How to Tell Visual Stories

Visual stories can get people to take action much faster than any reading material ever will.


One of the most compelling and memorable ways to communicate the value of your business product or service to anyone is through a medium called visual story telling, or better known as video. So let’s take a minute now and look at how to tell a visual story. But this is not to teach you how to write a script. It’s more to give you an understanding about how you can tell your own personal story without necessarily going to expensive tools and media professionals to produce it for you.

So let’s take a look at a really great example that I came upon when I met two students from Columbia University at the Kauffman Foundation. Right after the Haiti earthquake their class was given a task to come up with something that can help the Haiti earthquake victims. And rather than tell you about it, let me just let you hear it from them.

>> Hi, I’m Anna.

>> I’m Andrea. We’re working on a project to make and distribute a very simple solar lighting product that we designed for disaster relief aid. So 1.6 billion people in the world, roughly one in four, lack access to a stable source of electricity and light. More recently disasters in areas such as Japan, Haiti and Pakistan have left millions more without electricity. Many of these people are forced to rely upon dangerous, toxic and expensive kerosene lanterns as their primary source of light. In the wake of the Haiti earthquake, Anna and I came to know more about the dangerous and unsafe conditions in the tent cities at night especially for young children. Light is a very basic need. And we believe that in addition to food, water and shelter, that light should be distributed with other relief supplies. Portable, rechargeable lights could have greatly improved living conditions for those living in informal settlements. But there wasn’t a product that was designed with this scale of distribution in mind. Most were too expensive and too bulky to distribute in large quantities.

>> Right. So we designed our light to directly address these challenges. The LuminAID solar light is a solar, rechargeable light that is inspired by a few very simple ideas.

>> So for example for every eight solar flashlights, you can pack and ship over 50 LuminAID lights. This saves on shipping and transmit emissions. It is also simple and easy to use. You charge it in the sun for four to six hours. And the solar panel charges a rechargeable battery that is connected to super bright LEDs. You inflate LuminAID light to diffuse the light like a lantern and reduce the glare of the bright LEDs. You can turn it on to the high setting for up to three hours and the low setting for up to six. The LuminAID Light is designed to be waterproof, to float, to be extremely portable and light weight. It can also be printed with patterns and logos. We wanted to make a product that was useful in many different contexts and situations. So the same light that you can use for camping can also be an emergency light in a disaster situation.

>> We’ve evolved and prototyped the design to reduce the cost, make it brighter, more durable and easier to use. We hope you will take a light on your next adventure or trip. Find creative ways to use the LuminAID and share the stories and pictures with us. Staying true to the inspiration for the design, we’ll send matching lights to our community projects with the lights we make and produce for you.

>> So we really appreciate you taking time to learn more about LuminAID light. We’re excited to share these lights with you as well as with those in need. And with your support, we’re really excited to get this off the ground. Thanks.

>> Thank you.

 >> Now it wasn’t created by professional videographers. There was no professional voiceover and special lighting. But when you take a look at what that video did for them on Indiegogo you will see that it was quite successful. They were looking to raise about $10,000. They raised over $51,000. Now that story is a compilation of a lot of great use of video.

But before we get into breaking down exactly what they did there to give you ideas what you can do in your own videos, let’s just take a pause for a moment and think about some of the things that you need to build into that script so that your visual story is compelling and emotional.

I want to share with you something that you can use to help bring out the emotion of the people that are watching. And what this comes from is a book I read a long time ago called, “The Magic Power of Emotional Appeal.” It was written in 1960 believe it or not, but the same information that was talked about back then applies today. Because human nature really hasn’t changed. And I’d like to take you now through four ways, four things you can do in your visual story that will tug at the heartstrings of the people watching. And this is magic.

The first thing that you can do to captivate anyone’s attention and break through that preoccupation that they have when they’re thinking about normal things in life is to talk about money; making money, losing money, spending money, anything to do about money. That’s an obvious one.

 The second is self preservation, security, and safety. Obviously the video you just watched, that story talked a lot about safety and security. And just by that one emotional appeal alone, reiterated over and over throughout the visual story, kept tugging at our heartstrings. I’ve seen audiences literally be in tears at the end of that video because of the way they tug at your heartstrings using safety and security as that emotional appeal.

The third emotional appeal that you can tug at is recognition. People love recognition. They love to know that if they’re using your software or your hardware they will be recognized as leaders in their field or they will be the first ones. That’s very important.

And number four is new experience, future promise, romance. These all kind of relate to one another. So those are the four, fatal four emotional appeals as he calls them. And why does he call them fatal? Because when you use them your audience cannot defend against their use. It just happens.

Now when it comes to the visual story itself there’s so many different kinds out there. There’s no one best way to do this. But I would like to just quickly show you how you can actually do this yourself. There are tools out there. And it’s not that hard. I mean yes, if you want to make a very professional 30‑second commercial to go on TV, you need professionals. But in the case of trying to create something to compel people to contact you or to invest in you, very often you can do exactly what Anna did in the LuminAID video. It was all filmed pretty much with smart phones and basic video cameras. There was no special lighting done, no voiceovers or anything.

So here’s a couple of guidelines for creating your own videos. Number one, it should be less than three minutes. More than three minutes it is too long. People will click out of it. Now one of the most important things in a video is the sound. People will put up with low resolution pictures and a little herky‑jerky motion. But if the sound quality is not good they’re going to turn it off. So make sure that sound is of good quality and everybody can hear what you’re talking about.

And then decide whether you want to just take still photos and put them together or a bunch of video clips and put them together or a combination thereof. And then maybe you put voiceover on it afterwards, completely up to you. Sometimes voiceovers aren’t even required.

And then lastly, the last guideline is to be sure that your video story tells a story that is compelling and draws on the emotions of the people watching. It must be emotional otherwise it won’t get people to take action.

And so with that, take the time to research how using a visual story can really compel investors or customers to take action to contact you and reach out to you.

Suggested Readings

Founders School || Powerful Presentations || How to Tell Visual Stories || Impact Guide (PDF).

Wortmann, Craig. What’s Your Story? Evanston, IL: Sales Engine, Inc., 2006.

Digital storytelling with WeVideo

Visual Storytelling: The Key Weapon to Content Marketing

How to Tell a Visual Story the Hampton Way

Kauffman Founders School, Entrepreneurial Selling: What’s Your Story?, Craig Wortmann

Kauffman Founders School, Entrepreneurial Selling: The Story Matrix, Craig Wortmann

Questions for You

Where have you seen great short stories told?

Who are some of the best story tellers you know in business?

To get to your story, ask yourself, “Why did I start this business? or Why am I building this product or service?

Tools and exercises

Exercise: Have the team work together to use a simple video camera and movie editing software to create a 60-second sizzle reel for your business in two hours or less.

Assign one type of video (cartoon, whiteboard, stills with text only, video with only voice-over, and mix-and-match) to each person and have them make a storyboard using PowerPoint or Keynote.