10 Tips SeriesWordsLarge

Jackie Raymond

How hard can it be? – 10 top tips for words operators

If you are involved in displaying the song lyrics on screen at your church, I’m sure you will have come across the ‘Well, how hard can it be?’ attitude. Truth be told, it doesn’t have to be hard at all, but I’d like to offer up what I hope will be a few helpful tips to make things easier.

  1. Don’t underestimate or devalue what you do, otherwise you will deliver less than your best. Whatever you are called (let’s use ‘words operator’, for example), realise that you are an important and often overlooked cog in the wheel of the Sunday worship experience at your church. You are helping people to engage and connect with what is happening, and you have the ability to enhance or frustrate it!
  2. Timing is crucial. I’m sure we’ve all endured the panic when the next verse is imminent, but words are nowhere to be seen because the words operator is ‘lost in worship’. Please don’t let that be you! It’s crucial for all on stage – and the congregation – that the slides are changed promptly, even slightly ahead of time. Our brains ‘read ahead’, so it’s OK to change slides one or two words early, especially during up-tempo songs.
  3. Learn your worship leader’s sign language. Good communication between worship leader and words operator is very important. Although there may be slight variations between leaders, agree on the main signs for ‘from beginning’, ‘repeat’, ‘bridge’, ‘chorus’, ‘tag’, ‘outro’ and ‘finish’. You won’t always know when these signs will be given, so make sure you’re watching him/her/them(!) like a hawk. You can’t always tell when people will plonk themselves in your sight line, so be ready to reposition yourself so you can still see your worship leader.
  4. Anticipation is key. If you have a guest worship leader, or the signs aren’t forthcoming from your usual leader, try to anticipate where he/she will go to next. Listen for vocal ad libs or a rise or fall in the music. If all else fails, proceed to the next ‘logical’ section of the song. Some leaders sing songs in a different order, but you can respond quickly if you ‘cover your bases’ by using the arrow keys for the next section and positioning your mouse over a section further away.
  5. Never assume. Ask your worship leader to clarify which version of song is required. Which ‘Hallelujah’ or ‘How great is our God’ or ‘Your love never fails’ do they mean? Check how your songs are named in Planning Center Online and ProPresenter, for example, to avoid confusion. Listen to which intro is being played.
  6. Preparation, preparation, preparation. Ensure you get plenty of sleep the night before, so that you will be super alert and able to respond quickly to last minute changes and requests. This is even more important if you’re not an early morning person! If you are preparing your playlists during band rehearsal, listen to how the band move from one song into another; which songs they have put together as a medley; where they choose to begin a song (not always at the beginning). If you’re asked to type out a new song, try to listen to it online, and display the lyrics ‘as sung’, ie. with line breaks in the right places.
  7. Find the right balance. Sunday mornings are busy, and everyone wants a piece of you, so give yourself enough time to plan your playlists – not just the songs, but also to check your church notices and the sermon notes; prepare your emergency messages (children, cars, etc); test any video clips; liaise with the rest of the tech team, etc, and to PRAY! Don’t be pressured into displaying words for the worship team (who can bring their own!) if you haven’t finished setting up everything you need. (Of course, you can be flexible if it’s a brand new song, or you have the time.) When they’ve sat down after worship, you still need to be on top of your game - throughout the rest of the service.
  8. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’re a visitor and/or non-Christian in your service. Would you be able to follow the words accurately? Would you still be singing when everyone else has paused? Please try to ensure that the song lyrics are ‘as sung’, and keep the number of lines per slide to a minimum. (This is one of many excellent tips I’ve learnt from Steph at Elim Letchworth.) Select the right backgrounds to enhance the meaning of the songs. How about the visually impaired and/or elderly? Try to ensure that the font is legible and large enough for everyone to engage in worship, without squinting to read what’s on the screen.
  9. Maintain focus. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by people who ignore the ‘Please do not disturb’ sign - just at the crucial ‘slide change’ moment. Politely ignore them and apologise later!
  10. An attitude of excellence. Check for typos, punctuation and, if it’s your church style, correct capitalisation for ‘God nouns and pronouns’. Aim to go unnoticed; people only notice you when something has gone wrong! And if it has, try to remain (and look) calm and in control. If you’ve prepared well, times of panic should be kept to a minimum. Remain teachable, as we all have something we can learn and improve upon.

To conclude, then: It’s all about Him. When all is said and done, ‘It is Christ we are serving’. As long as you’re remaining humble, being a blessing to those around you, facilitating what’s happening on stage and, most importantly, giving your best for the Lord, who can argue with that?


Questions: Which tip did you find most useful? Do you have any to add?  Leave a comment below.

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