Content By Committee: Take the Mess out of Your Message

A video storytelling toolkit for teams.

Our day went from zero to shit show in one minute.  We needed some Burpeesadditional shots to accompany the interview of an exec for a corporate video; simple stuff like looking over a report or talking on the phone. In the moment we were deciding on the shot, the exec, out of nowhere, began doing burpees in the hallway, insisting we indulge her aspirations of creating a behind-the-scenes blooper reel. There had never been mention of a blooper reel. The rest of the corporate team were complicit as their desire to appease her overtook the story we were hired to tell. Suddenly there we were, shooting this sweaty executive flopping around in high heels for a scene that would never make the edit.

What we learned  that day: Without a storytelling toolkit, the loudest voice wins, and you may end up with someone doing burpees in your corporate video.

Here’s how it usually goes with corporate video: One person holds the bucket of responsibility to develop a video project, while an entire team decides how to fill the bucket. With no guidance or focus, the bucket becomes a repository for every interview, footage and photo the team deems relevant. As the bucket fills, the original message gets lost in the noise and the final product is an unwatchable, bloated mess.

If you are in charge of a video project, there is a way to prevent your story from going off the rails. To give your video structure and focus, and to make you the hero of your storytelling team, we’ve created four simple tools that will help communicate your message through the power of storytelling.

Storytelling tool #1: Keywords
Gather your team and, with a stack of index cards, whiteboard or even a notepad, write down every word you associate with your message. Your goal should be between 20 – 30 words. There are no wrong answers. Make them visible so the team can view them. This step gets the team is collaborating creatively right off the bat, setting the tone for what’s to come. Next, narrow the selection down to just 5 words. This gets the team to discover together what is critically important about your message. Everyone will feel ownership of these 5 words and will defend them. Use these 5 words to influence every decision you make about your project. Let’s say you’re creating an internal video to get buy-in from employees on a new marketing initiative. Your final list of keywords are: Unity, Personality, Communication, Growth and Focus. Every decision towards the content of your video from now on should reflect one or more of these keywords. They will infuse the entire project with meaning and purpose.

Storytelling tool #2: Characters
Like in a Hollywood movie, characters are the people on screen who carry the story. It is through their eyes that we experience the film and we allow this to happen when we see a part of ourselves in them. Think of whomever appears on screen as a character and it’s their job to deliver your message. The wrong person can alienate the very people you are trying to connect to. Don’t just start with the top brass. Find employees, managers or customers with unique backgrounds who can bring different perspectives to your story.

Storytelling Tools Graphic
Use this graphic as a template for your next video project (Right click > Save Image As)

Storytelling tool #3: Locations
Location is one of the most important visual elements in film and one of the biggest missed opportunities in corporate video. Sure, your conference room is stylish, but does it reflect your keywords? If you want to show personality, think about location as another character in your film. Is there a library, coffee shop, park bench, backyard, patio, or landmark that shows more personality than the building you work in? It doesn’t have to be pretty if it is unique. If you’re still stuck, think about the origins of your company. Where did it all begin? Was there a place where the idea for your company was conceived? Most likely, it wasn’t a conference room. The simple act of shooting in an unusual location will make your video distinctive and grab your viewer’s attention.

Storytelling tool #4: Plot
Don’t let this step be intimidating. By developing and adhering to a plot, you are simply defining the beginning, middle and end of your film and drawing a line through it. If the line that runs through it is curved, then you’ve also created a story arc. Even the simplest plot with an arc will engage your audience in at the beginning, surprise them in the middle, and satisfy them at the end. If you can answer the following questions, then you not only will have the plot to your video, you’ve also laid the groundwork for an interesting story arc. Find out more about how to develop a simple plot for your video in our companion article, Finding Your Plot Will Give Your Video Purpose.

The strength behind these tools is that, once complete, the majority or your work is done before the cameras even roll, making your production painless and introducing your company to a higher-level of communication; one that actually connects to and motivates your audience. Whether you produce this with an in-house or hire an outside crew, this level of thoroughness and clarity will make production run smoothly. With a united team, the process becomes one of discovery rather than discord. And you’ll probably avoid burpees.