When you set out to write a new piece of content, you probably start with an outline. What’s the key message? What are the supporting points? How will you tie it all together?
Outlines can be incredibly helpful for setting out the skeleton of your content and planning for a successful execution.
But modern content creators aren’t just writing–we’re creating videos, SlideShares, webinars, infographics and more–and an outline isn’t always enough.
Even for written pieces, we need to be able to visualize our content and walk through the story we’re trying to tell before we start creating.
The solution? A storyboard.
Why storyboards work
Martin Scorsese said of storyboarding: “Storyboards are not the only means of communication for what I imagine, but they are the point where I begin.”
First developed at Walt Disney Studios in the 30s, the storyboard is a basic system of organizing and planning visual thoughts. A storyboard is usually set up as a series of blocks that will proceed one after the other in the final film or animated story.
Just like in the movie business, storyboarding for content is a useful way to start the creative process. The blank page can be intimidating for anyone; the structure of storyboarding gives us a place to begin. With a rough outline of how the piece might end up, we can start brainstorming into each bucket and organize our thoughts in advance.
Storyboarding is great for:
- Setting out visual cues for a written piece
- Boosting your content productivity
Storyboarding as brainstorming
There are a thousand different ways to brainstorm (or more). We all have a method that works for us, but I encourage you to try storyboarding.
For me, storyboarding is a form of visual freewriting that lets me get all the important “scenes” of my content down to be organized later.
When I’m working on a new piece, I have to really push myself to get words down on paper and not worry about how beautiful they look the first time.
It’s easy to forget the editing process is there to save me, to bring my boring, cliché, or worn out words back into the sunlight.
Storyboarding gives you the freedom to be messy in your first draft. The structure is there – you don’t need to worry too much about falling down the rabbit hole of an endless free-write.
Getting the visual story down
Another reason I love storyboarding is because of the power of visual storytelling. Great content creators strive to put as much visual imagery as possible in their work — it pulls readers in, holds their attention, and keeps them coming back for more.
But we can get lost in the words when we’re up against a deadline and just trying to get a draft out the door.
A storyboard, then, serves the purpose of encouraging visual thought before the words ever start flowing. When was the last time you drew a picture with your paragraphs?
Chunking out a longer piece of content into sections, then taking the time to draw out what those sections should evoke for your reader, goes a long way toward pulling that evocative imagery into your words.
Thinking with the “other side” of the brain is also a way to get creative juices flowing. Stuck in our content creation silos day in, day out can stifle the expansive, out-of-the-box thinking required to create remarkable content.
Take a half hour or an afternoon to sketch out your next content piece, and you might just find yourself happening upon ideas you never knew were lurking in the recesses of your imagination.
Storyboarding for productivity
Almost every content creator I know is strapped for time. Our to-do lists outweigh the number of hours in the day, and there doesn’t seem to be much of an end in sight.
Storyboards are a godsend from a productivity standpoint. Templating is one of the best paths to content efficiency–take a format that works and do it the same way every time. Reinventing the wheel for every new piece of content is a sure way to lose all track of your list of “to-do’s”.
You might consider developing a standard storyboard template for each type of content you create. For example, a blog storyboard might have one large frame up front, several smaller frames for each paragraph, and another longer frame at the end.
Whatever makes the most sense for your content engine, decide on the format and do your brainstorming, drafting, and editing within that context. You’ll be amazed by how much time you save by not having to rebuild the skeleton of your content every time, and how building upon that existing framework frees you up for some very creative productivity.
Get started storyboarding your content
To create a storyboard, use a storyboarding template, one of many storyboarding apps, a fancy Moleskine notebook, the popular StoryboardThat – or just a plain piece of paper. I like to create storyboard blocks using tables within Google Docs, but do what works for you!
Image via Wikipedia
For the brainstorming section, you’ll want to find a quiet place. My workplace is an open plan, so my “quiet place” usually involves headphones and Philip Glass.
Then take the time to draw, sketch, collage, color or mind-map out your content. If you struggle with peppering sentence variety into your work, think about the different shots filmmakers use–close-ups, pans, establishing shots, etc.—and mirror those in your brainstorm.
When you start building out the first draft of your content based on your storyboard, keep those visuals really close to your heart. Powerful imagery is the secret to really engaging content–use the rough sketches and points of inspiration that bubbled up during your brainstorm to season your sentences.
Finally, turn your storyboard into a scalable, repeatable content creation tool. Don’t just storyboard once–do it over and over, for any type of content you produce, to become more structured and methodical in your content creation.
Your productivity will thank you.