4 Key Tips for Stronger Online Teaching Scripts

If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time—a tremendous whack.”

—Winston S. Churchill

Can you imagine taking a class that was delivered with the power and passion of Churchill’s delivery? Here’s an example of one of his most memorable and moving speeches:

Churchill  “I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. This is our policy. You ask, what is our aim?

I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, there is no survival.”

This speech gives me chills no matter how many times I read it.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t reaching for this impact when they write their scripts for online courses. But teachers should be attempting in every possible moment to convey their passion for their subject matter.

Here are 4 key ways to do this within your teaching script:

  1. Keep your language as natural as possible, so we, the students, feel as if you’re talking directly to us.
  2. Add notes to remind yourself to change tone, emphasis, volume, hand gestures, and movement to give critical points, as Churchill put it, “a tremendous whack.”
  3. Highlight teaching points that typically confuse the student and therefore need unpacking.
  4. In every lesson, include a few juicy tidbits that a student will want to share with someone else because they are so mind-boggling. These should be the kinds of details that get YOU excited about what you are teaching. Surprising facts, compelling anecdotes, or mind-blowing stats are all effective. Scan your scripts and add these in if they’re missing.

Those are the big four points. Let’s dive into them for the details and specific recommendations.

In a half-hour lesson, the mind can only absorb 3-5 major points. The rest should be supportive material that helps comprehension and retention by explaining, contextualizing, unpacking, connecting the dots, restating in different ways, etc.

Put comments in brackets to remind you to change your delivery to reflect the importance of the point. For example: [Soften Voice] or [Walk to Camera to Emphasize] or [Move Hands Together]. The reason you put these notes into brackets is to cue that they are to be acted upon rather than read aloud.

Did you know that many in London reacted negatively to the Churchill speech I quoted? For instance, one Parliament member, Harold Nicolson, said Churchill sounded “ghastly,” and Cecil King, a newspaper owner, called it “the poorest possible effort.” However, the world thought differently and fully embraced his style and his words.

But what if Churchill had started his speeches with, “This speech will cover…”? We never would have won WWII!

Demonstrate with your very first words that this is an engaging, meaningful course. Use your best rhetoric to ensure that students won’t want to stop watching or listening to what you are saying. 

The first lesson sets up expectations for how engaging the material and the teacher will be. It’s not effective to make it a syllabus for the course, or a table of contents. Weave that material into actual content, only as much as needed, and get teaching right away.

Read your words aloud. Anything you stumble on in practice, you will stumble on while recording. Change whatever doesn’t roll off the tongue smoothly. Look in particular for awkward sentence constructions and alliteration, which whittles away at wonderful witticisms.

Write as if you’re talking to someone, not as if they’re reading what you’ve written. Use contractions and colloquial language. Go back through your scripts and make these changes in the final draft.

Avoid long strings of adjectives, adverbs, phrases, or clauses unless you are using them for effect (e.g., to exaggerate or emphasize the ludicrousness of something). When you revise your scripts, cross out all but one of any string of adjectives or adverbs.

Shorten your sentences. We can’t follow long sentences as well when we are listening as when we are reading.

Avoid clichés such as “understand the game of life”—what does that really mean? Be specific and concrete. Use fresh images when you need an image. Read through your script and take out anything that is vague and meaningless.

Make your paragraphs shorter than usual. This will give you a reminder to breathe between paragraphs. It will also help you remember when you need to emphasize a point.

In addition, remember we can only absorb bite-sized bits of information, and shorter paragraphs will help us absorb what you’re telling us. Go back through your script and break up your sentences and paragraphs.

It’s especially difficult to take in material when it’s audio only. Quotations that are more than about 25 words will lose the student. If you must use longer quotations, interject a comment here and there or tie the quotation to the main content, so as to break up the quotation and keep the student focused.

Here’s how I recommend you set up quotations in your script:

[Pause] Quote: “Whatever the quotation is.” End quote. [Pause]

Your pause will signal that the quotation is about to begin and is separate from your content. Saying, “Quote…End quote” will clarify the dividing points between your text and the quotation. Believe me, this helps the student hear and absorb the information better.

Any time you say something that the student puzzles over for even a few seconds in confusion, you need to rephrase. Those seconds spent trying to understand something take them out of the moment and put them behind in the lesson. For the same reason, define terms as you introduce them.

Ask someone who doesn’t know the material to read your scripts and highlight anything they don’t immediately understand as they read it. Revise those portions. Use your most vivid examples to make them clear. Be inventive.

Your scripts are tools for both teaching and delivery. Bear that in mind as you write your first draft, but especially when you revise.

Above all, remember that you are teaching, that you originally began teaching because you loved your subject, and that your first job is to convey that passion. The second is to teach the content so that it is clear and understandable. The third is to teach in such a way that it is memorable. Great teaching really does change lives, and how you treat your scripts can make all the difference in both content and delivery.

Thanks for joining me in this week’s blog. Tune in next Friday for Issue #16 of “Everything You Need to Know to Create Outstanding Online Courses.” We’ll take a detour and interview a few online teachers to talk about the challenges they had in their first courses and how they overcame them.

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Photo of Marcy McDonald, blog author  About Marcy McDonald

Online Course Producer

Check out my website: https://www.marcymcdonald.com

Tweet me @videosmarts


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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