When I got started as a conference speaker I would see Jeremy Clark recording his talks and I thought I should record my talks too. It would help me improve as a speaker by seeing how I actually was on stage versus how I think I was. As well, it gives attendees the ability to watch a replay of the talk in case they missed something or weren’t able to see it. This is assuming though that the recordings are posted somewhere and advertised to the attendees, which I used to be really bad about. It was difficult for a long time for me to watch myself giving a talk.
So I started recording my talks. Unfortunately, in 2015 and 2016 I didn’t process most of those videos. However, at the start of 2017 I decided that if I was going to take the time to record a talk I would process it and post it. A side goal was to also see if I could post the video while at the conference so that I could ensure that I actually posted it. For 2017, I posted 9 talks publicly and 15 talks as unlisted (paid workshops) to my YouTube channel. I even managed to post all of the public talks while at the conference. Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel to get notified when my talks are posted.
General Recording Requirements
Before we get into the specifics, I have some basic recording requirements that guided me as I figured out this process and what equipment to use.
- First and foremost be able to record my conference talks as painlessly as possible with good audio and HD video
- Can be setup in less than 5 minutes
- Be able to capture both my screen and me presenting
- Be able to upload the recordings to YouTube
- Be able to use a similar setup to create training videos outside of my conference talks
- Have the equipment be lightweight enough that I don’t have to bring an extra bag with me just for equipment
- Keep the budget as low as possible (e.g. don’t need to spend $1000’s on professional grade equipment)
- Be able to process the videos fast enough that I can upload them while at the conference
- Be able to reuse a majority of the equipment to record meetups that I attend but am not presenting at
If you don’t care about the equipment that I tried out before settling on my current equipment, you skip this section.
Before we get into my current setup, lets take a quick look at some of the other equipment that I have used before settling in on my current setup.
For the camera, I started out with a GoPro Hero 3 Silver since I already had this camera. The camera was small, easy to use, and recorded decent video but battery life was an issue as well as it started to become really unreliable and where would just randomly power off. Next, I used my iPhone 6 (64 gig) mounted on a tripod along with the MoviePro app. Using my phone worked great since I always had my phone with me and the video quality was good. However, disk space was an issue as the phone only had 64 gigs and an hour of footage would take ~12 gigs. Then it would take over an hour to get the file off the phone and it was very flaky when copying it over which totally sucked. As well several times I had talks close enough together that I wasn’t able to transfer the recording to the computer in time and had to rush to clear off enough space for 2 hours worth of footage. I was also starting to do more workshops of 4-8 hours in length and the phone didn’t have enough space or battery life for those recordings.
For audio, since I wanted good audio, I knew from the start that I couldn’t use the cameras built-in microsoft. So I started with a Zoom H2 mounted on a small table top tripod since I already had it. Even though Zoom is known for their audio quality it still was just recording the audio in the room so it was hit and miss plus moving around the stage greatly effected the quality of the audio. Next, I went with a Zoom H1 with an external lapel mic which gave even better audio and I didn’t lose quality as I moved around. The downside to both Zoom devices was that it was a 3rd device that I had to worry about getting setup and then syncing up the footage in editing.
I also tried a live steaming type setup with a 2nd laptop plus video capture card so that I wouldn’t have to do any editing. This setup was a total bust. It took too long to get setup. Carrying a 2nd laptop was annoying. I had to get the camera, capture card and microphone synced since there is a slight delay with capture cards which manufacturers don’t publish and If I screwed this up then the whole video was ruined as there was no way to post edit the video to fix it.
For my current setup, I have used it to record over 30 talks and it hasn’t let me down yet. Yes that is more talks than is on my YouTube channel as some of the talks are internal talks at work.
A key piece to a great video is great audio. You can get away with an ok video but if you have crappy audio no one will watch your video.
- Needs to record directly on the computer
- Needs to be wireless so that I can move around the stage
- Needs to be a lapel microphone (just in case the event gives me a headset mic for the room I can still record)
- Battery in transmitter uses either AA or 9V batteries
Meeting requirement #2 and 3 was hard as most wireless lapel microphones are XLR connections which means that I would need to carry around an audio interface to go from XLR to USB. I am already carrying enough equipment and didn’t want more equipment. Also, XLR Wireless microphones are pretty expensive as they start around $299 plus the audio interface. Since I already had an audio interface, I did try out a few of the cheaper XLR wireless microphones but the quality was terrible and they were quickly returned.
The microphone I am currently using is the Samson Stage XPD1 which is a wireless usb lapel microphone that cost < $100 and provides a good compromise between quality and cost.
- Sound quality is good
- The range on the wireless is good. Never had it cut out as I was moving around
- It just worked when I plugged it in
- Since it is USB it records directly into the computer without an extra device
All of the videos on my YouTube channel are using this microphone. Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel to get notified when my talks are posted.
- There is no battery indicator. Since I am paranoid about batteries dying in the middle of a recording, I have no clue how long they really last since I switch them out every couple of hours. This in turn meant that at one point I had a huge bag of used but still good batteries that I didn’t trust for anything important.
- The case is made of plastic
- The clip is plastic
- The USB dongle is quite wide and tends to cover more than 1 port
Pro Tip: If the event is also giving you a lapel mic for the room, put their microphone above yours. The audience in the room deserves the best sound possible. Yes, I am also aware that you will be wearing 2 lapel microphones and 2 transmitter packs.
Warning: If you are using a room microphone, you most likely will hear a slight amount of reverb in the recording and you can’t fix it without getting an audio feed directly from the room mic. Getting a direct feed for the room mic is not typically possible at most events. To see an example of what I am talking about, check out my Angular Mix Talk.
The two pieces of software that I needed were screen capture and video editing. My main goal was to find something that was easy to use and had a very small learning curve. After all, I am not an expert video editor nor do I want to become one.
Screen Capture Requirements
- Needed to be able to record my screen with the microphone and optionally include the system sounds
- Be able to capture the full screen or a portion of the screen
- Be able to select which audio device to use
- Be able to capture system sounds if needed
- Have no time limit on how long the screen capture can be
Video Editing Requirements
- First and foremost, it needed to be really easy to do the simple edits that I was doing
- Needed to be to combine multiple sources into the final video (camera, screen, intro, outro, music, etc)
- Needed to be able to show both the screen and presenter at the same time in the final video
- Needed to be able to separate the audio from the video of a clip so I can get rid of the bad audio from the camera
- Needed to be able to slice up the footage to remove unwanted portions such as the time before the talk actually starts
- Needed to be able to add transitions between scenes
- Needed to be able to do basic audio editing (add gain, noise filter or silence bad audio, fade in/out, etc)
- Needed to be able to work with MOV videos (the camera below records in this format)
- Needed to be able to output in HD (1920x1080). If you are doing any kind of showing of code, anything below 720p is typically hard to read.
I went with Camtasia for both the screen capture and video editing as it meet all of my requirements in one piece of software.
- Was easy to figure
- There are lots of free and easy to follow tutorials available from Techsmith as well as the community
- Comes with a good amount of ready to use assets such as intros, backgrounds, and music.
- Is very easy to create your own assets
- Full featured and only cost $200
- Can batch produce videos
- Only takes ~1 gig of space for a 1 hour screen capture
- Price was low for the functionality provide
Note: These are more nitpicks than cons.
- Can only open 1 project at a time. Not a huge deal but sometimes I have something I want to copy from another project.
- File paths in the project file are absolute so if you move the raw footage around, you have to manually update the paths in the project file. Wish they were relative to the project file since normally the videos are within the same directory as the project file.
- Only the main display is recorded if you have multiple monitors and are extending the screen instead of just duplicate the screen. To not have to worry about this limitation, when I present I have the laptop and projector duplicated. The downside is that I do not get to use any notes but I don’t like using notes anyway so I can live with this downside.
The camera is technically optional but since one of my goals is to use the videos to improve my speaking, I need to be able to see myself.
- Can record in HD (1920x1080)
- Has a built-in microphone (you need this to be able to sync up the camera and screen capture)
- Can fit into my laptop bag
- Has a metal tripod screw hole (some cameras are plastic and they are not durable)
- Can record at least 2 hours without running out of battery or can record using an external power source
- Can be run off an external power battery. External battery is very important since there is not normally power available out in the audience at a conference.
- Not related to conference talks, but I wanted to be able record my drums or concerts in a point and shoot fashion which meant I needed a good microphone built into the camera. This was the deciding factor in the camera the I went with. If I didn’t have this requirement I most likely would have went with a cheaper camera.
The camera I use is the Zoom Q4n. Make sure it is the Q4n as they also make a Q4. Since this is the 3rd product from Zoom in this post and 4th product that I own from them, I really like their equipment. I can get great audio and good video for a reasonable price.
- It is basically point and shoot
- It has auto gain so I do not have to worry much about it overloading the audio or having the audio too quiet
- It has a flip around screen so I can see what is being recorded. This was more important when I was going to use it as a Webcam (see cons to why I don’t)
- It is lightweight
- The microphone can either be set as X/Y or A/B patterns. X/Y is great for musical performances or video blogging while A/B is ideal for recording the sound of people taking in different parts of a room.
- Runs off 5v 1A which means I can use my phone charger or any external usb batteries that I have
- Comes with a wind screen and lens hood (not that I have used either of them yet)
- It advertises that it can be used as a 720p webcam but it looks horrible. Looks more like a 240 resolution. My Logitech C922x is far superior 720p as a webcam
- The casing is plastic so it does feel a bit cheap for the price
- The memory card slot is on the bottom which means you have to take it off the tripod to change the memory card
- You can change the battery without taking it completely off the tripod.
- If you forget to put the screen out before mounting it on the tripod, it is difficult to get the screen to open but not impossible
- Doesn’t come with a wall charger
- Doesn’t come with a case
- Uses a proprietary battery
- About every 3.5 GB, you will get a new video file that you will have to splice together in editing. It is easy to slice together but it does add an extra step.
There are lots of little things that you don’t think about such as travel tripods, memory cards, and cases to protect it all in travel that I also purchased.
Tripod: I have to say that it was difficult to find a tripod that was full size, lightweight, sturdy enough that I would trust my camera on it, and most important it would fit in carry on luggage. I went with the Neewer Carbon Fiber Portable Mini Tripod. It extends to 56 inches and folds down to 13 inches. It is also really light but still very sturdy.
Camera memory card 64 GB: I went with two Sandisk 64 GB Class 10 SD Card for no other reason than I have other cameras that can use the same card, so now I can do a multiple camera setup which I have done before with some drum videos. Space wise, at 1920x1080, I am able to get about 5.5 hours of footage.
External Battery for Camera: Since the camera can run off 5V 1A, I can use the iPhone portable charger that I already have. I am using the UNU Superpak 10000 mAH and can get around 4 full phone charges out it. It also has a really nice battery charge light so I know if I need to charge it or not. Don’t discount the value of having the status lights.
iPhone Wall Charger: Since the camera does not come with the wall charger, I got a [cheap pack of 5V 1A wall chargers][http://amzn.to/2BHRr3O]. I am always misplacing them so having extra on hand never hurts.
USB Extender Cable: - Unfortunately the USB cable that is included with the camera does not reach to the floor when the tripod is fully extended. I went with an Amazon Basics 6 foot USB Extender cable
Case for Camera, Microphone, Extender Cable, Batteries, and Memory Cards: I didn’t want all of the equipment just hanging out in my laptop bag especially since the casings are plastic. Since this equipment is meant to be travelled with, I went with the CaseMatrix Hard Case with Diced Foam. This case is big enough to hold all of the equipment except the tripod and still fits into my laptop bag.
Travel Power Strip: To make sure that I get everything charged up in the hotel room and don’t have to worry about running out of power outlets in hotel rooms, I got a Belkin travel surge protector with 2 usb ports.
With this setup, we will have 2 audio tracks: camera and screen capture. We will need to sync the audio in editing and then remove the camera audio. This sounds like a pain to do but I am going to give you the best trick that I ever learned that will enable you to sync the audio in 30 seconds.
Recording The Audio
- Turn on the microphone
- Start recording in camtasia
- Start the camera recording
- While standing in front of the camera either loudly snap your fingers or clap your hands (this makes everyone in the room stare at you, so I normally snap my fingers)
- Now give your talk
What we did was to create a big spike in the audio that you will be able to see in the audio wav form in Camtasia when you zoom into the timeline.
Syncing the Audio
- Open the Camtastia screen capture footage
- Find the spot in the screen capture that you snapped your fingers and add a marker to it
- Import the camera footage
- Add the 1st video from the camera to the timeline. You will be moving it around on the timeline so you only want the 1st one at this point
- Turn off the screen capture footage so that you can hear the camera audio
- Find the spot in the camera video that you snapped your fingers and add a marker to it
- Enable the screen capture footage
- Roughly align the markers for the footages
- Make the footage for the screen and camera taller so that you can easily see the audio wav form. It sometimes takes a few minutes for Camtasia to show the wav
- Zoom all the way into the timeline and fine tune the alignment
- Listen to the audio to make sure you do not have an echo. If you have an echo, keep making adjustments until it goes away.
- Add the rest of the camera footage
- Right-click on the camera footage that is in the timeline and select the separate audio and video option
- Now either delete the camera audio or turn it off. Note if you turn it off and splice up the video the disable audio doesn’t get touched and will be out of sync so you have to remember to turn back on the audio before removing any portion of the video.
After a few times of doing this you will get really good at syncing multiple audio sources and will even be able to sync the audio just by looking at the way forms.
Adding an Intro and Outro
I like to add an intro and outro clip onto my videos. I made both of these clips once and then added them to the asset library. Now for the intro all I have to do is add it onto the timeline and change the talk title and event name. For the outro, I don’t have to make any changes and just put it at the end after all of the editing is done. It nows takes me all of 2 minutes to add the intro and outro. This has been a huge time saver for me and made it possible to get the video editing done while at the conference.
To add the clips to the Camtasia asset library, you highlighted the set of elements on the timeline that make up the click, right-click on them and select save to library. Then give the new asset a name and you are ready to use it.
Now you are ready to record your talks. Make sure to do some practice runs with the equipment to work out any kinks. Leave a comment below and let me know where your recordings are and how the process worked out for you.
Also, remember that the most important thing is that you can give the talk, not that you can record the talk so if the recording isn’t working for whatever reason, don’t delay your talk just for the recording. There will be times where the equipment will just not work for whatever reason and you won’t be able to capture that talk. It sucks when it happens but honestly the recording of the talk is an added bonus.