Stumbling Through Producing Our On-Demand Demo Video

Like the majority of millennials I'd rather avoid being on video or the phone at all. So when I knew I'd need to re-record our on-demand demo video because of a recent update it made me feel physically and emotionally uncomfortable 😖

I kept putting it off and making excuses. "Ah, but we're releasing X feature soon!" and "I'm not sure how best to do it. How about we do X and Y?". Wait! I need a haircut first. I knew I was pushing it as far out of my calendar as possible, but it kept on creeping back into the horizon.

Looking back on it, I totally blew it out of proportion. It's tough to be creative in a pandemic. With the right mental state and tools, I got the whole thing done in a few hours. I felt good about myself, the customers found it easier to get started, and everything was up to date.

This post isn't just about how to put off tasks until you have zero excuses left or how to stop freaking out about being on camera. Nope, it's also about how I managed to create an on-demand video without wasting too much time.

Choosing the Right Tools

The correct thing would've been to record the video first, but I chose to look at the tools first. Procrastination is a beautiful thing 😌

I knew I wanted the video to be on-demand, and we already had a Vimeo subscription, so that was an easy choice. Why did we choose Vimeo over YouTube? Because of Ads, ease of use and Vimeo have some pretty neat features like Chapters to split out your video and callouts.

Anyway, I'm not here to advertise Vimeo. To put it simple Vimeo is easy.

After the video provider I needed to work out how to record the thing in the first place. I begrudgingly knew it'd be a better experience if I featured in the video because it's more personal.

We use Loom at HelpDocs to create little videos of how to do things. Mostly complicated things that don't require an article. Like how to refund in a specific use case or format a strange point in the text editor.

I considered using Loom because of a tweet I saw from Meng To—a designer who creates courses about creating interfaces and apps—about using Loom and Descript (another piece of software I'll mention in a bit) together to make videos.

Then Descript released an update that solved my problem. I could create videos with my face inside Descript itself, which meant I didn't need to export the video, import it, and then worry about the resolution. I could click and record, and it'd all work nicely.

You're probably wondering what Descript is, huh? It's audio and video editing for simple people like me who can't be bothered to edit using traditional tools like Adobe Premier (if you work at Descript you're totally welcome to use that tagline 😉).

You import (or now record 😏) a video or audio file, and it transcribes it for you. You don't have to send it off to turn it into text—you do it in the software. The best thing, though, is that you edit your video by replacing or deleting the transcript rather than the video itself.

I used Descript to dig through my demo videos

It takes a little bit of time to get used to, but I did manage to get the hang of it despite being a video editing rookie. Best of all is it took a lot less time to do this than edit the video manually.

Splitting the Content into Chunks

Next up was deciding how to split out the content. Because again, why record anything when you can organize instead?

HelpDocs is a broad product, and I didn't want to overwhelm people who were deciding if we were a good fit. We've got the admin app to create content, but there's also the forward-facing Knowledge Base, Lighthouse for in-app help, all our integrations, plus our different plans with different features. Yep, it's a lot to put into a few videos.

I decided to keep the scope of the on-demand demo videos as small as possible to get to know HelpDocs. The main reason people use a Knowledge Base is to organize, write, and publish content. All the rest is valuable but not essential.

We had a video before that was one long video split into sections using Chapters. I wanted the new video to be a little more versatile than that.

I wanted the demo to be split into smaller videos so that a) people didn't sift through features they didn't care about and b) send people small videos if they wanted to know about a specific part of the app in the future.

Recording the Videos

Ok, so I had my tools and a plan on how I'd organize the videos. There was no excuse not to record these videos. I went for it and...researched whether to write a script or not 🥸

There was mixed advice. I should make a script, the writer said. It would be best if you seemed professional and without a script, you'll 100% mess up. Then another blog post said—nah, don't bother with a script. Making a script makes you seem impersonal and robotic.

After my extensive search of 3 blog posts, I decided not to write a script. I'd have an idea of what I wanted to say, but I would work it out as I went along. I have many flaws, so I should show them off and be myself instead of hiding them. That's the HelpDocs way.

So there I was, sitting in my chair with my laptop on the window, ready to hit record. I fetched some water—I didn't want to get a croaky voice. I moved my seat in just the proper position.

I...hit record and started speaking like a human. And it wasn't nearly bad as what I'd tried in the past trying to make it professional with a script. It was over in under a few minutes.

My unprofesional video with my stuff in the background ☕

After the main introduction video, it was easy as pie 🥧 I fired up our demo account and just started recording and talking. After a few hiccups like my browser crashing and my voice screeching unexpectedly, I finished. You can view the videos below 👇

Edit, Polish, and Captions

I had done the unthinkable. I had recorded videos OF MYSELF and was ready to publish them ON THE INTERNET.

The next thing was to clean up the transcript in Descript because of my silly British-Canadian-Australian accent. HelpDocs wasn't help dogs, and translation credits wasn't tree lotion cream tits. After some work, it was almost ready to go.

The great thing about using a transcript to edit was that I could export it as subtitles into Vimeo. I'm sensitive to noise, so I tend to have my devices on silent 99% of the time, which means I tend to read subtitles instead (apparently, it makes you smarter, too—I'm yet to work out this perk). It also means d/Deaf people can access the content too. For me, it's a no-brainer to add subtitles.

What I Learned

Recording the on-demand demo video was the classic case of blowing something out of proportion in my mind. I know I'm not the only one who suffers from this (or at least I sure hope not!).

Being me on video was the easiest and best way to present myself and HelpDocs as a brand. If I had set up a video presentation area, written a script, and got the video professionally edited, it would've taken weeks and a lot more sweat.

If you also suffer (or are suffering) from being afraid to press record, I'd say it's best to go for it. If you're not quite comfortable enough to do a live video with an audience, I'd recommend starting with an on-demand video. You can edit it, learn to listen and watch yourself, and get more comfortable with being in front of a camera.

Next time I'd stop procrastinating and trying to research my way out of recording. Despite the playlist racking up the views from strangers, nothing terrible has happened, and I'm happy with how it turned out.

On to the following video, I suppose!