Visual Storytelling Is More Than Pretty Slides

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 8.40.31 AM

You have a message that you want your audience to take action on. A new direction for your organization, a change in processes, a new way of doing things. Leaders, facilitators, sales people, instructional designers, presenters of all kinds face the same challenge.

Your audience may passively hear what you say and choose to ignore the call to action. They may walk away wondering what you were talking about. Or they may be on the edge of their seat, soaking in every word and leave the experience convinced that they can and will make a change. The way you communicate your ideas will make the difference.

Visual storytelling illustrates for your audience what they can do to implement your ideas. It makes your message crystal clear and leaves less room for misinterpretation. And in a world of content overload, there is still a differentiator that will stop people in their tracks: a good story.

You may use PowerPoint, Articulate Storyline, Prezi or flip charts, but visual storytelling is a set of principles that transcends an application or authoring tool. Let’s take a quick look at the four principles.

Visual storytelling starts and ends with action.

Discover the Action

Your message is for a specific audience. Spend some time describing who that audience is and what you are asking them to do. Likely, you already have a load of great content. You want to get that content out of bullet point format and display the action. What exactly are you asking the audience to do? Write it down. If you have a new direction for your company, what should employees do to implement that change? If a process is changing, what are the new steps you are asking them to take? No action, no story. No story, no action. It begins with you identifying the action you want your audience to take and ends with them taking action on your message.

Storyboard–it’s not that difficult.

Storyboarding is not a mystery. Simply take the key characters and actions from the discovery phase and place them in the first column in a table. In the second table, describe how those key elements may be repStoryboardresented, especially the action. For instance, if I ask leaders to promote a culture of coaching and mentorship by setting up a bi-weekly meeting with each of their direct reports, what are the key elements of that action? The leader, their staff and scheduling a bi-weekly meeting. How will each of these elements be represented visually? List each separately and describe how you would represent each one. How do those key elements interact with one another? In this case, The leader is sending something to the employee. As a result, a new relationship between the leader and the employee is being formed. Can you visualize what that might look like on a screen as you deliver your message? Write that down too.

Build objects–an achievable skill

Now you have a storyboard with all of the key elements andBuild Objects their relationships to one another. It’s time to build those visuals. If you are a graphic artist, no problem. For the rest of us, there’s PowerPoint. Using shapes, one can create simple flat design objects (like the ones that appear in this article) that successfully represent the key elements in the story. Look at your second column. Is the action to send an email? What would that look like? Hint: go to a search engine and type “send email icon” and peruse the images for inspiration. I don’t recommend using the image in your presentation, but you can definitely copy it, insert it into PowerPoint and use it as a template for your own creation.

Tell your story–it’s your content…supercharged

Before, your audience was reading bullet points and only halfway listening to you. Now you have the objects that can take the place of all the text on your slide so your audience can listen intently to your story while it is being reinforced visually. Speaking of which, let’s talk about the story. It’s fine to simply describe a new way of doing things using objects, but you can take it to the next level by telling a story that places relatable Tell Your Storycharacters into strong conflict. Let’s take the example from above. If you are asking leaders to schedule a bi-weekly meeting with their employees for coaching purposes, you may want to use a case study of a manager who didn’t coach her employees or introduce a fictitious story of a manager who failed to schedule the bi-weekly meeting and the negative results of that action. Following the story, you may ask the audience what the manager could have done differently. If well-told, the story will solicit responses that align with the actions you will be asking them to take throughout the presentation, which will motivate and stir your audience to make the change, because you will have mastered the steps of visual storytelling.

The steps are simple, and you can do it. It requires practice to master. You can receive deliberate practice and immediate feedback from me by registering for an online Visual Storytelling master class. You will be presenting ideas for a long time. You won’t regret the investment. Hope to see you there!

Advertisements

Why Talent Development Pros are the Best Storytellers

Jake Comic

Stories give audiences the upper hand when it comes to remembering your message. The dilemma is not that we don’t believe this, but that talent development professionals generally don’t know how to compose stories for training and communications. Story Design is the answer to this problem.

You, the TD pro

In the comic above, Jake, who is struggling to build a tricycle, represents your learner. The instructions, a step-by-step method of assembling the tricycle, represent the list of performance objectives (I call it an action list) you want your learners to be able to do after they’ve taken your training. It’s not working out so great for Jake. Somehow, the training has fallen short.

You have a specific audience, like Jake, that needs to take action on a specific set of objectives, like building a tricycle. Who is that audience and what are those actions? Instructional designers and consultants are great at getting answers to both of these questions. And that’s good, because without them, there is no character, there is no action, there is no story. Here’s what I mean:

Stories for learning have two main components: relatable characters + strong conflict.

Let’s look at both of these components of a story and what you’re already doing to make writing the story easier.

Relatable characters

Jake
Jake represents the learner

Characters in a story must give your audience reason to care. As a designer of training, you are already collecting information to create an audience profile…or you should be. The makers of the tricycle probably didn’t do a very good job figuring out who Jake was. Ask some questions of your audience, or someone who knows your audience well. Questions that reveal their:

  • Values
  • Current circumstances
  • Reactions to surroundings
  • Fears
  • Challenges
  • Favorite things to do in their spare time

Answers to these questions begin to reveal possible characters. For example, if my audience:

  • Values quality work
  • Works for a company entering a new international market
  • Enjoys stability, not variety
  • Fears losing their job to overseas
  • Struggles to adapt to change
  • Likes to hang out with their families, play baseball and go to church in their spare time

Characters start coming to mind. Perhaps a proud foreman who is embarrassed that he doesn’t understand a new process. A perfectionist operator whose quality scores are suffering because she’s challenged by a new way of doing things. The more information you have about the audience, the easier it will be to create relatable characters.

Strong conflict

If you haven’t been collecting information about who your audience is (please start doing that), it is doubtful that you have neglected the second story component: the action list.

Action list
The tricycle instructions represent the action list

What is it that stakeholders want the audience to do? Likely, you’re doing a lot better job than the tricycle company. You’ve conducted extensive interviews to find out if training is the answer. You’ve met with subject matter experts and created a detailed list of actions that must be performed to reach the goals of making a business impact. As you compose the action list:

  • Use strong, positive action verbs (Avoid Avoid…)
  • Put the actions in a logical order, such as an outline
  • Ask questions of stakeholders that unearth real stories that are happening in the workplace

You’re already do all of this, right? What you may not have realized is that you’ve just outlined the conflict for your story.

You, the storyteller

Let’s put all of this together. Below are the two components of the story. Do you see how they relate to the components of instructional design? Relatable characters come from your audience profile. The strong conflict comes from your action list.

SD FORMULA

If I were to write a story premise about the comic above and apply it to what I’d like you to do after reading this post, I’d say it was a story about a tricycle company who struggled to know who their audience was and had a hard time writing instructions in a way that their customers could make sense of their product’s assembly.

Do you see the story here? It’s a metaphor. You’re the tricycle company! And here’s what I’d like you to do:

  1. Know your audience and you’ll know who your relatable characters should be
  2. Know what you want them to do and put the characters in direct, strong conflict with those actions

If you’d like to master Story Design, sign up for a master class series at needastory.com.

Engaging Stories

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 11.24.30 AM

I’ve shown The Girl Effect video to several audiences. The reaction is always emotional. Though the goal of this video is not necessarily instruction, it is a masterpiece of storytelling. Relatable character. Strong conflict. And it is directly linked to the action it’s audience should take.

After you view the video, post your observations in the comments below. What was your response emotionally? Who is the relatable character? Why is she relatable? What is the conflict? What action is the audience supposed to take?

Watch the video again with an eye for detail. What makes this video so engaging? Take note of elements of the video that are surprising, mysterious and build curiosity. It builds credibility and breaks down an enormous problem into a small possible solution. It fits into the category of communication and marketing, but we can learn from this.

Building a Case For Stories In Learning

Story Stakeholders

The value of storytelling for training may be difficult to quantify, but if stakeholders or management balk at story design, it’s necessary for instructional designers and other learning professionals to be able to defend the position of story design with evidence. So let’s work together to gather that evidence.

Here are two articles to get the conversation started:

Why You Need To Use Storytelling For Learning, by Connie Malamud

Why Is Story Telling So Powerful In Learning, And How Can You Learn The Skills, The Training and Development World

Post your thoughts on these articles and add links to other research you’ve done or personal experiences you’ve had that build the case for stories in learning in the comments below.

Story Design Master Class Series

 

Join ATD Dallas and Rance Greene for Story Design, an engaging, online Master Class Series. In this 3-session workshop, you are equipped with the tools to discover, design and deliver stories for training and communications. In-session practice and short assignments strengthen your skills to create relatable characters in strong conflict and move your audience to action. All three sessions (May 8, 11, 15) are only $195.

Story Design Poster

The Ideal Solution

Attend this free webinar on March 23, 11-12 (CT). Register here.

How can you be sure that your solution is the aligned with the business outcome? What is the business outcome?  Furthermore, what is the root problem that is preventing the business outcome from being achieved?

There is a way to find out. When stakeholders come to you requesting training, like the characters in this video, use the PRIMED framework to ask questions that will reveal the business outcome and the root problem.

primed

For instance, when a stakeholder requests customer service training, avoid asking a question that focuses on the assumed solution, “What kind of training do you want?” Rather, ask something like, “What first brought this need to your attention?” (Initial Indicator) Help the stakeholder think about the why behind the training. “Can you tell me a story that’s happening in the call center that illustrates the need for training?” (Real Stories), or “Is there anything in the workplace that could be distracting them from giving good customer service?” (Distractions)

As you listen to their answers, look for a measurable business outcome (customer satisfaction scores, increase in sales) and the root problem (staff is so overwhelmed by paperwork that they can’t focus on giving good customer service, sales people lack business acumen). Once these are identified, take the information the stakeholder gives you and use your KSA filter to determine the ideal solution.

KSA Filter.png

If the root problem is a work environment or process issue (like staff being so overwhelmed by paperwork that they cannot deliver quality customer service), then the solution is to fix the process (repair broken systems, streamline processes, eliminate inefficiencies). Training is not the solution for these root problems. If, however, the issue lies on the right side of the filter, then the stakeholder who is asking for training is correct…training can affect the problem.

It’s important to identify what kind of training solution is needed: Knowledge, Skills or Attitudes, or a combination of these three.

Can the learner perform the desired behavior successfully if they are given a little guidance? If so, it’s probably a KNOWLEDGE solution. Often a job aid or visual guide accompanying the training will help learners change their behaviors without too much trouble.

Is it reasonable to think that learners can perform the required action without practice? If not, you’re dealing with a SKILL. Your training solution needs to include practice doing the skills learners are expected to do on the job.

Are learners asking “Why do we need to change the way we are doing this? The other way was easier!” Do they feel like their performance has no impact on the entire process? This is an ATTITUDE solution, which should explain the importance of the new actions they are being asked to do, the benefits to the learner, and an understanding of how they fit into the bigger picture.

Pump your stakeholder for answers that reveal the business outcome and root problem. Use your KSA filter. Offer them a solution that will actually work!

Making Stories Real Through Audio

 

Knowing that stories are a rock solid strategy for learning is not enough. Writing terrific stories with relateable characters in conflict is not enough either. Those stories have to be transformed into tangible delivery vehicles. In other words, the story has to actually reach the learner. Video and animation often come to mind as development options. But there is another tool that is more accessible and easier to edit: audio.

Audio relies on voice-over talent, sound effects and music.There are audio editing tools available that are fairly easy to master, including Audacity, which is a free (and robust) audio editing tool. When I was asked to speak at ATD Dallas’ Technology Special Interest Group about creating audio tracks, I decided to do an experiment.

I wrote a script for a short 25 second story followed by a 35 second monologue. During the session, I cast the characters from the participants in the session, coached them, recorded them and edited the audio on the spot. I added musical underscore and exported the audio as an MP3. All in less than an hour. We had time to talk about equipment and some other tricks of the audio trade as well. I ended the session with a discussion on what we could do with that MP3. How do we get this story to learner? I got some great responses:

  • Publish as a podcast
  • Pair with animated characters
  • Upload the audio to Captivate and play it across slides with related content
  • Play the audio as is for a live or virtual audience

As an example, I created the short PowerPoint above that matched the content of the audio. Simple visuals that are synced to the audio. So if you’ve decided to make story the centerpiece of your training, or even a small part of it, consider audio and its endless possibilities.

“I Don’t Have Time To Storyboard!”

Storyboard house 1

This guy is really happy with his new home. He hired an architect, who designed it just as he envisioned. Apparently, this dude likes symmetry.

Storyboard house 2

His neighbor is not so happy. The builders just showed up and started building. The builders have a lot of re-work to do.

When a homeowner decides to build, they hire an architect, who designs something according to their wishes. The architect passes that design on to the contractor, who hires subcontractors. The house is built according to design and the homeowner is happy.

Similarly, the stakeholder in a training intervention hires an instructional designer to design a course according to their specifications. The instructional designer passes their design to the developer and the support team to create the course accordingly. The stakeholder is happy and the learning intervention is successful.

Storyboard Compare 2
Thanks to Kevin Thorn of Nuggethead Studioz for the house / course analogy.

What do the architect and the instructional designer have in common? The architect produces a blueprint. Likewise, the instructional designer creates a STORYBOARD!

The storyboard is like a blueprint for course-building. Without it, the stakeholder does not have a clear picture of what the final will look like and the likelihood of changes in the development phase increases.

A storyboard helps the designer spot problems before development begins and decreases the likelihood of an irate stakeholder who is asking you to rebuild their house.

Yet even with all of the benefits of storyboarding, few instructional designers actually do it. “I’m the designer and the developer.” “I don’t really know how.” And, of course, “I don’t have time.”

Storyboarding is a skill–a fairly simple one–that, if mastered, will save you a load of time. And it really doesn’t take that long to create a storyboard. Even if you are a one-person training department, resist the urge to put on your developer hat before the design is complete. It will save you countless hours of needless work.

I’ll share more on storyboarding techniques, but I’d like to hear some of your best practices, or frustrations, with storyboarding. Let me know in the comments!

 

Define: Micro learning

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 3.25.09 PM

Touted as the learning mode for Millennials, micro learning is all the rage. It is often packaged as a series of videos, 3-10 minutes in length, that learners can consume at their discretion. Most companies who produce micro learning bill their products as the solution to the problem that humans, especially young people, have an attention span of 90 seconds.

But don’t be fooled by this limiting view.

Micro learning is learning in short segments. Plain and simple.

It’s a fantastic way of learning and it can take any form: podcast, poster (like the picture above), job aid, live interaction, virtual session, song, jingle, meme, text and, of course, video (see the video for the above poster here and brush up your parallax knowledge–you’ll really learn something–and it’s kind of funny).

Concerning our attention span, if we start seeing a mass exodus of millennials from movie cinemas after the previews, we should start worrying. Otherwise, we should be careful that our design solutions aren’t boring the audience. Rather, our designs should reflect the real needs of our learners and speak to them in a personal way, like we know them. Click here to read more on how to get to know your learners.

Set yourself free from the narrow definitions of micro learning and start using it in wonderfully creative ways that meet your learners’ needs.

 

Define: ENGAGE

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 7.03.39 PM

ENGAGE: Possibly the most ubiquitous word in marketing, learning and development and training circles. Recently, I was speaking to the Girl Scouts Volunteer Empowerment team in Dallas on the topic of connecting stories to engagement. I wanted to bring more clarity to this often-used term.

After watching The Girl Effect video together, we identified the elements of the story that we felt were “engaging”–and there were many–watch the video for yourself and try doing the same (you’ll be writing for a long time).  Then we compared our descriptions with thesaurus synonyms:

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 7.04.16 PM

Suddenly, the word “engage” took on a new, more powerful meaning. It’s all about strong actions now. Grip! Capture! Arrest! So, when we say that training and communications must be engaging, remember what we’re aiming for: a call to strong action!