Anyone who reads this blog knows that I try to tell stories visually whenever I can. There are several reasons that I do this including the fact that our ability to process information visually predates our ability to do so with language. The visual centers of our brain are much older than our language processing centers, so telling stories visually taps into something deep that we trust. Adding language in the form of the spoken word can also be reassuring though, because we’re great a picking up nuances in the human voice that tell us whether or not to trust the speaker. Dan Roam’s book Back of the Napkin is a great resource to learn more about all this.

For these reasons and others, I’ve been gravitating to making short videos that explain my ideas or the ideas of my clients. You may already be familiar with a video that I made to explain what I do. In this post, I’ll share two recent videos I made for Sprout and little information about how they came together. Here’s the first one:

Make an outline

The most recent video I made was for Sprout’s new HTML5 product offering. Due to some rather insane deadlines I was up against, this video came together in about a day and a half of solid work. I started the process by trying to write the story out point by point. I tend to write these stories as bullet points that fit together sequentially into an argument. Sometimes there are sub-bullets that get moved as I rearrange the narrative. On a high-level it’s very similar to an outline.

Say it out loud

From there I use Garage Band on my Mac tell the story conversationally based on the bullet points. It usually takes me 4-5 times through to get something that feels right. In genera, two minutes is about the longest I’ll try and go. Once I have the audio sample in that range, I bring my computer over to the white board.

Sketch to your voice

I like to put the audio recording on repeat while I start capturing ideas of how each frame might progress into the next. Outside the storyboard frames, I capture the visual elements of the story. In this case, I had a designer, a computer, mobile devices, an ad server, and software icons. I also brought in a call out box which is part of the style guide at Sprout. Here’s one of my storyboard sketches for the HTML5 video.

You should keep sketching until you can see the story unfold in your mind. You’ll notice little arrows at the bottom of some of the frames in my sketch, these indicate how the transitions will take place. I also use little call outs to capture other details.

Collect your assets

At this point you should know what you’ll need asset wise to tell your story. I recommend getting as many of your assets up front so that asset procurement won’t slow you down once your in the groove of building the video. This can involve some design time for the icons, elements, etc. Once you’ve got everything you need in place it’s time to get into the tool you’ll use to make the video.


I’ve been using Keynote recently to build these videos. I’m not sure if this is the best tool but it was available, fast, and easy to use. The main problem with Keynote is that you have to start the animation from the beginning each time you want to check your timing. That’s annoying, but if you’re only working on a two minute video it shouldn’t be that bad. Alternatively, you could use a more powerful tool that has a broader feature set. If you’ve got one you like, I’d love to hear about it.

Once you’re in your tool, you’ll want to start by dropping in your sample audio so that you can get approximate timing for transitions. With a time-line in place, you’re ready to start building your presentation and bringing your story to life.


Once you’re done building your first draft, I recommend showing it to a bunch of people to get feedback. I usually go through at least three iteration cycles before I have something solid. The final steps involve recording a clean copy of the audio and matching the timing on the transitions precisely to what you’ve built. Here’s the HTML5 video based on the above storyboard:

Thanks for reading and I hope this gets you inspired to make some videos of your own.

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