How to Tell a Compelling Visual Story

Every good visual story, like every goointerview_photo.jpgd song or written piece has a hook or a technique to grab the viewer, reader or listener’s attention and keep it throughout. It’s what separates a mediocre story from a great story. Anyone can relate facts in a video, but how can we create a compelling visual story that people will actually like, share and watch again?

It all starts with the approach. When beginning a video project, there are two common ways to approach it:

  1. Electronic News Gathering (ENG) Style: This style tends to be more run-and-gun, relying on the videographer’s instincts as they react to the situation.
  2. Cinematic Style: This style allows for more time to discover a fresh perspective before building the story.

ENG Style

The ENG approach is reactive and useful for broadcast news style stories. This approach can quickly provide the basics: who, what, why, when, where and how. It’s quick, economical and standard. For some projects, it’s the only option.

Cinematic Style

This approach requires more time to find the truly compelling storyline, sometimes referred to as the “spine” or hook of the story. To do this with video, we’ve found that interviewing the subject – sometimes with audio only – helps to really dig deep and find a fresh perspective and visual metaphor for the story. This might mean recording 30 minutes or more of dialogue and then editing it down to a succinct 1-2 minute story. From here we know exactly what visuals and additional elements are needed to tell this story best.

Here's an example of a cinematic style video we recently shot and produced. To capture the true essence of this artist, we interviewed the owner of Concrete Pig, audio only, then built a story around his passion for his art and his community. While interviewing Keith, we found the way he described how he found inspiration for his work to be the fresh perspective we wanted to highlight.


When taking the cinematic approach, look for and plan your shoot around these four keys to making videos more compelling:
  •  Emotion – video is great at conveying emotion and the abstract reality of the human experience. Emotion drives a sense of empathy in the viewer, which fosters a deeper connection.
  • Visual Appeal – it takes talent to make manufacturing plants look sexy, but with the right technique and style, a visual appeal can be created. Well thought out and executed camera movement also provides compelling visual appeal.
  • Unique Appeal – there are many cliché stories and visual metaphors in videos. It’s best to avoid these and find a unique perspective that provides a fresh and interesting hook to the story.
  • Action and Movement – video easily demonstrates action and movement, which mesmerizes the audience and compels them to continue watching.

Creating a compelling video takes more planning than ENG style. This likely means location scouting, pre-interviewing key individuals and a more detailed shot list. This video content strategy worksheet may also be helpful to map out your ideas.

Telling a compelling story requires searching for and exploiting a unique perspective, attention-grabbing language and strong visuals. Make sure your video includes these elements to set it apart, make it shareable and make a lasting impression.

Tim has been in the media production industry since his days as a U.S. Navy shipboard news anchor in the 1980s. Tim has a BA in Visual Communication from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communications. He has been President of Mastcom since 2002.