Best Practices for Visual Storytelling

When I was a kid, my favorite bedtime story of all time was “What Was I Scared Of?” from Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches and Other Stories.  More than 50 years have passed, and I can still recite almost the entire story verbatim. Why is that? I’ll admit that the story is compelling with a classic Seuss moral ending (the tale of an unnamed character who frequently encounters an animated pair of empty pale-green pants in spooky places), but how does it stay so fresh in my mind? Why do I remember this story above all others from any other time in my life? What can I quote from my years at college? And why is it that I cannot remember half of what I read just this morning?

My answer: visuals. We tend to remember things better when they’re compounded with meaningful and memorable images. Graphics have been around much longer than the written word – the earliest cave drawings were about 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, while the earliest forms of writing didn’t come until around 3,500 BCE. We instinctively know visuals add more potency than pure text.

In the field of marketing and communications, one of our jobs is to craft compelling stories that promote the value of our clients’ products and services. We could do that with just words and allow the readers to imagine the rest, but adding visuals helps us to compound our message and make our stories more memorable. We tend to remember about 10 percent of what we hear, 20 percent of what we read, 30 percent of what we see, and 60-70 percent of what we see and hear.  So, a good bedtime story.

For the past few years (25 give or take), I have been earning my living by helping clients with visual storytelling. It used to be called “writing presentations,” but the terminology has evolved into “visual storytelling,” which makes sense – we’re helping to create an unforgettable narrative with a beginning, a middle and end told mostly through pictures.

Visual storytelling is my vocation and my passion – however; it doesn’t come naturally to many. The following are a few pieces of advice to help you tell your stories.

#1 Craft a story.

Your audience will know if you’ve thrown in a bunch of random slides thinking that they’ll explain what you’re talking about. As a presenter, your job is to tell a story – and every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end – bring your audience along as if you’re taking them on a journey.

Additionally, a good story requires some form of conflict – if not, then there’s a journey, but no tale. In marketing, conflict explains why the product is relevant – what problem is being solved? What makes it interesting? The climax is the solution: the product or service being sold. The story’s resolution then becomes the campaign’s call to action.

Once you’ve written your story, it’s then time to choose imagery which directly reflects the message. This way, the audience finds it easy to see how points are interlinked, thus intensifying your message, ensuring people remember what you’ve said. Those pale green pants again.

#2 Tell the tale.

It’s classic – and I’m amazed that you still see it out there – a presentation that is nothing but a written narrative for the speaker to read directly to their audience. Who the heck wants to sit there and be read to, especially if you can read 100 times faster than that odious “reader.”

To me, a great slide has the viewer perplexed when they first look at it – “what does that mean?” When the presenter explains it through their story arc, the slide will resonate even more. Your script and your slides are two different things – by combining them, you can captivate and engage your audience by telling them the story.

#3 Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse.

A good thing to remember is that the presentation has been created for the audience, not for the speaker. It’s there to help deliver the message, reminding you of what to say, not saying it for you. You want to offer something compelling, not boring your audience to death by reading through the slide. Nor do you want to confuse them by being unprepared and not being able to provide enough explanation.

A good storyteller captivates the audience verbally as their minds follow along by looking at the visuals. But, all of those bullet points are gone! What am I going to read? How am I going to know what to say?

The only way to do this is through practice. Practice. Practice.

We tend to equate spontaneity with honesty – and only when you’re free of the reliance on a script or notes can you begin to feel (and sound) spontaneous. If you know the subject inside and out, you’ll have the confidence to add details or examples that will help the presentation sound more off the cuff (and unrehearsed).

Interested in learning more about how Dots & Lines helps our clients tell their stories? Click here or email [email protected].