You might associate the term ‘storytelling’ with fairy tales, children's stories, or the like. You might also picture a storyteller dramatically engaging a small circle of people with a well-crafted narrative.
But storytelling is much more than that.
In many ways, our lives are grounded in memories and events of the past. Stories are universal in that they bridge cultural, linguistic and age-related divides. The fact is, humans are hardwired to relate to information told in a narrative format.
The value of storytelling can be transferred to business, as well. For starters, stories are part of your content: blogs, e-books, whitepapers, and even your “About us” all tell your narrative to the world. Your sales reps also tell the story of your offering to persuade customers to purchase your offering.
Or, take a company strategy. It’s basically a story--the narrative of how your organization is going to overcome its challenges in order to win. A good strategy engages the imagination of the company and launches everyone forward.
One way to make strategy more actionable is to visualize it. Companies like The Grove and XPLANE specialize in telling compelling stories visually to make strategy come alive. Parker Lee, managing director of Territory, also advises: “Stories inspire, motivate and move people to take action. The use of storytelling is a primary way to engage with a customer’s emotional intelligence.”
Even data can be made more appealing when told in a visual narrative. Look no further than Hans Rosling’s infamous 2007 TED Talk, which makes use of storytelling to make statistics understandable in a memorable way. He puts it this way: "Few people will appreciate the music if I just show them the notes. Most of us need to listen to the music to understand how beautiful it is. But often that's how we present statistics; we just show the notes, we don't play the music."
Once upon a time...
Unfortunately, PowerPoint is the primary means of storytelling in most organizations. But slideware, as Harvard professor Edward Tufte rants against, corrupts the message: slide after slide, bullet after bullet bores and disengages audiences. There has to be a better way.
At MURAL we’ve developed a technique we call immersive storytelling. Using a mural, we’ve effectively replaced slides as a primary means of communication. The image below shows an example of an immersive storytelling mural based on the content of our book, Facilitating Remote Workshops.
But immersive storytelling is much more than just replacing slides and bullet points. It’s also about building in interaction and engagement throughout the presentation. Since MURAL is interactive, you can reveal hidden notes, rate items on a scale, or even rearrange information in real time, on the fly. With a large touchscreen, workshop participants can interact with storytelling murals to immerse themselves in the content.
With a typical presentation, the expectation is to ask questions after the presentation is over. These days audiences expect to be able to ask questions throughout the presentation. To make a more participatory experience, we embedded a short prioritization exercise directly into our immersive storytelling mural, shown close up in the image below. After setting the stage with a presentation of the content, the facilitator can pause to ask the audience where they fall on the matrix. Participants can add circles in real time to reflect their position.
Creating an immersive storytelling mural isn’t just about transferring content from slides into MURAL, either. Careful planning and forethought is needed. Here’s the approach we’ve been developing over the past several years:
STEP 1: Create an outline
Think of the outline as the blueprint of your story - your design will build on this. You can start by brainstorming topics in a mural using stickies and then rearrange them into groups of similar items, or start directly in a spreadsheet or text document.
Three to five topics is usually enough to focus on in one presentation. You can add up to 3 levels for each topic - think of the hierarchy of headlines in a document (H1, H2 and H3).
Think about the end of the presentation, what do you want your participants to do, think or feel after you finish presenting? Start with a question to make the presentation about your audience. For example, if you want your audience to buy your services or partner with you, build a storyline that ends with that call to action.
Or, in learning situations, perhaps you want the audience to reflect on your content and how it applies to them. Craft the outline in a way that moves the audience from point A to point B in an intentional way. Fill in what will happen between the start and the end of the presentation.
STEP 2: Compile the content
Create a new mural where your team will collect all the raw material for your presentation in one place. Use a naming convention to make this mural easy to identify for your team, for example you can add [CONTENT] to the name of the mural. The purpose of this is to get an overview of the volume and the nature of the content (video, images, text, diagrams, links, PDF’s). This will help you estimate how much space you need to make for each topic in the mural, and identify what type of content you need to design for.
While collecting all the content in the mural, try to communicate your ideas with as few words as possible. Think about the idea you’re trying to communicate. Can it be said with images?
You can copy and paste text from any document into a mural. If you want to be able to edit multiple paragraphs together as one single element, paste the text in one single text box. If you want each paragraph to be editable as its own element, paste directly in the mural to turn each paragraph into a separate sticky note.
STEP 3: Determine the design
With immersive storytelling murals there are no pages or slides. Text, images, and design elements can go anywhere. You need to lay out your story spatially in a way that enhances the content and makes sense to audiences.
Create a second mural where your team can work on ideas for the design while you’re collecting all the content in the first mural. Use a clear naming convention to differentiate this mural from the first one with the content, for example you can add [MASTER] to the name of the second mural.
You can customize the dimensions and size of your mural to fit the dimensions of your screen, or create a super long or tall mural that allows you to scroll horizontally or vertically. Map out how you’ll layout the content in the mural to get a sense of space and relationship of sections to each other. There are many ways to structure the content; below you’ll see some of the most common layouts we’ve used.
The different zoom levels allow your audience to dig into the presentation, making it easier to internalize the content. Ultimately, you tell the story at different levels of granularity. There’s a type of “semantic zoom” of the themes in an immersive storytelling mural: zoom out to tell the high-level story, zoom in to discuss the details. Storytelling becomes nonlinear this way.
Apply a different size to each level, and use these sizes consistently around the mural. Stick to three different sizes, or the same amount as the levels of hierarchy in the titles and subtitles. This is similar to how the golden ratio works; using too many different sizes will confuse the viewer. Make the first level headlines large enough to read while zoomed out. The second and third level of headlines can be smaller as you can zoom in to read them. This will give the viewer a visual guide that helps them follow the story around the mural.
Now it’s time to come up with a visual theme that is consistent with the topics that appear in the story you are telling. Make a mood board to summarize your inspiration. Search for images and icons related to your topic, and use visual metaphors to communicate the theme of the presentation. At the beginning, focus on making the mural visually appealing when zoomed out. Think about how you’ll lay out the story in the mural. Create a storyboard in mind map format.
Decide on a consistent styling for different types of content and create a custom color palette.
We recommend using a dark background with light text to avoid an overly bright mural. Create a system for headlines that facilitates the navigation around the mural. We also recommend using a color coding scheme for the different subtopics of your story to provide better orientation while navigating the content.
Come up with styling options to highlight/frame different types of content such as videos, images, files etc.
STEP 4: Assemble the content in an immersive story
After you have a visual theme for your presentation, organize and style the content in one single mural. To do this you can copy and paste from the [CONTENT] mural to the [MASTER] mural. Format the content as you go by using the styles that you already defined in the previous step. Here we’ll share a few tips that will help you along the way.
Tell your story though data, but make it attractive. Don’t include all the statistics. Instead, highlight a few key data points with large text. Enhance the content with icons and images to add a final touch.
Conversations build relationships. Be playful, and think about ways you can communicate your content as questions or interactive activities. Use matrices, cover ideas that you want to reveal as you go, create word clouds, scales, or simply leave empty stickies to capture feedback and questions during the presentation.
STEP 5: Refine and iterate
Before presenting to clients it’s good to be familiar with all aspects of your presentation. Set yourself up for success and invite your team to a runthrough of your mural. Practice presenting the content, and optimize it to fit the screen you’ll be presenting from. Make sure you know the mural well to be able to quickly jump from one section to another. Leverage your teammates for a final round of feedback.
You can always change things as you go. If you need to, you can add a new section to your mural later. If you already know from the beginning that you might need to add or move content later, save space for this from the beginning by blocking the space with an icon or image.
Keep in mind that MURAL is a cloud-based application with no offline mode. There is only one version of the mural to edit and there is no version control. If you plan to make large changes to the content, we recommend duplicating the mural to create a back-up copy.
Before presenting, add titles and shapes to the outline by right clicking on them to make it easy to navigate between different topics. Pro tip: add elements of different sizes to the outline to create a cool zoom in/out effect. Make shapes transparent to only show up in the outline but not the mural. You can also share links to different items from the outline to direct participants directly there when entering the mural.
Creating an immersive storytelling mural can take a lot of work. We recommend creating one for content that will be used over and over. The end result is a compelling presentation that audiences won’t forget.
Our customers have re-invented how they engage with their clients and stakeholders during collaboration sessions with immersive storytelling murals. Their audiences are not only wow-ed, they’re also more attentive and involved in the conversation.
More importantly, they are able to run completely digital workshops and sessions. Using touchscreen devices like the Microsoft Surface Hub, facilitators can invite participants to contribute their input directly into mural as well. Immersive storytelling murals are part of a new way of collaborating visually online. For more inspiration on visual communication, check out this post from our friends at Visme.
At MURAL we are committed to making immersive presentations a reality. We offer services and coaching to help you get started.
Contact us if you’re interested in creating an immersive storytelling mural to transform how your team works: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the authors
About the authors
Emilia Åström is a facilitator and coach of creative and collaborative processes that support digital transformation.