SolutionBase: Creating video tutorials with Windows Media Encoder

The New Session dialog box prompts you to select one of the available Wizards

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Planning your tutorial

Like any presentation, creating a video tutorial with the Windows Media Encoder begins with advanced planning and preparation. The planning will allow you to create an efficient and polished looking tutorial.

Since you'll be presenting a series of steps that the person viewing the tutorial will use to perform some task, your advanced planning will consist of knowing exactly where the menus, dialog boxes, and settings are before you begin. That way once you begin recording you can smoothly navigate from one area to the next as you perform the task. Not only will this result in a tutorial that's easy to follow, it will also result in a much more conservatively sized video file.

For example, I recently developed a video tutorial to help end users who were having difficulty keeping the cut, copy, and paste keyboard shortcuts straight when managing files and folders. While using [Ctrl][X], [Ctrl][C], and [Ctrl][V] for file management is second-hand nature to us old timers, it's really not very intuitive. As such, I developed a video tutorial that showed users how to take advantage of Windows Explorer's Move To and Copy To commands.

Thinking that I knew the operation inside and out, I proceeded to record the video tutorial without any advanced planning or preparation. As I navigated my mouse pointer from one place to the next, I paused a couple of times as I looked for the next stop. As I did, my mouse pointer wandered bit before moving on. While this type of hesitation is perfectly normal when you're performing the operation in your day-to-day activities, it looked kind of sloppy in the video tutorial. After I practiced the operation several times and then recorded the operation, the video tutorial was much smoother looking. You can download this sample video tutorial, MoveTo-CopyTo.wmv, if you want.

Now, keep in mind that you don't really want to be a speed demon racing your mouse pointer from one place to the next. Rather you want to use very determined, but fluid movements.

Narrating your video tutorial

Windows Media Encoder has the capability to record audio from a microphone attached to your sound card. This will allow you to add narration to your video tutorial.

In order to get the audio recording to be as smooth sounding as possible, you'll want to run a couple of sound checks in advance of the actual recording operation. By sound check I mean that you'll want to want to make a few tests of just speaking into the microphone to make sure that it is working correctly and that it is placed within the correct distance to ensure an optimal sounding recording.

To perform the recording tests, you can use Sound Recorder, which you can find on the Start menu at All Programs | Accessories | Entertainment. Alternatively, you can launch it from the Run dialog box by pressing [Windows][R], typing sndrec32.exe in the Open text box and clicking OK.

Keep in mind that narrating your video tutorials will take a lot of time both in the preparation stage and in the actual recording. If you've seen any of the Bloopers shows on TV, you know what I'm talking about. However, if you write out a script with a very conversational tone and practice it along with performing the task before actually recording the video, you should be able nail it down after a few attempts.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the compression that Windows Media Encoder uses when creating the actual output file will slightly distort the sound of your voice. However, it will still be audible.

Recording the tutorial

Before you actually begin recording your video tutorial, have the application or task that you'll be demonstrating ready to go. In my example, I had Windows Explorer open and ready to begin my demonstration.

As soon as you launch the Windows Media Encoder, a dialog box titled New Session will appear on top of the Windows Media Encoder window and essentially prompt you to select one of the available wizards. To get started, select Capture Screen, as shown above, and click OK.

By Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.