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Is your audience confused about what your product does? That’s an important problem to solve because it could prevent all your hard work from having a meaningful impact. After all, people won’t buy what they don’t understand.
In my last post, we discussed what goes into creating a script for an explainer video. The script contains the words that will be read for the voice-over in the video. It’s under 500 words and tells the story of a person who learns about your product and uses it to accomplish a goal. You’ve received feedback from customers and even family on your script. Now that you’ve edited it a few times, you’re ready for the next phase: the storyboard.
Nearly every movie or commercial has something important in common: each scene is planned out before any video is shot. An important part of this process is called storyboarding. It allows producers and directors to see and evaluate low-fidelity versions of each scene. Usually, storyboards are hand-drawn representations that capture sets, characters, and so forth that will appear in the final product.
Your explainer video is no different. An important step in creating the video involves thinking carefully through each scene and how the visuals will work with the voice-over. By planning the scenes in a storyboard, you can further ensure that it’s understandable.
At Common Craft, we storyboard every video we produce. Like the script, it’s a cheap and easy way to make changes and refine the story before production begins. I am providing instructions for creating a storyboard below, but first, a few rules of thumb:
Keep visuals simple: Your goal is to be understandable and complicated visuals may work against you. Everything that appears on the screen should be there for a reason.
Look for visual metaphors or themes. Some of the best videos have a visual theme–a visual or symbol that is woven into the video across multiple scenes. Having a theme can help the video feel cohesive and unique.
Beware screenshots and interfaces. Always remember that your video wants to live forever. One change to a product’s design can make a video look out-of-date. To avoid this, use symbolic versions of products, websites and interfaces. This can help the video remain evergreen, even if designs change.
Use words sparingly. Unlike a conversation or presentation, you have only one chance to deliver your points to the viewer in a video. Use too many on-screen words and you’ll lose them. I recommend letting your voice-over to do the heavy lifting and only using words visually to make points that highlight a big idea. Sometimes scenes with one short sentence can be effective.
For most explainer videos, storyboards can be hand-drawn using basic tools that enable you to plan the video. You can simply draw boxes on a sheet of paper to create a very simple storyboard. There are also a number of storyboarding tools online.
At Common Craft, we use PowerPoint to create and print storyboard templates that help us plan the video in a simple storyboard format. Here’s how:
1. Create blank slides. Open PowerPoint or Keynote and create blank presentation slides. Make sure the title field of each slide is available. Start with 8 or 10 blank slides.
2. Add your script to the slides, scene by scene. Copy and paste sections of your script into the titles of the slides. You should end up with a deck of slides that represent each scene in your video.
This process creates a template that provides two important items:
3. Print the presentation. Instead of printing whole slides, print multiple slides per page (we do 6). You’ll see that this provides a space for sketching your storyboard, scene-by-scene, with your script in-place.
4. Sketch your story. You don’t need practiced drawing skills. Using basic stick figures and symbols, draw each scene of the video using the script as a reference. Read the script aloud and imagine what visuals would work for that scene and draw them on the page.
Here’s an actual thumbnail storyboard from a Common Craft video:
You’ll find that this process will force you to think about the script as well. Remember to ask yourself: Does this make the idea more understandable?
5. Once you feel good about the storyboard, you’re ready for production and turning the script and visuals into an explainer video.
Create a new project on GoAnimate to get started. Using your storyboard as a guide, assemble your video, scene by scene. Before long, you’ll see the ideas you drew in stick figures come to life on the Web. Thanks to storyboarding and consciously planning your video, you’ll increase your chances of creating an effective and high quality explainer video.
Lee LeFever is the founder of Common Craft, whose video explanations have been viewed tens of millions of times online and have established the explainer video industry. He can be found on Twitter @leelefever.
Lee is also the author of The Art of Explanation – Making Your Ideas, Products and Services Easy to Understand.