10 Best Techniques for Engaging and Captivating Visual Storytelling

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Stories can move mountains. And in a world where some of the top-earning public personalities are content creators, there's a lot more competition to make one's content more engaging.

To beat the competition, you can use the following techniques for engaging and captivating visual storytelling:

  1. Show, don't tell

  2. Leverage curiosity

  3. Use visual metaphors

  4. Add "page-turners"

  5. Prioritize case studies over data

  6. Include arcs in your script

  7. Engage the senses with your speech

  8. Use cutscenes or animation

  9. Embody multiple emotions

  10. Pull them into the story

This post dives deeper into each one of these tips and includes examples alongside specific usage suggestions for content creators, marketers, video essayists, and educators.

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Content Creator Hack: The Not-So-Obvious Benefit Of Visual Storytelling

Before we dive deep into the aspects that can make your content visually engaging and your stories more captivating, you should know why putting in the work is worth the effort. With the tips below, you'll raise the value of each second of your content. You can then use ContentFries to repurpose your videos into audio podcasts and TikTok clips, among other formats.

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Show, Don't Tell

The first rule of storytelling for films, TV, and even print media is to show plot movements instead of telling them via exposition. Consider the following options for a sentence in a novel.

  • Option A - James stole the apple.

  • Option B - James looked around, making sure he was alone before he grabbed the apple and stuck it under his jacket.

Option A might work in some contexts, but a novel filled with sentences like it would be too boring. Showing instead of telling is a choice. It isn't the easier of two choices, but it is easy to catch when cleaning up one's first draft.

Print authors are quite conscious of how "boring" their medium is. That's why they optimize their language to be more visual. Ironically, the visual medium is so easy to engage with that it incentivizes creators to be lazy with their visual language.

You could make an entire video with phrases similar to "Jimmy stole an apple" and get away with it. But that doesn't mean you cannot improve your engagement rate with visual language.

How to use this technique in your content:

  • For talking heads and educators - Rewrite your scripts to include descriptive language around actions and advice.

  • For video essayists - Add a "tell to show" editing phase to your workflow where you can rewrite the "telling" portions of your script to be more descriptive.

  • For general content creators - Film and overlay action that implies things instead of outright saying them.

  • For marketers - Do not be on the nose regarding how good your product is. Show the difference it can make.

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Pace The Narrative Properly

Visual storytelling requires one to be engaged enough to follow along and consume or picture the visuals. Never make your content too convoluted just to be more visual. You could take "show, don't tell" too far. For instance, the following passage tries to show Jimmy stealing an apple in detail.

James looked around. His eyes shifted from side to side three times before he opened his hand. Each finger unwrapped until his fist was an open palm. The palm was turned down as it moved ahead toward the apple. The apple didn't move, but Jimmy's hand did. He grabbed the apple.

Despite showing the action in more detail than the previous iterations, this passage isn't a good example of visual storytelling. And the primary reason for that is the story stopping to accommodate visuals. Captivating content is visual, but the visual aspect never gets in the way of the narrative.

How to use this technique in your content:

  • For talking heads and educators - Omit unnecessary details and be more to the point

  • For video essayists - Remove fluff from your script

  • For general content creators - Add a "tightening phase" to your script editing process.

  • For marketers - Do not dive too deep into the technical specs of your product.

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Use Visual Metaphors

Humans are quite imaginative. They can vaguely visualize abstract concepts and states like "happy" and "devastated." But to turn said imagination into a vision, you have to get more specific. Visual metaphors can act as guidelines that help the viewer, reader, or listener picture the action.

Consider the following sentences:

  • Option A - She was angry with him.

  • Option B - The vein on her forehead swelled to the size of a straw as she clenched her teeth tighter than her fist.

The second option shows instead of telling her emotions to the reader. More importantly, it uses metaphors to convey the visuals.

How to use this technique in your content:

  • For talking heads and educators - Practice thinking in metaphors

  • For video essayists - Include a B-roll of the metaphors in your script.

  • For general content creators - Exaggerate your metaphors for humor or pick somber ones for serious moments.

  • For marketers - Narrow down the metaphors that resonate with your target audience and use them more often.

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Add "Page Turners" / Leverage Curiosity

One of the quickest ways to make your content more engaging is to add the element of curiosity to it. As mentioned earlier, writers have a high burden of entertainment because of the relatively boring nature of print media. They often use page-turners to keep their readers hooked.

An average page-turner is a curiosity-inspiring sentence that closes out a page, forcing the reader to continue reading. You can add similar curiosity-inducing moments in your videos to improve engagement. Most content creators consider the initial hook quite seriously. However, they don't include enough hooks throughout their content.

Consider the following options:

  • Option A - The next best-paid celebrity is Brad Pitt, with an estimated net worth of $400 million.

  • Option B - The next best-paid celebrity isn't allowed to enter China because of a movie he did. It's Brad Pitt, who is worth $400 million but can't buy a $700 ticket to China, thanks to his role in the 1997 film Seven Years in Tibet.

Most Top 10 list videos on Youtube have content similar to option A—they outright mention the option and then elaborate on it. The audience is somewhat hooked because of their curiosity about the next item. The second option stacks curiosity in a way that makes skipping forward impossible.

Firstly, you want to know who the next best-paid celebrity is. But then, another piece of information is introduced: they're banned from entering China because of a movie they did. You have another reason to follow the presenter.

As soon as the name "Brad Pitt" is revealed, you don't detach from the content because you don't know what film earned him the ban. The last words of that segment reveal the movie, opening up the script for the next item's hook.

How to use this technique in your content:

  • For talking heads and educators - Create questions as you give answers.

  • For video essayists - Turn the section headings in your video into questions.

  • For general content creators - Create non-intrusive hooks for every minute of your content.

  • For marketers - Make the audience ask, "How will this tie into this brand?"

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Prioritize Case Studies Over Data

We have all faced this dilemma from school days: information is important, but it is boring. Case studies can help embed data into an easily digestible narrative. One of the first case studies we're exposed to is the Little Red Riding Hood.

The information within the story is that talking to strangers and giving them your address is quite dangerous. You can use case studies and stories as vehicles for the data that you want to convey.

Consider the following options:

  • Option A - You need to run split tests before you can scale up your ads.

  • Option B - Jimmy ran a thousand dollars worth of ads before he realized that the CTA link was broken!

The latter is a case study despite not being a classic Harvard Business Review-style academic-tier roundup. And it is more engaging than the data alone.

How to use this technique in your content:

  • For talking heads and educators - Master two-sentence case studies.

  • For video essayists - Do not make a point without a short narrative to back it up.

  • For general content creators - Use two-sentence case studies.

  • For marketers - Make the stories about the audience/buyer and not the product.

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Include Arcs In Your Script

If a viewer isn't changed after having seen your video, then your video will not be shared. The goal of your video shouldn't be to be viewed. It should be to impact the life of the person watching. This could be as deep as changing his worldview or as shallow as making him laugh after a tough day.

Either way, it should make an impact. The best way to leave an impression on someone is to take him on a journey. When there is an arc in your script, the viewer has a clear path to follow. And once your audience is on a path, skipping becomes less valuable.

Consider the following options:

  • Option A - James is a billionaire. He says that you should not save cash.

  • Option B - James wasn't always a billionaire. He started out as a middle-class man who used to save money in cash. But then he changed one thing that helped him become a millionaire first and then a billionaire.

As you can see, the first version is shorter, but the second one is more effective. Conventional advice would have you believe that the latter's length would make it less engaging. But because it creates an arc of middle-class-to-billionaire, it is more interesting to follow along.

How to use this technique in your content:

  • For talking heads and educators - Position the main lesson as the McGuffin that fixed the protagonist's problem. You can be that protagonist.

  • For video essayists - Write your content conclusion to contrast the opening.

  • For general content creators - Don't make any story pointless.

  • For marketers - Remember to use desire, obstacle, and perseverance to create a complete-sounding story.

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Engage The Senses With Your Sapeech

Pick illustrative figures of speech to make your words easier to imagine. "Boring" and "like watching paint dry" imply the same thing, yet the latter is easier to picture. By simply asking, "What do I want my audience to imagine," and by outright asking them to imagine it, you can engage their senses.

Consider the following options:

  • Option A - I was really excited. I could barely contain myself, but I had to. Timing is important in surprises.

  • Option B - I was excited as a kid in a candy store. I had to clench my fists to keep myself from giving away the surprise too easily.

As you may notice, both versions work. That's because option A and option B use curiosity to keep the reader/viewed hooked. That said, the second one is more visual. And for visual storytelling, you must stack different elements to create potent content that can go hyper-viral.

How to use this technique in your content:

  • For talking heads and educators - Remember to use descriptive language.

  • For video essayists - Use music as a storytelling device.

  • For general content creators - Use the right music, language, and footage to immerse your audience in the story.

  • For marketers - Rethink your ads as movies.

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Use Cutscenes Or Animation

Cut scenes can be skits, flashback sequences, or dramatic illustrations. For creators who don't want to be on camera, they can be animations as well. The point of using these in content is to give the viewer an attention span interruption.

Most people are primed to keep their viewing experience active. Thanks to short-form content, people are primed and ready to skip content just because they want to do something. When your video features cutscenes or animation, the audience can continue watching it as a set of multiple clips instead of a long video.

Consider the following options:

  • Option A - Before borrowing money from a bank, remember to check the fine print.

  • Option B - If you don't read the fine print, you could be this guy. "Banker: give me your house. Man: But I borrowed a dollar. Banker: The fine print says that if you sneeze, you have to give up your house. Man: That doesn't even make sense. Banker: I'm a banker; I don't have to make sense. I just have to make money."

Again, the second version is significantly longer yet infinitely more interesting.

How to use this technique in your content:

  • For talking heads and educators - If your content format doesn't allow cut-ins, you can use impressions and simulate dialogue to create a conceptual cut-in.

  • For video essayists - You can use clips from movies, TV shows, and original content to drive home the points in your video essays.

  • For general content creators - You can cut to viral content and other relevant clips, but remember to respect copyright.

  • For marketers - Use testimonials, product demonstrations, and other relevant content as your cut-in material.

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Embody Multiple Emotions

You can elevate your story's visual value by embodying emotions. Gary Vee, a well-respected voice in the content marketing space, movies empathy and excitement. One-note emotion embodiment can help people visualize your voice, but multiple emotions do the job better.

Consider the following options:

  • Option 1 - Excited voice You're going to make so much money with this simple tweak.

  • Option 2 - Excited voice You're going to make embodying awe so much money with this minimizing tone simple tweak.

The second delivery option does a better job with the same words because of the diversity of emotions in its content.

How to use this technique in your content:

  • For talking heads and educators - Use excited, happy, and impassioned tonalities.

  • For video essayists - Embody awe, interest, and secretive tonalities.

  • For general content creators - Embody excitement, happiness, empathy, and positive energy.

  • For marketers - Embody more than one tone at a minimum. Use emotions relevant to your brand.

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Pull Them Into The Story

Finally, you have to pull your audience into the story by using one magic word: YOU. By positioning your script to address the audience, you can pull them into the content. And the deeper they are, the easier it is for them to watch till the end.

Consider the following options:

  • Option A - One million seconds is around 11 days.

  • Option B - If you counted to one million non-stop, you would be done in almost 11 days.

As you can see, the second option uses the word "you" twice, which makes the already interesting tidbit even more interesting to follow.

How to use this technique in your content:

  • For talking heads and educators - Reposition statistics as easy-to-follow tidbits and address the viewer.

  • For video essayists - Address the viewer like Jake Tran does in his video essays.

  • For general content creators - I don't talk too much about myself.

  • For marketers - Talk about the buyer's experience using the product instead of the product specs.

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Final Thoughts

Captivating visual storytelling is a combination of perfect scriptwriting and delivery. It takes effort to master, but if you stack each one of the top 10 tips covered in this post, you'll have the most engaging and immersive version of your content. Every bit of the content you'll create with these ideas will be valuable, so don't forget to repurpose it using ContentFries!