Monday, January 27, 2014

Authoring for Pluralsight

When I decided to become a public speaker, I had no idea where it would lead me. I have met many wonderful people at various conferences, and it opens so many doors. So when my friend Corey Latislaw asked me if I'd like to be introduced to Pluralsight to record some video classes, I went, "Sure!"

Audition

The first step to becoming a Pluralsight author is to submit an audition video. You pick a topic, create the slides and demo, and explain everything in 10 minutes. It was a bit challenging to find a bite-sized topic like that, but I lifted a part from my Bust the Android Fragmentation Myth talk and created a video for it:

Once the audition video is accepted, we need to come up with an outline for my first course. I went through my existing talks to see what makes sense for the Pluralsight audience, and decided to author a course on Android Layout Fundamentals based on my Android Layout 101 talk.

Equipment

For software, I have already downloaded Camtasia for the audition video. Now I need hardware as well. Namely, a microphone. I bought the Rode Podcaster as recommended by Pluralsight. It was quite pricey, but I figured I'd use it to record pronunciations for Monkey Write as well, so it should be a good investment.

Recording

Here comes the meat of the process: recording the videos. Initially I thought it will be like giving live talks, but it turned out to be quite different. First of all, if I stutter or make a mistake at a live talk, I simply move on. There is no "undo" when you are on stage. But when I record, I feel obligated to edit out the bloopers, so that introduced quite a lot of extra work.

The format of my slides are also a bit different. I like using "highlight slides" to focus attention on the point I am giving. So I will have a slide like this:

public void someFunction() {
  doSomething();
  doSomethingImportant();
  doSomeOtherThing();
}

And the next slide will highlight the part I am addressing:

public void someFunction() {
  doSomething();
  doSomethingImportant();
  doSomeOtherThing();
}

With Camtasia I can add highlighting to the video afterwards, and I found that better than slides highlighting because I can sync it up to the audio. I highlight the words exactly when I am describing them with my voice. The syncing makes the focusing even stronger, and it gives a good cadence to the video.

Review

A pluralsight course consists of multiple modules, each of which needs video clips, slides, demo code and assessment questions. I was focusing on the video part and recorded three modules before I realized I should have completed a single module and submit that for review. So I prepared the rest of the module and sent it off to the editorial team. Overall feedback was good, but I had a few issues:

  • My 'p's are popping. I need to adjust the microphone distance.
  • The volume needs to be more consistent
  • I need to introduce each of my modules

I wish I got the feedback before I recorded so many clips already! I should have submitted my very first clip and waited for feedback before proceeding. Now I know!

Demo

I never live code during my talks because so many things can do wrong. But with video I have more control, and I demoed some Android tools in the last module of Android Layout Fundamentals. I did not realize how hard it is to talk and type at the same time! I considered recording the demo first, adding the voice-over later, but figured I'd forgotten what I was trying to explain by the time I go back to do the voice-over. So instead I type-and-talk while I could, and stopped typing to focus on talking while I couldn't.

Tips and Tricks

I learned a few techniques after producing the first course:

  • To ensure consistent volume, do not stop recording if you make a mistake. Just stop to recompose yourself, and say it again. Later you can edit out the mistakes and silences. I found it hard to speak at the exact same loudness if I stopped talking for too long.
  • I don't like to script my talks, but I noticed that I re-record a lot when I tried to define a concept. So now I write down the definitions and edit them to my liking before I record. By reading out the written definitions I can often do it in one take, which is a major time saver.
  • I love my Kinesis keyboard, but it makes a lot of noise when I type, and it's a bit distracting in the video. So I type on the keyboard of my laptop instead.
  • When doing demos, don't worry too much about talking and typing at the same time. I type, and then explain. Later I split the video and audio tracks in Camtasia and splice them back together so I am talking over the demo.
  • When you are talking during the demos, do not jitter the mouse! It makes the video splicing much harder.

It's live!

I started recording in September, and thought I'd be done by November. But of course things always take longer than expected. I finished everything by mid-December though, so the delay wasn't too bad. And it was so exciting to see my course go live!

I have not received my first royalty check yet, so I cannot tell you if this is worth doing financially. But the Pluralsight people have been super friendly and helpful, and I really enjoyed working with them. In fact I am already thinking about my next courses!

If you are sitting on the fence about becoming a Pluralsight author, go for it! It's very satisfying to see your knowledge solidified in the form of a video course. Ping me if you have questions, or would like to be introduced to the editorial team!

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