to know about setting up your workspace for a webcam screencast.
Not seeing the video? Watch it on YouTube…
If you don’t have access natural light, you might need to supplement with more light. When you add extra lights, make sure the light is directly in front of you, so you don’t accidentally cast shadows across your face (unless you’re going for the shadowy mysterious look!). You don’t have to do anything too fancy, so long as you can be seen clearly.
You’ll also want to adjust the placement of your camera. We recommend using the rule of thirds.
This is Trent Thompson, who we interviewed for a customer story. Notice how he’s evenly lit and where he’s placed in the frame? You can also see there’s not much action going on in the background. This is ideal–backdrops shouldn’t distract from the key visual content!
Finally, it’s time to consider the noise in your recording environment. There’s always going to be ambient noise, but you should try to eliminate it as much as possible. The typical culprits are HVAC systems, florescent light buzz, office chatter, road noise, etc. If you are in an office, close your door, put up a “Shhh! I’m recording” sign, and send out a gentle email reminder to your coworkers.
To help your interviewee get comfortable in front of the camera, we’ve put together a free PDF with tips for participating in Skype interviews. It’s great for sharing with your subject before you begin your screencast.
Technical and Hardware Considerations:
Although you won’t have complete control over it, you’ll want your guest’s audio to be as good as it can be. Consider recommending a microphone for them to use because the microphone built into their laptop won’t deliver very good audio.
Built-in mics work well for having a conversation, but they’ll disappoint in a recording. If your subject has an external webcam, it may have a microphone built into it that will provide good enough audio. Otherwise, it might be worth it to provide your guest with a USB desktop microphone or a headset…Although if your guest is wearing a headset, it can look a little awkward.
A good microphone doesn’t have to cost thousands or even hundreds of dollars. Matt Pierce, Customer Success Manager here at TechSmith, personally recommends the Blue Yeti (about $100) and the Audio Technica 2020 (about $200). Both go on sale occasionally.
Oftentimes we do interviews that are one-sided, meaning we’re most interested in the guest’s comments and not necessarily TechSmith’s. You don’t have to worry about your own audio quality unless you’re planning on using it in a final video.
Alternatively, you could use an app like Zencastr to record your guest’s audio straight off their own computer. Zencastr saves separate audio tracks for each guest in a Skype session or Hangout directly into your Dropbox account.
Before we move on, let’s talk about the most important step of all: making sure your system audio gets recorded. If you forget this, your recordings won’t capture any of the audio off your computer (i.e., where your interviewee is speaking!).
Use these screenshots to double check your Snagit and Camtasia set ups:
Much like built-in mics, built-in cameras on laptops aren’t the greatest (one exception: Apple computers tend to be pretty good). To get around this problem, Matt Pierce shared another one of his professional secrets with me: provide your guest with a webcam that will provide a higher quality video stream. He uses a Microsoft Life Camera that can record 1280×720. By no means is it perfect, but it does the job better than laptop web camera.
The truth is video calls aren’t always high quality. They get impacted by a lot of different factors including how smooth and fast your system is running, your internet connection, and as mentioned before, your camera quality. Will your video be perfect quality? Probably not. But by doing a few simple steps, it can look pretty darn good. Even with a bit of pixelation or lag, your video can still look professional.
A Note about Permissions
Before recording your subject(s), be sure to ask permission. In the US there are varying laws regarding recording conversations, so be mindful of what your local government has established. You may want to consider asking your interviewees to sign a release form as well, depending on how you’ll be using their footage. TechSmith uses a simple form similar to this one every time we record someone.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2014 by Matt Pierce and has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.