Story Elements of Business Video

Mary Schiller

Video Storyboarding

Recently I found myself watching one of those long sales-pitch videos on the web. (Please don’t ask me how I wound up there, because I’ll plead the Fifth).

You know the ones I’m talking about: Words on the screen after words on the screen flying in and out, with some guy yammering at me about this, that and the other thing. The video had the occasional image, but it was basically one long, boring speech. Lots of hype, a little substance, and almost no style — unless “bad” is a style.

I figured it must work for some people, but it sure wasn’t working for me.

Combine the words “business” and “video,” and you’re liable to think one of three things: a sales pitch, a commercial, or a talking head — or some combination of all three. Because the truth is, a video used for business is designed to sell, whether it’s overtly or covertly, immediately or in the future.

What makes some videos more successful than others, then? There’s only one differentiator. It’s story.

People respond to a story: to other people’s stories, or to a representation of their own. That’s why, no matter how long or short your business’ video is, it must contain all the elements of a story: in words, visuals and music, and preferably all working together to create an indelible impression on your viewer.

If you’re not a writer by trade, how can you write a video script that tells a story? That’s an easy question to answer: You know everything you need to know about writing a story. I’ll prove it to you.

You have 10 seconds to tell me the elements of a story. Ready? Go!

(The clock is ticking …)

Ding! Time’s up. What did you come up with?

I’ll bet you said things like a beginning, a middle and an end. Character. Plot. Conflict. Maybe even a cliffhanger. Irony. A message.

To be really effective, your video should have a clear beginning, middle and end, character, conflict, a cliffhanger, your message — and a call to action. Irony can be there, too, but in a short video, we can omit that, if need be.

I can hear you now: “Wow, Mary, that’s a lot to include in, say, a two-minute video. How is it even possible?”

Let’s open the time capsule for an example… How about Coca-Cola and Mean Joe Green?

Beginning: Mean Joe Green (character 1) is injured, limping into the locker room during the game, looking dejected.

Middle: Little boy (character 2) walks in behind him with a Coke and offers it to Joe, who takes it. Little boy says he thinks Joe is “the best ever.” Little boy starts walking away, thinks the superstar might have taken him and his Coke for granted: conflict plus cliffhanger — will Joe say anything else? — plus sad ending possibility! But never fear.

Here’s the happy ending: Joe tosses him his jersey as a “thank you.” The little boy is thrilled.

Message: Coke can turn a bad day into a great one.

Call to action: Have a Coke and a smile.

How long was that commercial? Sixty seconds. If Coke can tell a story with all those elements in just 60 seconds, you can certainly do it in 120.

Here are three tips that will help you tell your business’ story more effectively:

  1. Decide on an easy-to-understand message with a call to action that’s simple to grasp, as well.
  2. Include a character or two: Even if you can just talk directly to the viewer with your script, that works because it makes him or her the character in your story.
  3. Outline your script with a beginning — the setup; a middle — where you introduce the problem or conflict; and an end — where you resolve the problem (with your business’ solution, of course) and give the viewer a clear call to action.

If your video is demonstrating something, that can be your meaty middle section. But try to leave a little suspense, if possible, that can be resolved in the final moments with your product or service as the hero.

For instance, as we’re watching the Mean Joe Green commercial, we’re thinking to ourselves, “Is Joe really that mean? Is he going to let that little boy walk away without offering him anything more than a mumbled ‘thanks’?” We all breathe a sigh of relief when he tosses him that jersey: “Catch!”

Doing video with images, video clips and words on the screen without a voiceover? You can use these same story elements — sometimes even more effectively.

People respond strongly to images mixed with music and other sound effects. Carefully chosen, and striking a natural balance between the two, images and video clips alone can be incredibly powerful.

Remember “1984,” the commercial that introduced the world to the Apple Macintosh computer? ’nuff said.

Mary Schiller, Life Coach of Smart Cookie, Happy Cookie

Mary Schiller is a writer and happiness coach who uses video to promote, instruct and entertain. Her mission is to help at least 1,000 women entrepreneurs feel a thousand times happier in work and life. See her dancing really badly online at Smart Cookie, Happy Cookie.