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From Snooze to Sizzle: 7 Tips to Boost Learning Video Engagement


Video is motivating and powerful, but why are most learning videos seen as among the most boring and low-impact types of video?

“Talking heads,” webinar recordings, and voice-over powerpoints… it doesn't have to be this way!
If you're looking for practical tips on how to make your learning videos sizzle, read on.

  1. Make it fun and positive
  2. Make it relevant
  3. Tell a story
  4. Show and tell
  5. Make it credible
  6. Use active learning
  7. Make it social

These tips work with any budget and in any domain. All you need is some knowledge (on it!) and effort (yes, there’s always a catch). You already know how to create videos that reach your learning outcomes, so let’s take a look at how to make your videos sizzle – something people want to watch, learn from, and share rather than dread.


1. Make it fun and positive

It’s easy to focus on checking off our learning objectives and forget to make videos learners want to watch. Would you prefer watching a dry “just the facts” video or something fun and positive? Here are some tips for injecting your video with a healthy dose of joy.

  1. Use a positive tone to convey warmth, passion, and energy to the viewer. After all, if you’re not excited about this stuff, why should they be? Conversely, UC Irvine researchers show that negativity in videos can lead to negative emotions and stress in viewers. Good or bad, your tone transmits loudly through video, so why not lift someone up while you teach them something new?

  2. Use humor when writing and performing. Humor is a powerful and timeless tool. Socrates cracked jokes while he was teaching 2,400 ago:

    “By all means, marry. If you get a good spouse, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.” 😊  
    BUT, be careful… As with beauty, humor is in the eye of the beholder. Jokes can make people love you or want to cancel you. Picking a smart humor style that suits you and your learners is tricky but essential. Need inspiration? Check out successful influencers in your domain. Ask one of your funny (and smart) friends.

  3. Surprise! Work in a surprise or two. Say or show something unexpected. Keep it short and simple. An example from standup comic Demetri Martin: “I’m sorry’ and ‘I apologize’ mean the same thing. Unless you’re at a funeral.” You have a wide range of tools at your disposal in video, such as sudden scene changes, post-production wizardry of all types (e.g., visual effects and animation), music/audio shifts, and many more. Look for inspiration from successful videos, movies, or individuals you admire.

  4. Get creative! This is especially important when teaching complex or “dry” topics. Rather than a boring torrent of facts, consider doing something unusual and creative. Flight safety videos are a great example. They are important, and yet, the typical delivery is a boring list of instructions. Zzzzz. Air New Zealand’s creative LoTR flight safety video went viral, with many millions of video views, plus loads of brand enhancement. Unleash your creativity for some fun!

  5. “Stay on target!” Gold Five gave that wise advice in the very first Star Wars movie. While “fun and positive” are good for your videos, don’t lose sight of what’s important. First, you must achieve the primary target: learning outcomes. Second, you must consider your audience and not create something that comes across as silly, irrelevant, or, worse, offensive.


2. Make it relevant

If we think something is relevant, we are far more likely to pay attention and engage. That’s true for children, but it is especially true for adult learners. [Medina (2008). “Brain Rules”] If you think something is irrelevant, do you invest your attention in it? Not if you can help it. Here are some relevant tips.

  1. Know your viewer! Start every thought and process with your viewer in mind. Who are they, where do they operate, and, most importantly, what are their interests, needs, and experiences? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re flying blind on relevance. Worse, you won’t know what would make them want to watch your video.

  2. Actively look for real-world, practical examples of what you’re trying to teach. In other words, “Show me!” Avoid theory-only presentations and show the upsides and downsides of having - or not having - the knowledge you are trying to impart. Look to your internal experts or hire SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) for real-world advice and situations. Lastly, you can always consult the Google oracle for relevant ideas.

  3. Blow up any myths that your learners may have. (e.g., “It’s not relevant to me.”) Show, in pragmatic ways, why they should care. For example, before showing safety or risk-reduction training, show the likelihood or severity of bad things happening.

3. Tell a story

The greatest leaders, teachers, and orators in history all used the power of stories to inform, inspire, and motivate. Whether telling a parable to encourage compassion to strangers (“Good Samaritan”) or a childhood story about why you shouldn’t exaggerate or lie (“don’t cry wolf”), stories are powerful and memorable. A good story will last and spread for thousands of years. 
Homer’s Odyssey is 2,800 years old and still teaches us about faithfulness, heroism, and distractions. If you have a story, use the magic of video to tell and spread it. Here are some ideas for harnessing storytelling power in your videos.

  1. People first - put people, their personalities, and interests in your videos. It doesn’t need to be realistic either. You can tell a fable with heroes or monsters, just make sure you tell an interesting story around what you’re trying to teach.

  2. History - share your origin story (where you, your company, values, team, product, or service came from - whatever is relevant and interesting). Help people understand and care.

  3. Share an insight - how was this discovered, how is it used, and why is it important? Share and destroy common mistakes or misconceptions. Share something people will find worthy of sharing. #Viral

  4. Why you care - explain why this is important to you, your audience, or others. If you don’t care, why should your viewer?

  5. Add emotion - well-told stories can express all human emotions. Take your learners on a journey they’ll remember. Look to great storytellers for inspiration. There are many excellent blogs, books, and videos about storytelling.


4. Show and tell

Confucius offered this advice thousands of years ago, “Tell me, and I forget. Show me, and I remember. Involve me, and I understand.” All of us experience this learning progression. Seeing and hearing engage more of our senses. We are more likely to understand and remember what we see rather than only hear. For example, where do we go to learn something like a repair procedure or personal skill? Hint: it’s not Spotify (hear) or your favorite blog (read)… YouTube reports that an astonishing 93% of its billions of users use the site to “gather information and knowledge.” Use video’s “show and tell” power to teach your learners. Some “show” ideas for your videos:

  1. Take a tour. Whether you are teaching a complex business process or tying knots, show your viewers the concepts or skills in use, preferably out in the real world; but don’t forget #1, and make it fun and positive!

  2. Break it down. Walk through the process/skill/problem carefully, ensuring good camera angles or screencasts, and use a clear narrative to maximize the value of what you’re showing. Break down complex topics into understandable chunks. Then, show it.

  3. Try it! Show the viewer how they can try what you’re teaching themselves. When appropriate, include suggestions or links that make it easy for learners to try it.

  4. Don’t do this! Warn people about problems or common mistakes, especially the really bad ones. If possible, demonstrate and show the downside.

  5. The power of one… If you want to inspire and motivate, research shows that you should focus on an individual rather than a group. For example, to support children in dire need, build your appeal based on an individual child or story rather than a bunch of statistics. 


5. Make it credible

“Why should I believe you?” is a great question we should all ask before trusting anyone to teach us something - whether in person or via video. It’s not about being elitist or biased; rather, we should be wise about who gets our attention. So, here are some meaningful ways to ensure credibility with your viewers.

  1. First and most importantly, ensure that your presenter and their message ARE credible. Do you trust them? Do they know their stuff? Can they present/teach it well? Do they have a good reputation? If you cannot confidently answer, “Yes,” keep looking, or you can do more harm than good.

  2. “What have you done?” Share your relevant credentials and achievements to show that you know your stuff. Walk the viewer through creating a high-quality example of what you’re teaching - hopefully showing a great outcome (or mistakes). Cooking shows are masters of this technique!

  3. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) can be great teachers. Use the best you can find and afford. SMEs are found in many places. For example:
    Internal talent (as long as they’re high quality.)
    Customers or vendors (experts in your ecosystem.)
    SMEs for hire - many terrific SMEs do “gig work.” You can find them online via domain-specific sites or aggregators, like Upwork.
    Influencers - in some domains, SMEs have created enormous online followings, teaching millions of people. People love how they teach. They are often open to licensing or creating bespoke content. Just ask!


6. Use active learning

As Confucius told us back on #4, “Involve me, and I understand.” Avoid the usual passive approach (“sit and get”). Involve learners in their learning. It’s transformational, and it’s a much better way to hold viewer attention and promote audience retention. Video offers many ways to do this.

  1. Before you start, research and understand active learning and best practices for your domain. The approach is simple: engage students through discussions, problem-solving, case studies, role plays, and other methods. It just takes creativity and effort.

  2. Make it real. People learn well when they work on a problem they care about. (“Make it relevant” - #2 above). Your video can describe the problem, desired outcomes, and constraints. The more realistic, the better.

  3. Reflect. Invite learners to summarize or reflect on a concept. “Think it through.” Ask for implications, common uses, or problems with whatever concept you’re teaching. “Pause the video and list five examples of ______ that you’ve seen.”  Or, “Share your summary and questions here ______.”

  4. Write it down. Ask learners to record their summaries, reflections, or questions - somehow, somewhere. It can be online or in paper form. Ideally, others can see it and react (remember, audience engagement is your goal here). Use video to set up the activity, explain what to do and why, and inspire learners to engage with compelling calls to action.

  5. Discuss. If we must discuss something (and not embarrass ourselves), we will generally work harder to understand it. Invite learners to discuss a question, problem, personal experience, etc. Use a discussion board, shared Google/Word document, or whatever platform makes sense in your environment. If you have an LMS, it probably has these features.

  6. Teach Someone Else. “While we teach, we learn.” Roman philosopher Seneca said this nearly 2,000 years ago, and it still rings true. Can you invite your learner to teach someone else what they are learning? “Using your smartphone, record a brief video to teach/show someone this concept. Post it on YouTube.”

    RELATED: Reimagining e-Learning - 7 Tips to Increase Engagement


7. Make it social 

Over 2,300 years before the social media company Facebook made billions by adding “social” to “network,” Aristotle said, “Man is by nature a social animal.” We are profoundly influenced and motivated by others, and vice versa. But instead of using our social superpower for education, it is often ignored or even thwarted by how we teach - especially online. In life, we call working together “cooperation” or “collaboration.” In education, we call it “cheating.” Our social superpower will add sizzle to your learning videos. Social tips:

  1. Yes, online! Learning together is often dismissed as "not possible" in an online learning format. But that's false! With a little creativity and effort, you can connect learners and make your videos more impactful. Build a community of learners. Get experienced people to participate. Online videos can be used to connect adult learners with others who share their interests, providing a sense of community and support. Not to mention that online environments even give you the opportunity for measuring video engagement rate and finding out just how much your target audience is enjoying your videos. 

  2. Team-based. Think of ways that people can work together as they learn. Project-based learning is one obvious option. Design a “Goldilocks” project that is small enough to fit the available time and big enough to require more than one person and cover many learning objectives. Give people different roles. Use your video content to demonstrate helpful and unhelpful team behavior.

  3. Discuss/Share. As mentioned above in #6, invite people to share personal experiences, observations, answers, questions, etc. Engage people with one another. This can be done using existing collaboration tools, in a hybrid format (e.g., Zoom), or better yet, in person.

  4. Pro Tip: Creating engaging team activities can produce enduring relationships! Shared experiences and friendships can be FAR more meaningful than simple test scores. Include relationships in your learning outcomes!



With these seven tips, your learning videos will sizzle, your views count will rise, and your learners will thank you. You don’t have to start with all seven. Start simple and focus on one or two, then keep adding. Pro Tip: You can mix and match for added sizzle. For example, invite your learners to share a fun (#1) personal (#7) story (#3) that explains why they chose this field for their career. Or, invite learners to record a video teaching a concept (#2, #6) to a colleague (#7) in a fun way (#1). You get the idea.

Best wishes to you and your learners – sizzle on! And if you’d like more ideas for how to put these tips into practice, don’t hesitate to reach out to us here at NextThought Studios. We’re always full of ideas!


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NextThought team

NextThought team

NextThought transforms workplace learning through creative technology and engaging media. We're fortunate to partner with some of the top organizations in the world to make their educational training content remarkable and effective.

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