3 Core Tips On Video Storytelling To Engage The Audience

3 Core Tips On Video Storytelling To Engage The Audience

Video content calls the shots now. 2021 is the year when every Tom, Dick, and Harry gets ready to create videos for business purposes. And they are right. Many people prefer communicating via images and emotions, not words. Brands and content makers understand that which is why they invest lots of time and money in video marketing.

But how do you ensure that your videos stand out from the crowd and make your audience want more? How do you make people like and - more importantly - remember your videos in the pandemonium of YouTubers and advertisers competing for subscribers, attention, and sales?

The answer is to master video storytelling. A story is the only way to make people want to listen to you. Stories affect the human brain, building a personal connection and triggering an emotional response from your audience. So how do you create videos that tell a story everyone remembers? Take these three steps:

1) Learn storytelling basics

People have been telling stories since the beginning of time. Think of pictures on cave walls or verbal stories from the Old and New Testament: They've survived centuries, and we still re-tell them. Modern storytelling in books, movies, and online content tend to all have the same features:

  • introduction
  • protagonist
  • conflict
  • catharsis
  • resolution

It's a classic narrative structure known as a hero's journey and one that you can employ in your video content. Alternative storytelling techniques also work - your objective is to create a ‘wow' response and make your audience remember and re-tell your content.

A good example of a classic narrative is Harry Potter. Harry is a boy living in the ordinary world who experiences a call to adventure, meets a mentor, faces challenges and enemies, and finally gets a reward.

A good example of alternative storytelling is Game of Thrones. The ‘wow' factor of Ned Stark's unexpected death in the first season influenced the destiny of the entire series. Without this twist in the plot, Game of Thrones would be a much more predictable story about the Starks and their adventures. It would have been a classic hero's journey like Harry Potter.

So, include all the core elements of a story in your videos to influence your audience's perception and response. Appeal to basic instincts and emotions (fear, empathy, and surprise) to make your videos memorable.

Nike nailed these video storytelling techniques in this commercial - Steps. This story isn't about selling sports shoes. They don't even mention their brand in the audio. The story is about people who want to change their lives for the better, dealing with their doubts and fears on their way. It's a hero's journey designed to create an emotional response and to resonate with Nike's audience. It's the power of video storytelling in its simplest form.

2) Forget About Words

Video storytelling is about images, not words. Given that 85% of social media videos (on Facebook in particular) are watched on mobile devices with no sound, it's crucial to master the visual elements of your stories. This is where the "show, don't tell" principle works best, especially if you create 7-seconds Vine or 15-seconds Instagram Stories with no time for blah-blah-blah. There's no need to go far to find great examples of ‘show, don't tell' content:

  • Charlie Chaplin movies with no dialogue.
  • Check out video ads of brands like GoPro, Apple, and Nike.
  • Best-selling author Stephen King's #1 tip on writing is "Show, don't tell". He was only half-joking when he said instead of describing a spooky monster in his story, he drew one.

This is much easier to do using video than text storytelling, but you get the idea. Here are some tools to help you:


You've heard of colour theory, right? Choosing the right colours to make your videos more appealing, creates a mood, and communicates a clear message to the audience. Choosing the wrong colours make videos confusing and hard to understand; this can convey a false narrative and negatively influence your brand. That's why brands turn to colour psychology to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Well-chosen colours help reflect a brand's identity and message. In movies, colour sets a tone even if the actors don't say a word. It influences mood and helps frame the audience's attitude towards a scene. So it's important to pay attention to the use of colour and filters in your videos


A conflict should be present in every video. It happens when a protagonist (not necessarily a person) needs something (not necessarily an object) and must overcome challenges and fight for it. Take this widely-shared video from Volvo. Why did this go viral? Jean-Claude Van Damme? Maybe. The colours and the right music have been carefully chosen to communicate the mood and boost audience engagement. Was that it? 

No. The main reason this went viral was that it contains a conflict. When we realise that Van Damme is precariously suspended between two trucks we want to watch it to the end. It's dangerous and we want to know what happens. It was a conflict, and it sparked our interest.


Given that our attention span is short and our brain is bombarded with tons of information every second, you need to create videos that make it immediately clear to the audience where to focus. To do this, use a structure that makes life easy for your viewers:

  • Master the rule of thirds.
  • Make videos short. According to research from BuzzSumo, most users prefer watching videos that are between 2 and 4 minutes long. This is especially important if you are creating graphics for social media platforms
  • Your story needs a timeline. Your audience needs to feel it is on a journey from A to B. There should be a clear beginning and a powerful reason to watch your video to the end. 

3) Upset Their Routine

When people watch YouTube or social media videos, 99% don't know what they want to find there. They just want to relax and watch something interesting or engaging. However "something interesting" is quite an abstract idea. We see tons of video content online but the videos that we remember are the ones that trigger an emotional response. These emotions drive our perception and decision-making. 

What can help you hook the audience?

  • Or you could use a technique called a pendulum action: you upset an audience's expectations first, and then bring them back to normal. Here are a couple of neat examples: an ad for McDonald's micro mac or this amazing coffee shop video promo for Carrie.

  • Build narratives around the audience's "pain points." Create a video that your audience will want to watch in the hope that it will teach them what to do to solve a particular problem. Your video will need to satisfy their expectations.

Engage, add the element of surprise, consider metaphors and creative endings but remember: your audience will like and respond to your work only if they emotionally connect with your story.

It's a wrap

Everyone has a story. When sharing yours through video, remember to use the storytelling basics, engage your audience emotionally, and include elements of surprise. Do this and you'll appeal to audiences of all ages.

by Lesley Vos | 27 Sep 23

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