Screencast Recording Tips: Preparing A Script

Screencasts are very helpful for communicating ideas, features, and information about your product.  We’ve recorded a number over the years, and I have experimented with a variety of methods to produce the best results in the shortest amount of time.  I’ve found there are some processes that make preparing, recording, editing, and sharing screencasts easier. (I’ve included an example at the end of the post which uses the tips contained here — let me know what you think.)

In this post, we’ll focus on preparing a script — although I have found there are situations where extemporaneous recording works well too.

Here’s what we’ve found helpful in preparing a script:

  • Create a document with two columns: the column on the left contains the words you intend to use for your video, and the column on the right contains short descriptions of what you intend to show on the screen, like “Show Login Page” or “Show the user searching for a widget”.  If you create this document using Google Docs, it makes it super easy to share with people you want to get feedback from.
  • Create a rough outline of the major thoughts you want to communicate. Don’t worry about the specific words; just create an ordered flow of ideas you want to communicate.  Try to put them in a logical order.
  • Sit in a quiet place; using your outline, start speaking as if you’re talking to someone sitting next to you. I’ll often record what comes to mind, and then create my first draft by transcribing the recording.  At this stage, don’t worry about making it perfect – you just want to capture the spirit of what you want to say.
  • Read your draft out loud, and refine it so that there are no major errors. Check to see if your ideas still seem to be in logical order.

After creating a first draft, I’ve found it helpful to review it with a group of 2-3 people who have subject matter insight or are clear thinkers.  Inserting this step into my process has dramatically improved the end result.

Here’s how I use this feedback and review session:

  • I ask everyone to read the script in advance.  If they don’t, I’ve found that their input seems more limited and less helpful, so try to give everyone enough time to prepare.
  • Do a read through.  I’ll usually read the script out loud from top to bottom, and ask for general feedback about the flow. Does it make sense? Are the thoughts in a logical order?  How’s my inflection?
  • If necessary, we’ll make changes to the flow, and then begin to work on each sentence, one at a time.  I’ll ask if each word is the best choice to communicate the idea.  I’ll also try to cut out as many words as possible.  This is an iterative process and can be a lot of fun if you have a good group!
  • After you’ve revised your draft, let it sit for a bit. Maybe wait a day, and then go back and re-read it (out loud — not in your head) and see if it still makes sense. With a clear mind, you can make additional changes you think are appropriate.

At this point, you should have a relatively good draft to record from.  Get your vocal cords ready!  In another post, I’ll cover some of the things we’ve found helpful in recording a screencast.

What about you? Have you found any tips that are helpful in recording screencasts? If you’ve recorded them in the past, which part of the process is most difficult for you?

Here’s a 3 minute example that used the methods described in this post.  Enjoy!

[Video] Daily Scrum Stand-up Meeting: A Real-Life Example

At MindFire, we’ve been using a daily stand-up meeting for our multi-channel marketing automation platform.  We’ve also applied it in other areas, including our Leadership Team, which does its stand-up at 11:00 AM.

Here’s how we run the engineering stand-up meeting:

1) We start promptly at 9:00 AM.  We experimented with having the meeting at 4:00 PM, but meeting towards the start of the day seemed to work better.  I personally enjoy the buzz from getting everyone together in the morning, hearing the prior day’s activities, and charting the day’s course.

As I walk into the meeting, I make it a point to greet everyone, shake hands (or a quick fist-bump), and look everyone in the eye and smile.  I don’t always succeed at this, but I like to try and give everyone a good start to the day.  I feel it makes a difference.

2) We time-box the meeting to 12 minutes.  We use an iPhone timer to keep us honest.  These days, we usually finish with about a minute to spare.  We used to get lazy and go for 20 or 30 minutes, but now that we stand up and use a timer, we’re good.  I check the timer from time-to-time during the meeting and sometimes call out the number of minutes remaining.  Even though each person only has a few minutes, you’ll notice that it doesn’t seemed rushed; everyone has plenty of time.

3) We go in the same order each day, cycling through 7 people.  The people involved are:

  • The Product Owner (me).  I report on both my product-related tasks, as well as whatever I’m working on with the Leadership Team or any other part of our company.  If someone listens carefully, they can get a pretty good sense for what’s going on elsewhere in the company.
  • Our QA lead, who also is involved with our Professional Services.  He goes first, and you’ll hear him mentioning working from home the prior day.  We do this from time-to-time to improve focus.
  • Our senior architect and 3 engineers, each of whom are responsible for a different sub-system.
  • A member of our Support Team, responsible for communicating Clients issues, escalated cases, and any other meaningful data (we use SalesForce.com to track all cases).  We added this person to our daily stand-up just recently, and we’ve already seen it pay dividends.

Even though we go in the same order each day (and it is written on the board!), I often forget.  Senior moment!

4) We stay fairly disciplined.  If something comes up during the meeting that requires additional discussion, we’re disciplined about putting it in the “parking lot” and discussing it later.  I have to resist asking a lot of questions; you’ll see me ask a few quick ones, but I try to keep us focused and moving forward.  If anyone is blocked, it’s my job to make sure that I do what I can to move them forward.  You’ll hear me ask about blocks after some of the updates.

5) We update the Sprint board.  We usually start updating User Story status (as a percentage towards completion) a few days into the Sprint, once we’ve started making progress.  We recently changed what we display on the board, and it seems to have made an improvement.  We can cover that in another post.

The meeting runs well if everyone is prepared (which is most often the case). Some come prepared with a summary of what they worked on, others seem to have great memories and can recite their work without notes. Personally, I write everything down in a Google Doc, and just reference this document during the meeting; otherwise, I’d never remember anything — maybe I’m getting old!

Here’s the video from one of our recent Scrum meetings; excuse the brief interruption around 1:45.  Enjoy!

Do You Measure Your We-We?

The next time you’re talking with someone in a position of authority or responsibility, try this: Count the number of times they say “we” or “us” — versus “me”, “my” or “I”.

For example, imagine you work at a company that makes gizmos. You’ve worked hard with a group of people to create the gizmo, and someone in a leadership position relates a story about meeting with a potential Client and says: “I want them to see the value of my product.

Oh really, it’s your product?

Or, are they more inclusive, and instead say something like: “We want to show them the value we can provide.

I would argue that in certain situations, leaders who use words that are inclusive (like “we” or “our”) resonate more strongly with the people around them than those who make things about themselves.

Personally, I am put off by a person who makes it all about them.  I’m sure this is much more about me and my issues than them and their words, but I often wonder how people would respond to their leaders if more inclusive words are used.  I’m sure there are studies that have looked at this.

So the next time you’re thinking about how to communicate to your team (or listening to someone in leadership), consider measuring your (or their) we-we factor (not wee-wee, come on kids!), and see if you notice any difference when inclusive words are used.

What do you think? Are you turned off by people who make things about themselves? Does it make any difference in how you feel?  Or, are people like me just too sensitive?

Things You Wish You Could Say At Work

The other day I heard one of our engineers say that he had to take vacation before the end of the year.  It seemed he actually wanted to work, but that he had to use the vacation — or he’d lose it.

Wait a sec.  Here’s a guy who wants to work, but for whom our “use it or lose it” policy is back-firing.  (Of course, he could still take time off and work anyway [I won’t get into that here], and that’s not the point.)

But before I get to my point: I am a big believer in taking time off.  In my earlier days, I had a very hard time pulling myself away.  I went through what felt like extreme emotional duress, worrying about this, that, and the other thing.  I couldn’t sleep, focus, or be present with the people around me.

I was somewhere else and nowhere at all.  Maybe you know the feeling.

But over the years, something strange happened.  I started learning how to unwind, and began forcing myself to disconnect.  And in doing so, I didn’t become lazy (one of my fears), or miss out on something (another fear).  Instead, my thinking was enriched, my soul refreshed, and my body renewed.  Vacation and time away is a wonderful thing and can actually improve your results.  I encourage everyone around me to do it and feel good about it.

So here’s the point — something I wish we could say at work: Why do we even have a vacation policy at all?

I wish we (and other companies) had the guts to implement a policy like this:

  • Official Policy: Be Reasonable And Use Your Head.  That’s it.
  • What does that mean?  It means we don’t track vacation or sick days.  Take as little or as many as you need to feel creative and productive.
  • This doesn’t mean people take time off without getting their job done.  Instead, it means that we track their results  – and people make sure their work gets done.  They’re adults.

I’ve thrown this idea out to people, and I usually get the same question: “Dave, you’re smoking something.  What do we do if someone abuses this policy?

I think that’s easy: We’d let them know they aren’t meeting our “be reasonable and use your head” policy, and we’d say “bye-bye” if it doesn’t improve.  They wouldn’t fit in and I fully expect their peers would call them out.   I realize there are legal implications that would have to be worked out (especially here in CA), but I feel that (maybe?) the right people would be attracted by a policy like this.

Your turn: What do you think of doing away with vacation policies?  What are some things you wish you could say at work, but don’t have the guts to utter?

How To Expose Yourself In The Workplace — And Not Be a Creep

A few years ago, I realized that nearly all of the things that irritate me about my interactions with other people are a result of my own lack of communication.

Here’s what I mean: In any given situation where you feel disappointed, angry, or frustrated at an outcome you’re experiencing with someone, have you stopped to think about why it is you’re feeling this way?

What first comes to mind may be helpful — but if you continue asking yourself “why” after the first thought/reason (and repeat this process a few times), you may come to a more refined understanding of what’s driving your discomfort.

What I came to realize is that in my interactions with others, I was becoming upset — or feeling let down — because I operate from a set of viewpoints that are fully to known to me, but completely unknown to the person I’m working with.  From one perspective, these viewpoints are all I know, and because they’ve been with me for 30+ years, I somehow feel others know these things about me too.

But of course that’s silly and nearly impossible.  They’re not mind-readers!

Once I realized this, I decided to write out these viewpoints in a simple list (particular to the work environment), and share/discuss them with everyone around me.  I make it a point to do this with new hires.

It takes some vulnerability — and I’ve often received very surprised looks when I do this, especially during an interview or first day on the job — but I think that this exercise has helped me give the other person a frame of reference for why I behave, respond, and think the way I do.

My hope is that this makes it a tiny bit easier for us to do great work together.  And through leading in vulnerability, I also seek to give them a platform to feel comfortable with me.

If you’re interested, here’s my list, which I call “This is Dave”.

What do you think? Have you ever stopped to think about what’s on your list?  What are some of those things?  Would exposing these things be scary — or liberating?

Attitude Check: Are You a Pig or Chicken?

Our chief software architect, Aref Memarian, recently shared “Essential Scrum” with me.  If you’re looking for a great review of scrum from someone who has obvious hands-on experience, I’d definitely recommend it.

While reviewing the various roles involved in agile development, the author describes two types of people: Pigs, and Chickens.  Imagine this scenario:

A Pig and a Chicken are walking down the road.  The Chicken says, “Hey Pig, I was thinking we should open a restaurant!”

Pig replies, “Well, perhaps, but what would we call it?”

The Chicken responds, “How about ‘ham-n-eggs’?”

The Pig thinks for a moment and says, “No thanks.  I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved!”

This analogy is based upon the Pig providing bacon, an act which requires total commitment to provide (i.e., death), in contrast to a Chicken who provides eggs — a task requiring participant but not his life.

In other words, in a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, the difference between a Pig and Chicken is that the Chicken is involved, but the Pig is fully committed!

In most organizations, you’ll probably need a combination of Pigs and Chickens involved on any particular project. You want your Pigs to be committed, which means they should have autonomy and freedom, in exchange for being held completely accountable and responsible for the project’s success. Your Chickens can provide input and support as required.

Now, what if you apply this concept beyond a particular project, and apply it to an organization as a whole?  For example:

  • If you’re a leader, what’s your mix of Pigs and Chickens?  Do you want more of one and less of another?  (And think: Which are you?)
  • If you’re in a non-leadership position, what’s your perspective? Are you a Pig, committed and accountable for your organization’s success, or a Chicken — involved, but only to a limit?

Is there anything wrong with being a Chicken?

Three GoToMeeting Productivity Hacks

GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting

We’ve used GoToMeeting’s line of products for years to host ad-hoc meetings, training sessions, and webinars.  We’ve also recently started using Join.Me, which some team members have reported is working well for them — more on that later.

Here are three GoToMeeting hacks that we’ve found increase productivity:

  • Set up a recurring meeting that never expires, and reuse it over and over.  It’s relatively easy to launch a new meeting every time you need to meet with someone, but I’ve found it is even easier to use the same meeting ID and phone # whenever possible.  I’ve been using the same meeting ID for about 2 years, and now nearly everyone in the company has it memorized — as do a number of Clients.  It’s very easy to say, “Hey, meet me in the usual place in 3 minutes!”  It probably saves 5-10 minutes in back-and-forth creating a meeting, reading the meeting ID to someone, etc.
  • Let them see your face — and take a look at theirs!  We’ve found that it is incredibly useful to turn on video.  We’ve found that it helps strengthen the communication, as body language and facial expressions can add tremendous depth to an interaction.  I’ve seen another software company report a 40% increase in sales conversions, directly correlated to the simple act of their sales team turning on their webcams.  You may find people in your organization hesitant to do this, but little by little I believe this will become the norm as opposed to the exception.  I’d love to experiment with using this on our Support Team, and measure how the quality of service is impacted by allowing folks to see us.
  • Record your meetings and share them with others.  GoToMeeting makes it very easy to record your meetings, and by doing so, provides you a great way to share information with others in your company.  In addition, I’ve found that I learn a great deal by re-listening to my meetings.  Why?  In many cases, I miss a possible meaning, opportunity, or issue during the real-time exchange.  Upon reflection and in a setting where I don’t have to think about what’s coming next, I’m able to absorb more deeply.   

What GoToMeeting productivity hacks have you discovered?  Do you use your webcam during meetings?  If not, what keeps you from doing it?

Success Factors No One Talks About: How The # of Yucky Convos You’re Willing to Have Is Strangely Correlated w/Your Success

In order to move forward, whether it be your organization, your project team, or even a personal relationship, I’ve found that it takes leaning into uncomfortable, yucky conversations to really take steps forward.

You know the types of conversations I’m talking about, right? The ones you dread. The ones that keep you up at night. The ones you’d rather fast-forward through and not have to live through in real-time. But what I have found time and time again, is that when we’re willing to lean into those uncomfortable conversations … we end up obtaining real progress.

And when we realize that forcing ourselves through these conversations is directly correlated with our success, great things can happen.

Progress that changes the quality of our life. Progress that improves the ability you have to get things done, like make better software, strengthen your relationship with a business partner, or improve your marriage. The alternative is ugly. Not having these conversations can make you miserable, as they can suck up enormous amounts of brain energy if left unaddressed. Not to mention the stories we create in our minds about the other person and their motives!

Here’s what I’ve found helpful in getting myself geared up for (and having) these types of conversations:

  • Have talking points.  Write them down, think about their order, and if you’re disciplined, use some mental imagery to imagine yourself delivering them.  Work through the most extreme and uncomfortable situations in your head.  The act of playing scenarios out in your head in advance can do amazing things.
  • During the conversation, have an outlet for that nervous, yucky energy.  Have you felt this?  Sometimes during a meeting it’s just plain awkward.  I’ve found that it is good to have a release of this tension, but it’s usually not socially appropriate to punch a wall.  Instead, here’s a tip: curl your toes tightly in your shoe.  No one can see you do it, but I’ve found that it helps release that energy.  You look calm on the surface, but inside that shoe it’s another story!
  • Put your conversation in perspective.  For example, talking to that team member about how they’re not meeting your expectations — is it really that bad?  Sometimes I’ll imagine a much more difficult scenario.  What if I were a doctor, having to tell a mother that her child has passed?  In view of that type of conversation, my fears will sometimes subside.

What about you: have you noticed that when you’re willing to have uncomfortable conversations, you actually move forward?  Have you noticed that people who seem to make stuff happen are the ones who don’t seem to mind having yucky conversations?

(Or maybe they do mind, but are just curling their toes!)

How We Use Daily Stand-ups To Improve Communication

On a drive back from Fresno, my friend and fellow Mika board member, Jeff Tanner, described how he implemented Patrick Lencioni’s method for daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly sessions to align his leadership team.

I’m fascinated by organizational methods for improving performance, and so I listened intently as he described the process.  I couldn’t wait to visit our local Barnes and Noble to read Lencioni’s books (they’re short, written like short stories).  You’ve probably seem them numerous times in the business section of your bookstore.

At MindFire, we’ve been using daily stand-ups as a core part of our engineering culture for about two years (watch an example here).  It is by far one of my favorite times of the work day, as it gives me the opportunity to hear (in a succinct fashion) what everyone accomplished the prior day, and what they intend to do that day.  Everyone gives Twitter-like bursts of information in the following format:

  • What they accomplished the prior day (not a lot of details, just the bullet-point summary)
  • What they intended to accomplish that day
  • Whether they have any “blocks”, i.e., impediments in the way of achieving their stated objectives

We’ve found that it is helpful to stand up (keeps everyone brief and avoids verbal diarrhea), and set a timer for 12 minutes.  We start promptly at 9:00 AM, and if you’re late, we require one push-up for everyone minute past 9.  Keeps things lively!

At the end of the session, everyone is aware of what their teammates are working on, and we’re able to make quick course adjustments based on the day’s activities.

Have you implemented daily stand-ups in your organization?  If so, have they helped your organization?  If not, what keeps you from trying?

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