Making Online PowerPoint Content Engaging: Preparing for High-Quality Narration

Slides, even with text and graphics on them, aren’t particularly as good as instructional content because someone needs to explain what’s on each slide. You are still the presenter and you should explain, right? (Right.)

In a previous article, I explained how to write a script for narrating your slides. Here I will provide a set of tips to prepare for recording narration that sounds good to your students. Some of these tips come from Tom Kuhlmann ( at Articulate, the authoring tool I use most often for recording narrated PowerPoint slides.

Why should you care that your narration sounds good? Let me put it this way: poor-sounding narration makes it harder to listen and makes the narrator sound less professional. So here are some tips that will help you sound professional and clear.

Tip 1: Use a decent microphone
If you are going to be recording narration regularly, you should invest in a decent microphone. Good doesn’t mean expensive. I use the Plantronics DSP USB headset microphone and Kuhlman says he has good luck with this headset microphone as well.

Many experts, including Kuhlmann, suggest using a unidirectional desktop microphone (rather than an omnidirectional desktop microphone). That’s because unidirectional microphones record your narration from one direction only and are less likely to pick up noise coming from other directions (such as the whoosh coming from the vents in the ceiling). A number of people recommend the Samson Go Mic Compact USB Microphone. Also consider using a microphone pop filter to help prevent the popping Ps that are common when recording your voice.

Tip 2: Prepare the environment
Recording studios have special walls that dampen the sound. Most of us aren’t going to set up a real recording studio in our homes or offices, but we should do what we can to produce audio that doesn’t sound like it was recorded inside the mall or near the television with children yelling and the phone ringing.

The place where you record should ideally be quiet and far from the action. It should ideally have a carpeted floor, furniture, and heavy curtains that will dampen the sound. You should avoid a space with bare furniture and uncovered walls. That’s because you’re looking for a place that doesn’t echo. Then you’ll want to reduce as much background noise as possible:

  • Shut the door.
  • Let those around you know you are recording and need quiet.
  • Turn off or cover air vents.
  • Close windows and blinds or curtains.
  • Unplug office machines and the phone. Put your cell phone in another room.
  • Check to see if your chair squeaks when you move. If it does, oil it or get another chair!
  • Place the microphone away from your computer (computer fans are noisy) and the microphone cord away from your computer’s power cord.

Believe it or not, most walk-in closets work for recording because clothes dampen the sound! Cubicles are also designed to absorb sound, so they may work well if there isn’t too much going on nearby or in the halls. Or better yet, find a smallish room with a cubicle and a door you can shut. Or pin up quilts, blankets, or egg-crate foam on the walls.

If recording at your desktop computer isn’t going to work because of noise, consider recording into a portable device and going somewhere you can control the noise. You could use your laptop or portable recorders made for this purpose. But doing this means you need to transfer your files from the portable device and then sync the files with your slides (unless they are on the laptop you are using), so this option may be less desirable because of the extra work involved.

Tip 3: Record using the same environment
This may not be intuitive, especially if you are just getting started with recording narration, but you will be doing retakes, sometimes at a different time than when you recorded the original narration. If you record in the same place each time using the exact same setup, you’ll be better able to match the sound of your narration from one recording session to another, and that’ll make it easier to swap in rerecorded narration.

In addition to using the same room and setup for recording, you’ll want to use the same microphone, same recording distance (between you and the microphone), same recording settings, same computer, and so on.

Tip 4: Practice recording
Before you start recording for real, you’ll want to practice and do some test recordings lasting 20 to 30 seconds each. You’ll want to evaluate the test recordings for sound clarity, background noise, and voice level. Try moving the microphone toward you and away from you to find the best recording distance. The best distance for your microphone is typically 6 to 12 inches from your mouth.

Some people find that they get better audio if they stand up while recording. That’s because many people tend to slouch when sitting, and slouching makes you breathe more irregularly and may make your voice less clear.

Some people tend to speak very quickly when recording, and this makes you sound rushed. Because you are aiming for a friendly, conversational tone, you may need to practice with the script in order to slow down and make it sound like you are talking directly to your students.

Patti Shank, PhD, CPT, is a widely recognized information and instructional designer and writer and author who helps others build valuable information and instruction. She can be reached through her website:

Excerpted from Online Teaching Fundamentals: Making Online PowerPoint Content Engaging: Preparing for High-Quality Narration. Online Classroom (February 2011): 4,5.