5 simple things superintendents can do for a more powerful video message

Even the lofty title of “Superintendent” does not guarantee an audience for the “Community Message”-type videos that school superintendents typically record and post. If you’d like to confirm this assertion, randomly browse school district websites where embedded superintendent videos are hosted on YouTube.  A simple click-through to the “Views” counter will usually reveal shockingly-low numbers.  Districts with enrollments in the thousands are often viewed less than 50 or 60 times over the course of a year.

As Superintendent, you might be tempted to take the position that the act of posting a Community Message-type video fulfills your obligation to engage parents with ‘new media’; it’s the parents’ problem if they don’t watch! For obvious reasons, this is not an approach that serves anyone well in the long-run. The good news is, it’s easier to make better superintendent videos than it is to find better parents. 

I’m going to assume you’re reading this article because you recognize that, if your videos are not being watched, the deficiency lies with your end-product. Below are five principles you can follow to greatly improve the quality of your work.  While I wouldn’t call these principles “simple” to implement, they can be adopted without the need for high-end technology or great expertise.  Even the adoption of two or three of the ideas below can make a tremendous difference in the “watchability” of your work.

1.       Use Shared Context to Connect

2.       Incorporate an Expert

3.       Demonstrate Listening

4.       Reward your audience

5.       Ask for Something

Use Shared Context to Connect: People watch people they feel connected to. One of the best ways for a superintendent to quickly connect with parents is to describe a ‘shared context’ for the video they’re about to watch.  The shared context can be a recent event or incident, a story, a thought… even a change of seasons as in the example below.

Example of poor opening: Welcome Parents.  In this video I will review some the activities and events that will be taking place in the district this Spring season.

Example of Shared Context to Connect:  You know, I was looking out the window of my office at the beautiful Spring weather, and I realized that I was longing to get out from behind my desk and enjoy the season.  It occurred to me that you might be feeling the same way, and that’s why I decided to make this video and let you know of the wonderful upcoming district events and activities that we might share together in coming weeks. 

By stating a shared context right up front, you not only build a connection with parents, but you answer a question that’s forefront in their minds: should I invest my time and watch this video?  Unlike printed text, one can’t scan the page and make a quick determination of what’s contained in a video.  The reluctance to commit to watching is high.  If you connect with parents on a personal level using shared context, and have satisfactorily answered the question of what’s contained in the video and why they should watch, you’ve accomplished plenty in your first 20-30 seconds.

Use Intrigue/Mystery to Connect:  Don’t state the obvious.  Or, mix up the structure; start in the middle.  Or make it a conversation between two people, so there’s more energy, excitement, uncertainty what the other will reply.  When two people pass the convo back and forth there’s a tendency to (a) wonder what the other person will reply, an 9b) imagine what you would reply, i.et your own answer that’s what the viewer does.  It’s a much more active role for the viewer. That’s why high energy antagonistic shows are so popular, because viewers, in their head, are saying: She said that to him?  Why, I would fire right back and tell him…

Take Risks: We ask students to be creative risk-takers.  Model it.

Demonstrate Listening.  Video is a one-way medium; it’s you talking to them.  To make the experience more fair, it’s imperative that you to demonstrate the act of listening.

Example of lost opportunity to apply this principle:  Many parents have been upset about the new referendum for renovating the athletic field.

Example of demonstrating listening: The parent of an 12th grader emailed (or visited with) me this week, and she expressed dismay at the fact that her tax dollars would support a multi-year project that her graduating child wouldn’t get to use.  She made some really good points that made a lot of sense to me, but in my reply I think I was able to show her a different way to look at the issue…


Incorporate an affirming expert - Not from your district, but someone more prominent than yourself in reputation or title.  An affirmation from your assistant supt who works for you is, in this context,  meaningless.


Provide a gift or reward.  This will usually be a resource, though it’s conceivable it could be a subscription, login credentials, a discount code or coupon for the community, or an invitation.  These are all examples of gifts that evoke a feeling of gratitude, compliance, indebtedness.

Cialdini discusses this in his book Persuasion. And to be clear, you’re not using it in a manipulative way, but to create a closer bond between yourself as supreme educational leader, and the community that needs what you have.  Research shows that giving a gift has a profound impact. (Recall Blair Enns, HBR). 

If you’ve referenced an article, website, or pdf, then the gift is that resource itself.  If you’re inclined, you can also create a simple one-page summary with a overview paragraph or bullet-points.  The one page is important; probably half a page is better.  If it’s a website, you’ll also need to provide the URL in your one-pager, and see about linking from your video via overlay call-to-action.

I like the gift of a one-page clean bullet points.  It not only triggers the gratitude, but it amplifies my message.  The hope is they’ll post it on refridge or discuss it in some way, refer bacjk to it, maybe pass it along.

Make a demand. Ask something of the audience.  Set an expectation.  You are a leader; act like one.  Recommend a next-step of course of action. Provide or suggest.  It’s like the audiobook Storty – all great stories has a moment of change; your video needs to have a moment when you ask them for change, else it’s just ‘information’, and there’s plenty of that.