Storytelling Tips


Identify an issue that you want to convey and conceive of it as a story.

To tell a great story you must ask four things:

  1. Is this story going to be interesting? (Gut Check)
  2. What is the best way to tell this story? (Format)
  3. How do people want to see this story and how are they going to consume it? (Visual Element)
  4. How can I make it fresh and interesting? (Impact)


Plan your story starting with the takeaway message. The message is the most important point of the story. It is the reason you are making the video and what you want your audience to think about as they watch the video and, more importantly, what they think about after they have left the theatre.

Think about what’s important to the audience. This is your chance to inspire, motivate, and make change. So it helps if from the very beginning of your planning, you think about what you want the message to be.

Good stories are often about challenges (issues or ideas) or conflicts (what needs to be addressed or changed) that have to be overcome. Without these elements, stories often are less captivating to audiences.   We all want to root for a hero, empathize with a character that is overcoming a challenge, or cheer on someone’s success.

We, the audience, also crave and love learning something new or being exposed to another way of looking at the world. What do you know about your climate change topic that is unique? Is there an angle that others may not know about? Is there a riddle that needs solving? What do you want people to think about or change? And is there a way that you can relate your focus and your message  so that it will resonate with your viewer and they will see themselves as overcoming the challenge or solving the riddle alongside the character in your video? If so, you’ll have struck gold with your audience, and perhaps with the video judges.

Now think about your story as if you are sitting in a theatre and watching it on the big screen. What happens at the beginning, the middle, and the end? And keep asking yourself, how does that part help build up my message.  And remember, when planning the beginning, Chris Anderson in his book “TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking” reminds us that you have to grab the audience’s attention within the first 10 seconds (yep – only 10 seconds so begin with a bang). If you do,  you’ll be given another 50 seconds more to get the audience to stick with you for the rest of your video. In that vital first minute you have to convince your audience that what you have to offer on the screen is more entertaining then their friend’s instagram image or text message. 


It’s not unusual for first-time storytellers to try to tell every piece of a story. Storytelling occurs in the moment so not every detail has to be included each time. Ask yourself, “Do I need to tell / show this piece of the story this time? Is it critical?” “What does it add to my overall message?” Don’t leave out key details that allow your audience to follow your story, but don’t underestimate the power of the deleted word either. Clear, simple storytelling is incredibly powerful and moving. And sometimes moments of silence can be more profound than anything else, especially if contrasted to other footage with sound or voice recording.

If you use voice recording, narration or actors speaking, you want to ensure the words are slow enough so that the story is easily absorbed by the audience but do not speak so slowly that their minds check out of the room. Remember you don’t have to verbally tell a story at all. The story can be told with imagery, special effects, and pacing.

Relate to the Audience

If you are having someone speak or using a voice over approach, intensify the story with vivid language and intonation. Tap into people’s emotions with language. Use metaphors, idioms, and parables that have emotional associations. If you are not using voice, think about how you could do this with imagery or music effects. Can you visually tell a metaphor or parable? Don’t though be overly dramatic. Audiences hate feeling that their emotions are being manipulated.

Many great stories are anchored through a personal human lens or through a compelling character (whether real, imaginary or animated). Anchor your stories with a person or character, and you’ll see a big difference in your storytelling.

Keep visuals relevant and simple

When telling a story, use appropriate graphics/pictures to convey your message. Stay away from lots of text and complicated graphics. A single clear picture  will go a long way to convey your message rather than having your audience feel like they are reading an essay.

And be creative with the visuals. The sample videos on our website show serious topics being presented in animated forms, paper collage story-building, sketching, and other devices. This is where you can really have some fun and be inventive. And remember you don’t always have to be overly explicit with your imagery. Remember the movie Wall-E, there is no dialogue until more than 15 minutes have passed. And the movie, Jaws? You don’t actually see the shark until half way through the movie but you know it is there – omnipresent, lurking and threatening.

There are many film-making strategies that you can use to heighten suspense, add depth and impact, show the scope of an issue, or zoom in to its impact. These film-making devices and strategies are discussed in the other “Helpful Resource” Filmmaking Tips.

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