My five principles of video storytelling


It’s like a rollercoaster – I always used to tell my students that, as storytellers, they are taking their audience on a rollercoaster ride. It starts with the anticipation of wondering what the ride will be like, and after a brief introduction, things usually get pretty exciting. But maintaining that throughout would be exhausting for the audience, so it’s important to have some more restful moments as well. And then perhaps once people start to feel more comfortable, a surprise or a momentary diversion. The key thing here is a variety of pace, and a balance of tension with relaxation.

Importance of meaningfulness – stories have an impact on us because we find them personally meaningful, i.e. they resonate in some way with our own experiences, values and beliefs.  Stories that centre around some kind of ‘struggle’ are more likely to engage an audience, who become encouraged to part of the struggle and an active participant in the story. By drawing out universal themes such as courage, hope and determination, the story will appeal to the broadest possible audience.

Feelings first – I once heard somebody say, “people don’t remember what you say, they remember how you made them feel”. This is certainly true of storytelling. While content in terms of facts and information are important, they’re far more likely to be absorbed if presented from a human angle.  I call it the “so what?” test – as storytellers, we need to ask this question in order to understand why the audience will, or should, care.  If possible, find contributors who can provide a first-hand experience account of the topic rather than a broad, impersonal perspective.

Entertainment plus content – the most successful stories have a mixture of entertainment value and content worthiness.  These two aspects aren’t contradictory, nor is their co-existence an antagonistic one.  Remember: there are far too many videos with highly worthy content presented in a boring way, but equally there are too many videos with great entertainment value but devoid of content.  Make yours entertaining and worthy and you’ve got a winner.

Leave us asking questions – as with any good story, there needs to be a resolution at the end. Usually, this is linked to back to the initial purpose, or question posed at the start of the story. However, it’s also important to leave the audience in an ‘active state’, so that they continue to engage with the material in their own mind, and in their own way – whether that be intellectually or emotionally. The more they ‘work’, the greater the impact your video will have.