Visual Storytelling: What Must You Know?
A visual story resonates–with everyone. Visual refers to any picture, photo, chart, diagram, table, graph or chart. Visuals may be done on the spot as in hand-drawn pictures on flipcharts, napkins and whiteboards. Or visuals may be pre-designed as in graphically designed slides, photographs, or animations. Visuals may be static as in product boards or prototypes; or moving images in videos, animation on websites and videos in virtual presentations.
While each type of image has unique benefits, the SMART Compass helps you make wise decisions about what visuals will work best for each presentation.
Using the SMART Compass, refine your visual message.
Are your visuals specifically appealing to your audience? Are the colors, examples and images matched to fit the culture, education and industry group you are addressing?
Careful attention requires identifying assumptions and considering the appropriateness of images for each audience.
Do you have a way to measure effectiveness of visuals in real-time? Do you have a 'Plan B' if the visuals do not instantly connect with your audience? For a flexible approach, blend slides, whiteboard sketches and video for high-impact presenting.
Do the images encourage your audience to think, solve problems and discuss action-oriented solutions and strategies? Do the images inspire precise action steps?
Are the visuals conveying a positive message to your audience? Are pictures encouraging open-minded thinking and using available resources?
Even if you are working on a shoestring budget, draw, sketch and use visuals with the tools at hand. This kind of grass-roots approach sends a direct message to your audience, encouraging them towards resourceful thinking.
Are the visuals current, fresh and up-to-date? Are you speaking in a visual language that reflects current market norms, trends and standards? Give the audience new images and avoid using stock images they have already seen.
Next, refine your message with a persuasive story.
Every story, whether complex or simple, can be divided into 3 parts. Beginning. Middle. End.
Each part performs a vital role, building a cohesive whole.
The beginning must build instant emotional connection. This is often called, "AHA."
The middle deepens the message. Facts, linkages, personal examples and anecdotes deepen the initial connection to build meaning and understanding with the audience. Think of this as the time when your audience gets the point. They are saying, "I get it. I see what you mean!"
The end is all about action. What must the audience do as a result of hearing and seeing the story? Now, your audience is saying, "What should I do next?"
Aha! I get it! What's next?
Using the SMART Compass, examine your story closely.
Are you telling and showing specific examples, facts and anecdotes that resonate with your audience? Have you started with a generic story and adapted it to fit with individuals who are in the room? Are you speaking a language your audience truly understands?
The secret of story success lies in customizing stories for precise fit with each audience.
Does your story have measures, numbers and relevant examples? Many audiences are looking for facts, figures and bold statistics to make their decisions. Especially when talking with financial experts and senior decision-makers, include precise facts and memorable statistics.
What is your call to action? Is it specific and easy for your audience to do?
Are you providing resources for your audience to learn more in making an educated choice or purchase decision? Not everyone is 'ready to jump' immediately. Are you providing resources for education, information and consultation?
Is your story linked to current events, news and top-of-mind issues? Focus on immediate concerns and issues.
Next, find out how to engage and involve your audience.
Is the concept of interaction new? Not really. In many ways, visual storytelling relies on audience participation to build true buy-in. While the exact methods of interaction vary, it may include: Q & A, problem solving, idea sharing, proposals, brainstorming, collaboration, activities, experimentation, facilitation, evaluation and voting.
Are you providing specific instructions and specific times for interaction? Do people in your audience know exactly how to engage in dialogue before, during and after your presentation?
Are you encouraging and facilitating interaction? For onsite presentations, encourage full-group interaction as well as round table conversations, partner and triad interactions. These sub groups can 'report out' findings to the full group.
For online presentations, use instant messaging and a 'show of hands' to track and measure participation. Open up discussion or simulate interaction with interviews and peer dialogue.
Are you focusing interaction on targeted actions? Some presenters are uncomfortable with group interaction due to risks of getting off-track. To counter this guide with questions to maintain focus and help participants stay engaged.
In face-to-face presentations, interaction is a natural and effective element. But what if you aren't in the room? In video and virtual presentations, be resourceful. Use examples of interaction, share stories of interaction, and show pictures to simulate interaction. By asking the question: "how can I encourage interaction?" you will find new answers for every medium.
Are you managing time for interaction and questions? Many presenters dread questions. They fear the question will lead them off track and off message. What's the best alternative? Give brief and concise answers. Field questions and re-focus answers to funnel towards the main topic.
The final part of the journey is 'where the rubber meets the road.' Find out how to make sure your message is truly reaching your audience.
Verification, testing, measurement. Are you getting the results you want? This is the quadrant people love–or hate.
Many presenters wait until after the presentation, video or event to evaluate and verify. Why? It's safer. But this is not necessary. It is possible and a good idea to verify results during your presentation. This helps you adjust as needed during the delivery process.
Are people responding to your examples, visuals and story? Do you need to adjust your language to match specific decision-makers or requirements?
Are you verifying a distinct set of issues? Define a handful of objectives per presentation. This precise focus will give you important information to evaluate.
Are you noticing audience verification? Look at your audience and track body language signs and signals. Do you see head nods, eye contact, smiles and note taking? These strong signals show that people are paying attention.
Are you inviting people to take action throughout your presentation? This may include asking for a show of hands, inviting applause or requesting feedback during delivery. Are you taking 'pulse-checks' on interest by encouraging questions and inviting open conversation?
Are you using tools and skills to encourage verification during your presentation? This includes pop quizzes, exercises, partner activities, and audience story-telling to build active verification of involvement.
Are you managing time to allow for ample verification in your presentation? This may include planning time for Q&A, evaluations, and informal conversation with participants.
Whether you are telling visual stories in person, on video or online, now it's time to put all these pieces together.