Creating a Visual Story

10 min read

Why Create a Visual Story?

Storytelling is one thing that basically transcends almost all cultures on this planet. Regardless of culture, time or location, knowledge has been transferred through storytelling. Now, you might be picturing a tribal community sitting around a fire sharing stories, but even right here and now, we get all of our news through storytelling. Before the comforts of modern technology, storytelling was the only technology for sharing knowledge.

Of course, the modalities of storytelling have become more advanced because we have more channels through which to communicate, like television and the internet. All of that aside, when you get down to the bare bones – it’s all stories. Whether it be in print, or through word of mouth, the more visual the story is, the better it is. Storytelling is so powerful that it has created multi-billion dollar industries, with Hollywood as just one example.

I believe that the reason storytelling has survived since the dawn of man is simply because our brains are hardwired to store most of our memories and knowledge in the form of images.

What really speaks to this notion for me is the fact that when a memory is triggered by some external sensory impulse, it is rare that we see a word flash across our brain. Instead, we see images. When you smell chicken soup that smells just like the kind your mother used to make, you are likely to see yourself in your childhood home, at the table with your mother. When you hear a certain song, you may be brought back to a certain moment in time. You may hear this song and images of that crazy freshman year of college flow freely through your brain like a movie.

In fact, almost 50% of the human brain is involved in visual processing. Read more here: 13 Reasons. This might be why so many of our memories are recollected as images and not words. We do not read our memories, we see them, smell them, hear them and feel them. If you ask anyone where they were when 9/11 happened, most people will tell a very visual story because it’s those images that have stayed with them and because people simply enjoy sharing stories. It is rare that someone would just say “Oh, I was in class during 9/11.” Instead, they would say, “I was in a college course in which the classroom window had a perfect view of the towers. When I arrived, there was a TV in the room, which meant only one thing: nap time. The typical pre-class chatter abounded, this time about one of the towers smoking, and we reached a consensus that there must be a fire. The professor came in, shrugged off the alleged fire and closed the shades so he could put on the movie. We didn’t know it, but when class ended and those shades went up, our world would never be the same. This is the story you would hear.” These are the types of stories that stick with us and get passed along.

Visual stories like the one above make it much easier for people to remember compared to abstract facts. People will be more likely to remember you if they can reconstruct your story in their mind. The first place to fail here is to not have a story at all.

There are two reasons that visual storytelling is very powerful. The first is that stories which create images are sticky. When it comes to business relationships, you want people to remember you in such a way that they think of you when they come across an opportunity that they know you would absolutely love to hear about. Telling stories helps you stick in the minds of people. Storytelling can also be a powerful means of educating people about the types of opportunities that you are interested in.  Your goal should be to create images in their brains that are far more likely to stick than simple, abstract descriptors, like “She is very motivated”.

When you use an abstract descriptor like “motivated”, you are begging the question, “Motivated to do what? Scale a mountain? Win a pie eating contest?” Words that beg similar questions are your typical resume fare like “strong work ethic”, “committed”, and “problem solver”. The bottom line is, the person who is reading your headline probably doesn’t know you. Those are just empty words made to become claims with no proof behind them.

In contrast, visual words create an image. The bottom line is that using resume clichés like “I am hard-working” won’t get you very far.  You want to create a movie in the reader’s mind that will stick with them. By telling a story like, “One of the moments I counter-intuitively enjoy most is walking home from the office in the quiet stillness of 3 in the morning, after being heads down all day, excavating myself out from under all of the final tasks necessary to complete a client project just in time for them to use it. Although I was exhausted, I was simultaneously invigorated and overjoyed by the fact that at the end of the day, I got it done and made our client happy.” A story like this will prove to a potential employer that you are hardworking without ever having to use the words.

You can make your story much more visual through the use of analogies. Analogies are extremely powerful in evoking imagery. Some examples of how analogies can make your storytelling more visual are:

  • “He is a rock.” implies that he is someone that is strong and can be relied on.
  • “I felt like a fish out of water” implies that you felt out of place.
  • “Our icy relationship began to thaw” implies that a relationship has improved.
  • “We are on a slippery slope” implies that a sequence of events is headed in the wrong direction.
  • “A pen is her weapon of choice” implies that she is a great writer.

The Best Part About Stories is Sharing Them

The second reason that stories are so powerful is because humans simply enjoy sharing stories. Think about it. This is why social media has become so popular, to the point where it’s a perilous addiction for some. The popularity of social media has only proven that as a culture, we are addicted to staying current with each other’s stories, the sharing of those stories and adding our input to those stories.

For that reason, one of your goals should be to empower the people around you to want to share your story. No one is going to want to share a bland story. In fact, if your story is bland, sorry to say it, but the odds are that no one will even remember it. They will be more likely to enjoy sharing a visual story as opposed to bland facts. You will be far more likely to share a story about someone who made $1 million in a year by focusing on helping others, than you would if the very same story was phrased in an abstract way, such as “He was able to become very successful in one year because he is good at what he does.” If you can come up with a great visual story, it creates a domino effect: you’ll get mentioned more often simply because it’s fun to mention you; being mentioned often results in more opportunities coming to your doorstep. Great visual stories will allow your network to help you become more successful

Sold? Now that we’ve covered the why, lets move onto the how.

The Art of Storytelling

A visual story is something that evokes an image or a series of images. It’s created using words that possess a certain honesty and vulnerability which describe feelings and pivotal moments in time that changed you forever.

An abstract story would sound something like this: “I have been very passionate about video game development from a young age.” While this gets the point across, you’re not getting the reader’s visual cortex firing.

A much better way to tell the very same story would be:

I was 12 years old, sitting in my room playing Call of Duty, loving every second of it. I started to get hungry and wandered out to the kitchen for a snack. On the TV, I saw a commercial for a video game graphic design course. I stopped dead in my tracks. Before that moment, I had never even thought of this possibility. From that moment on, I knew what I had to do. I enrolled in a program to allow me to be that guy who makes those amazing games. Here I am today, ready to do just that.

Stop now and ask yourself what that second story did for you.

You could probably see his story: you can see the boy in his room playing video games, it is a dark room, you can see him walk past a TV, see him stop, eyes widening at the idea of a potential dream come true, forgetting all about his snack. The point is, you can see, understand and resonate with his “A-ha” moment. You probably have a few similar ones of your own. The first example was unlikely to get your neurons firing in the same way the visual story did.

The fatal error in the first story is that abstract concepts or descriptors like “I am passionate” will be quickly overlooked because it’s an empty claim and unproven. The images are what cause the reader’s brain to scream out those qualities you’re trying to get across.

Your goal should be to tell your story. A visual example of an essential, pivotal, life-changing moment that in the way it is being told infers the standard resume fare of “hard-working”, “detail oriented” and “motivated” without ever having to say those words. The reason this inference is so important is because when somebody infers something, they own it, they believe it, because they constructed it in their own mind. There is absolutely nothing more powerful than if a person thinks that they were the one who came up with the idea that you are passionate and motivated. Most importantly, they will want to share it.

Work It Out

It may seem daunting, you may think your story is boring, you may not be the “creative type”. Fear not, there are four steps that you can take in creating your story.

  1. Come up with a bullet point list of the abstract type of strengths that you have that you want to show off to the world, such as dedicated, motivated, intellectually stimulating, etc., that you would typically find on a resume.
  2. Think about events or scenarios that were able to illustrate those attributes about you. Specifically, try to come up with some moments that were unique, pivotal or simply powerful. Write these examples as sub-bullets as they pertain to each attribute.
  3. Try to tell a very visual story for each one in a very brief paragraph, not more than 3-5 lines. If you need some help here, you can try out The Visual Thesaurus.
  4. Tell the story to someone who knows you well and afterwards, ask them, “What did that story make you think of me in terms of who I am?” If that story works, it should circle back to one of the original attributes from your list.
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