Show, Don’t Tell: Not All Stories Need Words

During my years in public radio and now, with video camera in hand, I am fascinated by the power of sound and image to tell a story without words. Though I love crafting with language, I’m also intrigued by the evocative power of nonverbal forms of communication.

This past fall, I experimented with my little Kodak Zi8 to create a wordless video called November Light, which you can view here. Although this is far from a marketing piece, the storytelling techniques can be applied to strategic messaging, as well.

Capturing Mood with a Video Camera
I’ve long been struck by the the starkness and subtle beauty of natural light in late November. It often seems like such a bleak time of year, once the brilliant fall foliage has crumbled and everything appears so gray. But the light, unobstructed by leaves, reveals intricate patterns and contrasts, inspiring a closer look at the beauty in everyday surroundings. So, I set out to capture that imagery and tone with my camera.

Shooting inside my home, in our backyard, down the street, as well as at the Mass Audubon Wachusett Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton, a Revolutionary War era cemetery in the center of nearby Holden, and along the streets of Worcester, I captured sharp shadows and edges, golden leaves and creamy undergrowth, stone walls and wooly sheep, stark trees and cerulean sky.

I also captured ambient sound—wind chimes near our back door, dogs barking, wind rushing in marsh and field, cars swishing down busy streets, a turn signal’s tick.

Nonverbal Storytelling Demands Engagement
All of this became grist for the video, a stream-of-consciousness series of images connected by unspoken associations, mixed with natural sounds to create a contemplative mood. I thought carefully about pacing and what would make intuitive sense to the viewer, while keeping the editing tight to hold interest. I mixed still shots with movement to create momentum and build curiosity about what would come next.

So, how does this apply to strategic messaging?

The power of nonverbal storytelling is that it demands your engagement. Images and sound, carefully intertwined to tap your imagination, also build an emotional connection. In November Light, I have attempted to pull you into my experience of Nature’s beauty at a time of year that often appears drab and dull as days grow short. I want you to take a second look with me, to find inspiration and complexity in the seemingly simple.

Let Your Audience Make the Connections
The same technique could be applied to a host of compelling stories that promote a valued product or service—by bringing the viewer into the emotional experience of its use and benefits. Instead of telling you what to think with words, this approach enables you to make your own connections between thought and feeling at a deeper, more memorable level.

It’s the ultimate interpretation of a basic adage of powerful marketing—and writing, for that matter—show, don’t tell.

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