7 Tips to Improve Your Visual Storytelling

Visual Storytelling Case Study

 “We tend to find that the ‘story’ is the key link between most of our clients, irrespective of their discipline,” says Kieron Molloy of Conran Design Group.  Story is a human coding language.  And visuals are a key element of storytelling. 

As the business world commits more energy to visual storytelling, your company needs more than ever to master the approach. 

How can you improve your visual storytelling practices to truly stand out to your clients and stakeholders?

Here are seven tips to improve visual storytelling that we have seen work with our clients over the years.

Tip 1: Be Authentic 

First, are you being authentic? Modern audiences consume a colossal amount of video and other media. They can spot fake, manufactured or overtly branded or sponsored content a mile away. That certainly doesn’t mean you should hide your intentions when using visual storytelling to promote your brand or product(s). You can’t promote something without mentioning it, after all, and dishonesty can be as repellent as inauthenticity to viewers.

So be honest about the kind of story you’re telling, and add some personality. There’s nothing that signals authenticity better than a human touch, so make your visual storytelling personal and appealing. Use images that reflect your sense of humor. Make your story relatable. Show that you care about your audience’s concerns and interests.  

Tip 2: Know Your Audience

Audience understanding is key to the goal of improving your visual storytelling with the viewers’ cares and concerns in mind. If you know nothing about your audience’s preferences and lifestyle, you can’t appeal to their interests. Do your research. Know your audience well enough to use visuals that you know will be seen as authentic and sincere.  

Tip 3: Borrow from the Visual Language of Cinema

Mark Christiansen suggests using some of the language of cinema to enhance your visual storytelling.  Center your story on a protagonist, and choose the right image to represent them.  This is who your viewer will connect with, even if they’re more of a concept than a human character.  

An idea like “environmental stewardship” could be the protagonist of your visual story.  Just make sure the image communicates this clearly, and consider adding a little anthropomorphism to create an emotional connection.

Tip 4: Show, Don’t Tell

You might have some great images in your visual story, but are they doing enough to support and drive the script?  

Watch out for periods where images stagnate and audio dominates. If you find yourself staring at a static image for too long during a period of heavy narration, consider a rewrite and a new image strategy. Let the drawings do the explaining, and take some extraneous language out of your script.

Tanja Trkulja offers some advice on gathering perspective: examine your visual storytelling from your audience’s point of view. The concerns you have in crafting your visual story will be different from your audience’s reasons for watching it. So take a look at your content through their eyes.  It’ll show more than you might expect.  

For example, you or a colleague might have insisted on including a company logo or image that appears frequently inside your business. Watching it from the perspective of a non-employee will tell you if your audience will care about it, or even know what it is. If they won’t know or care about the image, it won’t help your visual story. Replace it with something relevant to your message and audience.

Tip 5: Choose Images that Connect with Your Audience

Now, think about what an image can do for an audience.  It refers to a real-life thing or idea, it stirs memory, it might arouse emotion—and it might trigger a sensory reaction. Images that are linked to the senses can be extremely effective in maintaining viewer engagement.  

An image of an orange grove, say, lets the viewer smell the orange trees as well as see them, and maybe even hear a breeze whisper through their leaves. It’s a pleasant sensation, and it focuses viewer attention. Imagine how much less engagement one would get by simply showing the logo of a company that owned an orange grove.

Tip 6: Don’t Be Too Direct in Self-Promotion

Opting for an orange company’s logo instead of an orange grove creates another issue: audiences tend to stop listening to stories that have shifted from narrative to selling.  

Your video probably can’t avoid its branding or message entirely, so how do you approach this situation of story vs. promotion?  For one, give your audience a truly good story.  Take time to write the script and choose the images that will drive the most engagement—make them surprising, novel, and exciting.  Tell a great story, and you’ll have a little more leeway when your company or product needs to show up directly.

Another good way to work around audiences’ distrust of direct address is to keep your script and images subtle in their handling of your branding and products.  In other words, since the audience often dislikes the direct approach, be indirect.  You can maintain an audience’s interest in your story if the image or element that represents your company isn’t overtly branded.  

You won’t be tricking them, even if you want to—always remember that your audience is at least as smart as you—but they’ll allow your product’s presence as long as its inclusion is subtle and non-disruptive to the story.  And when being direct is unavoidable, try to do it at the conclusion of the story.  Your audience will have experienced the whole visual narrative, and won’t be as inclined to see branding as intrusive or unwelcome.

Tip 7: Quickly and Consistently Provide Engaging Visuals

Another great way to improve your visual storytelling is to focus on quickly and consistently providing engaging visuals.  The brain decides in half a second if a visual is worth more time.  Don’t use visuals that won’t appeal to your audience, don’t introduce them slowly, and don’t skimp.  

Choose your images with the best possible chance to pass your brain’s half-second hurdle with approval, and keep them coming, so that the ones that don’t “land” with your audience are quickly replaced with ones that do.

How do you best get the brain to “approve” of an image in that short amount of time?  See the above commentary on sensory images, authenticity, and audience perspective for some clues.  Surprise is also a great way to convince the brain to stick with an image.  

We focus on the principle of Surprise as one of the core concepts of TruScribe’s guiding philosophy of Scribology, and we know that it also stimulates the brain’s production of dopamine.  Dopamine not only makes the brain curious, it makes it remain curious—meaning it secures attention not only to the surprising image, but cues the brain to anticipate for the next.

  • Be authentic.
  • Borrow from the visual language of cinema.
  • Show, don’t tell.
  • See your story from your audience’s perspective.
  • Choose images with sensory import.
  • Don’t be too direct in self-promotion.
  • And remember that the brain decides quickly whether it’s interested in your image or not.

These tips will help you improve your visual storytelling and really connect with your audience.

Are you telling the best visual story you can be, or are you missing potential advantages of the medium?  Incorporate these recommendations, and strengthen your communication through visual storytelling.