How to keep viewers glued to your educational content

As a former college instructor, I know how hard it can be to keep students’ attention and teach them something at the same time. Even with the built-in accountability of grades, this can be challenging. When it comes to videos, you might think you need the personality, charisma, and humor of Will Smith or Robin Williams to keep your viewers riveted, but don’t despair if you’re an average person. Even an introvert like me can find ways to motivate learners.

First, never underestimate the human connection. The feeling that we’re being taught by a person who gets us and cares about us means so much. This can happen inside the classroom or through some other type of medium. All that really matters is the feeling that the instructor cares deeply about the outcome for learners. The opposite is also true: faking this doesn’t work so much.

All that really matters is the feeling that the instructor cares deeply about the outcome for learners.

Most educational videos should have the instructor on camera. Other options exist of course, such as animation, but an actual person lends credibility to serious subjects. For tough ones, such as math, an encouraging instructor who acknowledges the difficulty is great. You can help learners feel more confident when you express your belief in their ability to master whatever you’re teaching.

Overcoming public speaking anxiety

If you haven’t had actual classroom teaching experience and you feel anxious about it, you might consider joining your local Toastmaster’s club. Many people fear public speaking, as I did. I remember several instances of opening my mouth and no sounds coming out! Eventually, I learned to relax, smile, use humor and feel at ease with my students. They responded positively because my comfort helped them feel comfortable as well. Learning can involve a lot of anxiety on the students’ part, too.

Think you can avoid overcoming a fear of public speaking by just doing a voice-over? Think again. It’s even more essential to have a good speaking voice if your audience can’t see you! 

Things that aren’t motivating (don’t do these)

Something students really hate is predictions of awful things happening to them if they don’t do the work. Make no mistake, most learning with important outcomes requires plenty of work, but people are more likely to do this if they feel it will pay off. Suggesting they’ll fail may paradoxically lead to failure. Expecting success is more likely to create it. Plus, they’ll have a more positive feeling toward you.

Other things to avoid are lies, exaggerations and false promises. It’s fine to give genuine facts that support your ability to be a great teacher or help them achieve potentially great outcomes. But again, always be honest about how much work is involved. Moreover, telling personal stories of how you overcame the difficulty can not only humanize you, but help them understand sticking with something really does work.

What’s in it for them?

Maybe you think your viewers will simply understand what they’ll get from your tutorial. However, saying it helps focus them. You need to get them into learning mode because we all have many distractions. A clear statement of the lesson and the goal is key. Long-term goals can also be motivating (if not overdone). If your video or series can help them earn more money or enjoy more satisfying relationships, you can mention that. State evidence that supports your case. And yes, you are on trial.

Who are these people?

Another aspect of motivation is understanding personality types. While exceptions always exist, we can make some generalities. For example, some business types tend to focus on monetary gain and don’t like having their time wasted. Don’t go off topic and tell jokes. They can go to a nightclub if they want to see a comic. Adults learners of science topics tend to love facts and information and they might even see the human connection as pointless. Technology folks are something of a hybrid — they love the science, but they see the income potential as well. If you’re well-versed on your subject matter, you should also be well-versed on your potential audience members.

A general audience is another matter. They will want the human connection, need more accessible information and terminology explained, and it will be even more critical to provide excellent organization and small chunks of information. They’re not stupid of course, but they may be bored easily. So, breaking out the charm might work in your favor.

Entire books discuss what motivates learners, but we’re out of time for now. Now your homework is to check out what other makers of instructional videos in your subject area are doing. Nothing beats learning from great teachers to help you develop ever more effective strategies in keeping your audience riveted.

Jackie Howland
Jackie Howland
Retired college English instructor, pet sitter, but most especially a writer!

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