Unlocking the Power of Visual Storytelling
I was recently at an event where I was fascinated to listen to a neuroscientist discussing how our brains react to stories. We react differently to stories compared to words presented in documents like reports, business cases, vision and mission statements which do not contain the storytelling element. She explained that ‘words alone’ activate certain analytical parts of the brain where we want to agree or disagree and crucially, where we want to instinctively make a judgment on what is said. We want to say if it’s wrong or right.
Stories, however, activate a different more compassionate part of our brain. A much less confrontational part. Stories when told well, are powerful tools to create deeper emotional long-lasting connections that we don’t feel the need to automatically challenge. As we spend around a third of our lives in daydreams and fantasies, we’re always on the look-out for more stories. Unlike business reports, we love stories and accept them more readily.
These strong emotional connections that stories elicit provide business transformation professionals with an excellent tool to get people bought in to change. One particular tool of storytelling I find very powerful is the use of visual storytelling.
What is visual storytelling
Visual storytelling is an approach that uses pictures to tell a story. It’s highly effective in capturing people’s attention, and it’s starting to be used more for business communications in the place of traditional wordy approaches.
Visual Storytelling is a useful tool for change work. Working as a team to build a picture of the target outcome and thinking visually about they will get there, really brings people together and works through what the target outcome is.
The images are intended to not just communicate details on how I work but to exist as an indication of my style, brand, values and the human tone of voice I apply to change. All conveyed quickly in a snapshot moment.
Further examples of this approach are visual note-taking. This site www.morethanminutes.co.uk has some examples of how meeting minutes can take on a much engaging approach.
Another use of visual storytelling is the use of visual CVs. See this link for some examples. Although most recruiters would struggle at scale with this approach, at a more personal relationship level, their impact is impressive.
Six advantages of using visual storytelling
Workplaces may traditionally prefer the use of ‘professional and serious’ forms of formal communications. But workforces have also traditionally been less human and had a much more arm’s length relationship with their employees. Today we’re seeing that relationship change to be much more personal and as such, there is a lot to be said in favour of applying an image centered approach to employee communications. Here are some good reasons why to use it.
- The world is all about pictures
In a digital world where images drive social media, we’ve become used to messages being delivered in a more visual style. People communicate through pictures and are very quick in filtering them. They do not have time to read a long manifesto that can’t immediately grab their attention. Plus with so much communications being channeled through our mobile phone, we just have a smaller frame to look at and we need communication methods that lend themselves to a five-inch screen.
- Pictures connect on an emotional human level
Turning a business transformation programme into a visual story is a smart way to promote an organisational change. It’s easier to create a connection than it is with words. It gets people to buy in emotionally to the change and if pitched right triggers specific emotional responses as there is space for the reader to connect their own stories to your images. It’s a less formal tone of voice and builds a more human connection
- Processing speed is faster
Although it is often quoted that our brain processes images 60,000 times faster than words there is no actual evidence that can be found to support that. This figure originated from a 1982 Business Week article and isn’t backed by any actual evidence. That being said we can all support that although it may not be 60,000 times faster, there is definitely a faster processing speed of images over words. Which is a definite advantage in this time of limited attention from users.
- All on one page
With a picture, you can fit a lot on one page but it doesn’t overload. You don’t have to wait until you have ‘time to read it.’
- Even the production process is good
Using a picture instead of words provides a tool for discussion and clarification, the construction process a very active, co-creation activity which in itself, increases ownership and works through meaning collectively.
- It’s just more interesting
Tips on telling the story
It takes skill, research and testing to get the story right with the right emotional levels. But the effort is worth it in exchange for the ability to quickly promote values & brand as well as the core transformational message. Here are some tips on how to tell a change story.
- Tell the right story
This usually means using the voice, experiences and metaphorical references of your target audience. When thinking how to approach your storytelling, look for user-generated content to find out what your audience will connect with. Look at which employee blogs are popular or look at work-related social forums/channels to connect with the reference language and social markers of the target audience. See what images will create positive connections and what won’t. Be wary of emotional triggers or tone of voice (management doing nanny state storytelling) that can produce the wrong reaction.
- Be interesting and unique
You want to tell a visual story that is interesting and so compelling you grab employees’ attention and stop people drifting off or checking their emails. Visuals can do this and fill their whole attention span if done right. Part of this with visuals is looking different and not part of the wallpaper. You want to stand out, and this can be achieved through size, style, and location. Make them look twice in a way words alone will struggle with.
- Test it
You must test your story and re-iterate it based on feedback as you won’t get it right the first time.
Squeeze every penny out of it
Once you have a visual story, you have an asset you can work hard. Now is your chance to build a rather exciting and very different type of communications plan. Just as you repeat straplines and keywords, you will soon have a powerful visual that you can repeat to embed your messaging. Here are some interesting places to put your image…
- Reception areas, massive ‘you can’t miss it’ banners in atriums and lift
- Screensavers – looks fabulous when all screens carousel through a number of messages
- Back of toilet doors – captive audience
- Anywhere that triggers the behaviour – meeting rooms for meeting room behaviours
- Work into team meetings as conversation starters.
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Photo credit: @joeshillington, Unsplash