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Seeing is Believing: The Power of Visual Storytelling

Once upon a time …” Close your eyes, say the words, and drift back to your earliest memories. What appears in your mind? A favourite fairytale with magnificent illustrations? A Disney prince courting his princess? A ‘Read-It-Yourself’ book with pictures that explained the words?

Witness the power of visual storytelling! It hearkens back to infancy, when our young imaginations were stirred by nightly bedtime stories. And it’s in our genes: we are hardwired to respond emotionally to stories … and particularly to stories that come to life through images.

The innate impulse to draw pictures and act out stories is as old as time. Oral storytelling, enlivened by gestures and facial expressions, held our ancient ancestors in thrall. The cave-dwelling raconteurs relied on wall paintings, music, and dance to enhance the narrative. And what was the purpose? To create emotional connections and decipher the meaning of human existence.

In contrast, printed words are man-made, only four or five millennia in age. They are convenient, but they can’t rival the visual responsiveness bequeathed to us by Mother Nature. ‘Show and Tell’ still has its place, but ‘Show’ always trumps ‘Tell’ in creating a lasting impression. Science adds its voice of consensus. Studies confirm that 93% of communication is non-verbal; that visuals are digested 60,000 times faster than text; and that multiple images are processed simultaneously, while the written word, decoded in a linear manner, takes longer. We think by using pictures. Even while reading, our mind unconsciously conjures up images that transform words into actions.

So, what does this mean to us in today’s digital world? Technology is serving us particularly well, as it happens. Our forefathers told their tales to a small tribal circle. Now we can share our visual stories with a vast audience; and, because graphics affect emotions and emotions affect decision-making, videos have become a strong component of marketing strategies. Persuasive messages can be circulated through a medium that is in tune with the way the human brain intrinsically responds.

Yes, a visual story can be an effective vehicle—but only if it is a good story! Why do some videos draw us in, while others get ignored? They may inform or entertain, motivate or educate, but they must connect with their intended audience. There is a lot of traffic on the internet these days, and web users have a notoriously short attention span: you have about three to eight seconds to turn your viewers on, or you lose them. A great visual story stands a better chance than a long essay or a set of dry statistics, but it still must deliver its message succinctly and successfully. It takes a creative idea, a lot of planning, and skillful execution to unlock the potential of visual storytelling. (Even the narrators from antiquity understood the power of presentation!)

Visual storytelling! A marketing tool that taps into our very nature, triggering the strong responses that captivated us in our childhood and continue to absorb us. It’s a legacy that has endured, and will continue to endure, for eons. We humans are fascinated by the power of a good story—we are poised with anticipation, always hoping for an outcome that echoes the sentiment of those magic words … “and they lived happily ever after.”