Information Professional

Using screencapture software to make next-level PowerPoint presentations

I normally record talks I give at conferences, using my phone in my jacket pocket. I have a strict 'no critiquing myself during the talk itself' rule, so the recording allows me to listen back afterwards and pick up on things that I'd want to do differently next time, or things that worked well etc.

In the past I've also put a video up on YouTube, using Camtasia to record me moving the slides along with the audio of my talk at the LIASA conference in Cape Town. I don't think this worked that well because there was simply too many long periods where nothing changed on the screen - in real life that was fine because the audience looks at the speaker, but in a video - a visual medium after all - it just feels a little inert and uninteresting.

So for a recent talk I decided to try and make a version of the slides that would work as a proper video. I spoke at the CILIP PPRG Conference in January (more on that in a previous post) about our UoYTips marketing campaign - York won a Bronze Marketing Award which I was picking up at the event. I delivered the slides and recorded the talk in the usual way, but then set about creating a new version of the slides that had much more going on visually. The actual slides are here, if you're interested, and here is how they evolved for the video I came up with:

Now I've done this, I'm wondering why I can't just do more visually exciting slides anyway? This doesn't have to be just for YouTube. I've always wanted to use video in presentations more, and it's surprisingly easy to do as it turns out.

The tools

To make the video above I used three bits of software. PowerPoint, obviously, for the slides. Audacity to edit and play the audio (this is free). And Screencastomatic for both the screen-capture videos within the slides, and the overall screen-capture of slides plus audio you can view above. Screencastomatic is a great tool, which I found much easier to use than Camtasia. It's quick and intuitive. It can be used for free, but in order to record videos of more than 15 minutes, and record PC audio, you need the pro subscription - this costs 12 quid year which is pretty great value, I reckon.

Here's what the Screencast-o-matic interface looks like:

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It's very easy to redraw the box around the exact part of the screen (or all the screen) that you want to record. You can pause and restart. You can also record PC audio as you go, or narrate into a mic. As you can see it gives you the option of recording from webcam at the same time if you wish, which happens in a smallish box at the top right of the screen.

It's really easy to use.

The techniques

In the video above there are a number of techniques (perhaps that's too grand a word!) employed to suit different types of information.

  • Actual video recorded on my phone. (This happens about 25 seconds in.) I recorded a video in the usual way, emailed it to myself, and went to Insert Video in PPT. You can make it full screen, or you can overlay the branding / visual identity from your PPT over the top. I think this is crucial to how easy this is to do - the video can effectively be the background of the slide, just like an image can. You then overlay it with text, shapes, images etc as normal.
  • Screencasting Google Earth. I really like this one, which happens here. How to have something dynamic on screen while I talk about the University of York? Type it into Google Earth then press record on the screencasting software, and return on Google Earth. It zooms all the way in and then, delightfully, spins round the building you've chosen for a bit. I'm going to use this in library induction sessions in the future, for sure.
  • Using gifs. There's a couple of examples of this, but here's the most interesting one. It starts off as a regular full-screen image, and then I used animation to first of all drop the text on top of the image at the appropriate time, and secondly to trigger the gif video beginning (having downloaded the gif from a gif site, and saved it as a video).
  • Regular PowerPoint animations and transitions. There's a few moments where things are added onto the screen one-by-one as I mention them, and there's this very long fade transition between two slides
  • Videos of websites instead of screengrabs of websites. There's an example here, and another example here. In the talk I just showed a screenshot of the thing I was talking about, but here it's a 15 second video of the site being used, which is much more interesting. I'm definitely going to reuse this technique.

The drawbacks

Really the only two drawbacks are that it takes time, and it takes space.

Of course, recording a clip on a website in use takes more time than just a screenshot, but it becomes surprisingly quick. Perhaps a minute to set-up, record and save / export 20 seconds' worth of screen-capture, so not too bad at all.

In terms of space - the videos are MP4 files and pleasingly small. Most brief captures were under 1 meg. The 22 second-long Google Earth zoom right at the start of the video was 12 meg. The overall final file - a 20 minute video capturing the whole thing, was 99MB. Video files are so huge, I think this is pretty reasonable.

So, I'd recommend giving this a try. And if you create a presentation with video and upload it anywhere (or you've already done this in the past) leave me a link in the comments...

How important is library branding? And other marketing questions...

Ahead of Internet Librarian International, where I'm running a workshop next week, I had an interesting chat about marketing with Caroline Milner. The Q&A is reproduced below because I thought there were some good questions!

What are the biggest challenges libraries face when marketing their services?
There are so many! A big one is that we have so much to offer - we're complex organisations, but complex marketing messages rarely work. So how do you boil down what we do into messages people can easily understand, without dumbing down? And not just understand our messages, but see how we fit into their lives? Another problem is constantly battling against the wider narrative that libraries are irrelevant or dying. Library use is astronomically huge when you compare it to other cultural activities, but I bet 99% of the public wouldn't guess that.

And of course, a major disadvantage libraries face is that most of us have little or zero budget for marketing. Everything we cover in my workshop costs time, but almost none of it involves shelling out actual cash, because for most libraries it's just not an option readily available to them.

How important is library branding?
It depends how you interpret branding... I don't think branding as in visual identity as important as other people say it is.

It's not that it isn't good to have great branding, it's that there are so many other things we need to get right before the branding becomes key from the user's point of view. If your message is simple, clear, focuses on the benefits, and has a good call to action, but looks average, that will be 20x more effective than most library marketing even if the branding is perfect on all those other examples. It's the message, and its relevance, that matters to the users.

The library branding should reflect the library brand. It should communicate who you are. It should help users identify us and remember us. Beyond that, the exact logo or colour scheme is really not that big a deal. The people who say it is are often (not always, but often) the people who make money as branding consultants.

What about the interaction between marketing in the physical space, and marketing online?
Library marketing works best when the two go hand-in-hand. You want people to see the same key message more than once. The online marketing should hook them in, but the messages in the building should reinforce those messages and deliver on the promise. People need to be reminded of the same things in different contexts.

How much emphasis should library marketers place on social media?
Loads and loads. It's hard to talk in general terms - for example, social media for a Law Library that almost exclusively markets to the Law firm it is attached to is less vital than social media for a public library trying to reach thousands of people in a geographical area. But for most libraries, social media was the last great marketing silver bullet. It was the last big thing we could do that completely revolutionises and improves our communication with users. From now on it's really all about making several small changes to affect greater results.

Don't get me wrong, social media can't exist in isolation. It's not as simple as just being on all the latest platforms and posting about the library. But used strategically in conjunction with other channels, it can be hugely productive. It suits libraries really well.

What about involving stakeholders – getting their buy in, and their active support? 
We mustn't forget to market upwards - an absolutely key stakeholder for libraries is the person or group who holds the purse-strings, or who decides on the future of the institution. We need to talk their language, and communicate how what we're doing with the library aligns with their aims. 

More generally, the stakeholders are our key user groups, and those groups are everything. Not just in helping you spread the messages - word of mouth marketing is the most effective marketing of all - but also understanding what those messages should be in the first place. Understanding the different segments of your audience, and tailoring the communications to each group accordingly, is a huge part of what we cover in the workshop. A small amount of marketing segmentation goes a long way.

A short post on preparing short presentations (for short time-slots)

This is a good question, something I've answered a lot in workshops but never blogged about. So here's what I think is really important about prepping short talks with PowerPoint presentations:

  1. Create the number of slides you think you need, then get rid of a couple! The time just rushes past in short presentations, so when it comes to your PPT (or whatever else you're using) you almost always need less than you think. Five slides for a 15 minute presentation may often be enough.
  2. Simplicity is never more important. Simple slides are better anwyay (image-rich, a little text as possible, no bullets) but are especially vital when you only have a very short window in which to convey your information. The messages need to stick, so make them easy to understand and support them with relevant images.
  3. Signpost to more detailed information. Have a blog-post already published which goes into more detail than your 15 minutes will allow, and use a customised bit.ly URL to share the post in an easy-to-remember link at the end of your talk.
  4. Structure is still important. Audiences find structured presentations easier to remember and understand, even for very short talks. So try to have a beginning, a middle, and an end clearly signalled (both in what you're saying and in your slides)
  5. Consider doing a 20:20. A 20:20 (also known as Pecha Kucha) technique involves having 20 slides, each of which automatically moves on after 20 seconds. These are acually really fun to do (the trick is to keep talking rather than stopping to wait for the slides to catch up) and force a real discipline in terms of the economy of your delivery. A 20:20 takes just under 7 minutes and it's amazing how much you can cover in that time if you practice. (I know point 5 directly contradicts point 1, but the approach is SO different with Pecha Kucha it's a whole different ball-game...) 

Sharing UX Findings: York's strategic approach

Reblogged from Lib-Innovation, updated with some new statistics and links.

For the 30th post on Lib-Innovation it seemed appropriate to celebrate the milestone by talking about dissemination of our UX work at York. Although the Lib-Innovation blog covers lots of other things too, the topic of UX was the main reason we created it in the first place.

We've tried to take a strategic approach to dissemination, proactively looking to share what we're doing with as many different types of audience as possible rather than just hoping it will happen. We're excited by what we're learning both from and about the ethnography, and the design, that we're undertaking, so we want people to know about it. In the ideal scenario, we'd spark ideas off that others take on and apply in their own contexts. And we want feedback and ideas to improve our own work. So we're telling people about the work across multiple platforms, and in this post we'll explore some of the ways we're doing it, and why.

Internal audiences

Our rule of thumb is that anyone who gives their time to take part in our ethnographic fieldwork should be the first to hear what we've done with the information. So for the last major UX project we did, the 100 or so participants go an interim report (along with library managers), and they will be the first to see the final report, before it is more widely circulated within the University.

The Library industry in general

The blog is open and anyone can read it, but it is aimed primarily at those in the library industry. (There's a separate blog which we aim at staff and students who use the library.) We hope to reach as many people as possible this way. Not everyone will end up caring too much about UX but hopefully for some it will stick. We put pretty much everything on here - the idea is you don't have to be at a certain event or to speak to any of us in person to learn everything there is to learn about what we're doing.

I tweet about it, we ask the people in the University's Central Marketing who deal with the library to tweet about it, and I sometimes reblog UX articles on my own website.

We've been pleasantly surprised by how much people have read the posts: the most popular article on this site (Vanya Gallimore's overview of our Understanding Academics UX project) has been viewed over 1800 times at the time of writing, which is more than the readership of the majority of subscription journals. What we've not had, however, is comments! I love blog comments. There was a period around 2011 or so when everyone left comments on each other's blogs, and as an author of a post it was so gratifying to be able to interact with people reading. That doesn't seem to happen any more (or maybe that's just our blog!), which is a shame.

We've also presented at a couple of non-UX related library events, for example at the Libraries, Archives and Museums Marketing Awards organised by the Welsh Government.

The Library UX community in particular

An obvious avenue for sharing our UX findings is conferences aimed wholly at libraries interested in UX. With that in mind I presented an overview of our UX activities so far at the Northern Collaboration Library UX event earlier in the year, and Vanya presented at UXLibs III, the biggest conference in this area, in June. You can see her slides here. My colleague Martin Philip also solicited feedback on our work so far during the UXLabs part of that conference, where delegates share work in progress.

UX Specialists from outside the world of libraries

We've only done one talk in this category so far but it's been incredibly beneficial. I presented to the Human Computer Interaction research cluster in York's Computer Science Department. There is a huge amount of knowledge and experience in the area of UX there, not just in terms of academic research but a lot the academics spend time in industry too.

They have a regular seminar series so we asked if we could take a slot in it. We approach this opportunity a bit like we'd approach a UX project: we didn't have a specific agenda or goal in mind but we were pretty sure we would learn something useful. My talk was very much 'here's what we've done, what would you advise we do next?' and it turns out they had a lot of extremely useful advice. I ended up writing pages of notes from the discussions that happened during the talk and afterwards.

A slide from the Computer Sciences presentation:

Among many positive outcomes, that particular day ended up shifting our future approach to UX to a less generative and more evaluative research process, to us changing the way we deal with customer profiles and personas entirely, to us putting together a bid (still in progress) for an intensive design workshop, and to the Department kindly offering to allows us use of their eye-tracking software for future projects. We hope to speak to more non-library audiences in the future. Talking of which...

Audiences outside HE and libraries entirely

I was invited by the Good Things Foundation, a charitable organisation who do a lot of work around digital inclusion and with public libraries, to talk to their staff at their Sheffield HQ. It was a great opportunity to exchange views and experiences with a completely different group of people, facing different challenges.

And finally: Slideshare 

I used to love Slideshare as a dissemination method. Recently however it's gone from being brilliantly useful to rather more hit and miss. It's always great for uploading your slides for others to find, and that can lead to all sorts of opportunities. But until recently Slideshare would 'feature' around 10 slidedecks each day on its homepage - if your slides got selected for this it would boost the views by 20,000 or so. Because of this it has a reach that we can't hope to match by any other channel. We have a lot of methods listed above which are about reaching quite specific audiences; Slideshare was our way just to reach far and wide and hope some relevant people were among the inflated audience.

In the last year or so Slideshare have stopped regularly updating their homepage, so the chance to get featured has reduced almost to zero. The overview of our UX activities so far hich I presented at Northern Collaboration has not been featured, but nevertheless 3,200 people have viewed it at the time of writing. My slides from the LAM Awards event mentioned above DID get featured however, and in fact as still there on the homepage of Slideshare, four months later. As such they've now been viewed just over 400,000 times, which is ridiculous. Clearly only a small fraction of those people are relevant to us at York.

However, 2,400 people have downloaded the slides, suggesting they want to study what we've done a little closer. And these slides led directly to the invitation from the Good Things Foundation, as well as a visit to York from librarians overseas to discuss our UX work - so although Slideshare's reach is unfocused, it's still been relevant and useful for us.

Should librarians be travelling to the United States?

There’s been plenty of debate in the academic community over whether or not people should boycott the US under the current administration. The Guardian has a piece on it, Inside Higher Ed has a longer piece on it – American Libraries Magazine references the academic boycott but adds nothing about librarians doing the same thing. I’ve not seen much on this topic from an information-professional point of view. Maybe that’s just because we don’t travel around as much as academics – but seeing as the current US Government will, if there’s no kind of intervention in the meantime, probably be in charge for at least 8 years (Trump is tweeting about ‘voter fraud’ not because any part of him believes it’s an issue, but because it needs to be seen as an issue to justify what he does next – and what he does next will inevitably make it harder to get rid of him, via voting reforms) then it’s bound to come up for a bunch of librarians at some point.

I had accepted an invitation to give a keynote at a library conference in the US this year. It was arranged a long time ago, before Trump was voted in. Since his first week in office I’ve been agonising over what to do about this. I really want to go and do the talk. I’ve found a way to do the talk without breaking my ‘no more than 2 nights away from the kids’ rule. I know some info pros have done so many keynotes that they no longer get worked up about them, but I’ve done three keynotes in my life and still find it incredibly exciting; it was a huge honour to be asked. I’ve worked with the organistion running the conference and I love working with them, have loved interacting with their members. And when a country is under increasingly fascist rule from a President the majority didn’t vote for, you don’t want to turn your back and leave them isolated – you want to stand with them and support them. I wanted to go and talk with a group of librarians who, in all probability, feel exactly the same way about the current political happenings as I do.

However. Trump’s presidency is, in my view, the worst thing to happen to the world in my lifetime. I am so sick of looking at groups of extraordinarily wealthy middle-aged white men sitting around celebrating signing away the rights, prospects, livelihood, health and future of anyone who isn't essentially just like them. Pretty much everything the current administration has done since taking over is abhorrent. So to visit the country for work would seem like a tacit acceptance or legitimising of the regime. Somewhat analogous to visiting South Africa under apartheid. And in all honesty, I’ve been worried about getting in. Applying for a visa is complicated enough, but I’ve now read countless reports of people either getting turned away or interrogated at length, having their phones confiscated, and so on, including an author who was entering on the exact visa I’d be coming in on, to do more or less the exact same thing I’d be doing. So all in all, I felt conflicted.

I asked a handful of people I really respect, both inside and outside librarianship, what they’d do. They pretty much all said I should go (except for two people, one of whom, Myron, wrote this piece about it). There are lots of compelling arguments for going, not least standing with the librarians in the US. Going into Trump’s domain and speaking out against him from within. Plus the thing that came up time and again was: nothing good comes from NOT going.

The Guardian piece linked above puts it like this: “The crucial question to be answered is: what would such an action achieve?” The thing is, I don’t agree that this IS the crucial question. The crucial question is, is it the right thing to do? I'm usually quite pragmatic but it’s not JUST about cause and effect. Do the right thing because it’s right, not because of the impact it may have. And for me, the crucial aspect of the crucial question is really this: should I as a white non-Muslim man use the accidental privilege of being born in the right place to visit a country that others can’t get in to? And the answer is, no I should not. I cannot. Were it not for the travel ban I think I’d be persuaded by the arguments for going, but as it is, in the same way I wouldn’t avail myself of a business or eatery that wouldn’t serve others based on their skin colour or religion, neither can I enter a country others can’t.

Laura Woods wrote a great piece comparing US conferences with UK conferences, which chimed with a lot of my experiences. At the end she says “I would not judge a fellow professional for deciding to travel to the US” and that’s how I feel too, but I can’t quite get to the bottom of why I wouldn’t judge someone… I know that if people have to go for work – as in, they’re expected to go by their employer, rather than my situation where I’d be going in my own time – then it’s totally understandable to still go. And I know US Conferences are, as Laura details in the post, basically amazing, and hugely enriching experiences. I'd hate for new professionals to miss out on the amazing ECCA award from the SLA that I benefitted from back in 2011.

So, I don't feel like I have the answers here. I know there's a line for me personally in my particular circumstances, and the current US administration have put me way past that line. But I don't feel it's all so clear-cut as to be able to declare 'none of us should be travelling to the US', by any means. I hope that at the very least, every info pro with an opportunity to visit the US has the conversation with themselves over what to do, and I hope they find it easier to find the right answer than I did… And if, like I did, you find yourself wrestling with the ridiculousness of reducing a global catastrophe to your own moral dilemmas around travel, don’t be too hard on yourself – we all have to deal with these things as they impact on us, whilst acknowledging that of course they impact on millions of others to a far greater extent.