Professional Conference Video With Semi-Professional Equipment

Professional Conference Video With Semi-Professional Equipment from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

Two weeks ago, I posted the conference video from my CMC-North session. The slides were synced to audio, which is nothing new, but also to video of my delivery of the material, which appeared next to the slides. There wasn’t a camera operator at my session but the camera panned around with me anyway as I walked the room.

I’m happy with this. The process is so easy that I’ll be able to record and post all future conference sessions I host. Then on the plus side:

  1. People can attend my talk even if they aren’t at the same conference on the same day. (I had 40 attendees in Monterey. Several hundred on Vimeo.)
  2. I can review myself and make notes for my next session.
  3. This keeps with my intention to be as open as possible about my practice.
  4. My parents can call me up and criticize the clothes I wore.

I edited a screencast explaining the process and posted it above. If you aren’t into video, here are some broad strokes in text.

1. Set up your equipment.

You need something to record video and audio. I turned on an Olympus DS-40 lapel mic (which I’m not very happy with – suggestions?) and set a Flip HD on a shelf in the back of the room. Make sure your camera can see at least some part of your slides.

Do yourself a favor: clap. With both devices running. Trust me here.

2. Assemble your material.

Export your slides from Keynote or PowerPoint as high quality TIFF images. You now have these ingredients in a folder: audio file, video file, slides folder. Drag them all into a new Final Cut Pro project. Then drag the video into a new sequence. Drag the audio in also.

3. Sync everything.

Find the clap in the video. On that exact frame, press M to lay down a marker on that track. Find the clap in the audio and lay down another marker. Position the markers on top of each other. The audio should now be fairly closely aligned. You may need to nudge the audio track forward or backward a few frames to get it exact. Press +1 or -1 a few times until it looks perfect.

Find a good starting and ending point for your talk and then crop both ends using the blade tool.

My Flip records video faster than my audio does (I don’t really get this) which means the sync gets really slippery by the end so I had to change the speed of the audio clip to 99.8%.

Now watch your entire presentation. Whenever you change the slide, lay down a marker. Then go into your slides folder and drag each slide to meet its marker.

4. Go back in time and hire a cameraman.

Now you have really good audio and really good slides. The video is pretty good too but takes up way too much room. There’s lots of empty space around you which we’d love to crop out. Create a new sequence called “cameraman.” Paste in your video track. Go into Effects > Video Generators > Shapes > Rectangles and drag a rectangle on top of the footage. Change its Softness in controls to 0%. Go into Effects > Video Filters > Key > Luma Key and drag it onto the rectangle.

Now you have a cardboard stencil on top of the video. This next part is almost impossible to explain in text and it’s also the most important so hit the screencast (approx. 7:00) if this doesn’t make sense.

Position yourself in the frame. If you stayed in that small window for your entire presentation, bully for you. You’re done. But if you paced around like an angry hamster (as I do) you need to set a keyframe for center in the controls tab. Then, whenever you start to move out of the frame, set another keyframe for center. Once you stop moving, reposition yourself in the window and set another keyframe. Final Cut Pro will “interpolate” the middle passage between keyframes making it look like you had a cameraman panning around with you the entire time. Nice! Keep doing this throughout your presentation.

5. Composite the results.

Drag the cameraman sequence from the browser on top of the video track in your original sequence. One should replace the other exactly since they’re the exact same length. Now you have great slides, great video, and great audio. The slides cover the video, though.

So select all of the slides. Go to Sequence > Nest Items. This will let us manipulate them all at the same time. Right-click on the slides sequence and go to “Open in Viewer.” Go to Controls > Motion > Crop and bring the right and left edges in to meet the slides. Now in Controls > Motion > Scale, bring the size down a little.

Then drag the cameraman track to the lower left of the frame and your slides to the right, creating equal space around them.


6. Export.

The goal in the export is to sneak your video beneath Vimeo’s 500MB upload ceiling on its free account. Modify Vimeo’s recommendations. Keep the audio at its highest quality but you’re going to have to sacrifice video quality, which isn’t really a big deal because the video track is dominated by huge slides that don’t change very much. I set the bandwidth restriction to 500 kbps.

7. Final notes.

You’ll have to render a lot and the final export will lock your machine up overnight. But this process is great because it frontloads the easy stuff and backloads the difficult stuff, which is exactly the right balance when you’re giving a presentation, when you don’t want to focus on complex technical details.

I post this tutorial because, selfishly, I hope other people take me up on it so I can attend more interesting talks without having to leave my living room or brush my teeth.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Excellent work, I appreciate all the detail you put in to it. I still don’t use Final Cut Pro much yet, but it’s always good to see how someone else puts things together and the tools that are available so when I do start using it I’ll have an idea of what’s possible.


  2. Good work, Dan.

    I’d suggest that your side conversations we edited out, especially if you don’t put the question from the handout on the slide showing in the video (e.g. when we keep seeing the horse). It was good that you asked one of the audience to share out his thoughts with the group, but I think the inclusion of short “OK, now discuss this amongst yourselves” episodes only detracts from the video.

    There’s also the question of value of members’ vocal questions/comments that are not easily understood. I’d be inclined to say either include a mic that faces the audience (but introduces a lot more work on the video production end). I don’t know how many people you had in this group, but if the group is at all big, repeating the question for others IN THE ROOM is often helpful, and then would also help the video audience. Whatever the solution, I find it difficult to try to hear what the audience members are saying.

    On the volleyball question, are the students given the meaning of the numbers in the equation? (e.g. -4.9 is half the y acceleration, 3.82 is the initial y velocity, and 1.7 is the initial height of the ball.) Otherwise, this is just some magic formula (says the physics teacher).

    A person asked a question about time using “how long.” I find these words can confuse people since “long is also length. Instead I try to use “how much time.”

    Great work!

  3. At first I had just thought you’d used to record it. I was wondering how the video and audio were both so much better than anything I’ve seen recorded on procaster.

    Thanks for sharing the presentation and how it was put together.

  4. What do you say is the value of the camera? Is it simply to provide a more realistic experience? The reason I ask is simply thinking about viewing other presentations. I’ve found good audio and a slidedeck is suffice in most cases.

    That said, I think getting a smooth workflow here might make this doable. Really appreciate you taking the time to walk through this. Gives me lots to think about.

  5. Thanks for the great detail work in this presentation. Watching the original proved two things to me: (1) I really need to work on my Final Cut skills and (2) my bald spot is getting bigger.

  6. @Lee, good point w/r/t trimming the passages that are essentially dead space for a video viewer.

    @J.D., dang, Procaster looks good. I imagine using the laptop’s onboard mic and camera yields far worse results than a lapel mic and an HD camera, but you’re shaving hours off the production time.

    @Dean, certainly there’s less value in the video than in the audio and slides, and I think we’ve reflected that in how we’ve portioned out the screen space. If it’s valuable for no one else, it’s valuable for my own self-criticism.

    You’ll also have to explain to me how my parents will criticize my wardrobe if they can’t see it.

  7. I definitely think showing the video as well as the slides keeps the viewer much more engaged. I listen to a lot of audio podcasts, often while driving and such, so I like just audio as well, but in those cases I’m usually doing something else at the same time.

    With the slides, that are an important part of the talk, I wouldn’t be able to stop and look at those if I was driving, watching a presentation with slides like this is something you sit down and devote more attention to. Having video keeps it easier to stay engaged with… and of course gives the opportunity to laugh at wardrobe choices as you mentioned ;-)

  8. Hi Dan,

    While I’ve always used a lapel mic hooked to an HD camera in the back of the room, I love your tip of using a simple digital recorder to record audio and then syncing it up in the timeline. Gives me an idea about keeping the lapel on me but using the digital recorder closer to the audience to capture Q&As better.

    Great job. Thanks for sharing.