#002 | A Visual Guide To Visual Storytelling!

The Talk!

Yesterday, I gave a talk to the Microsoft Student Ambassadors community on one of my favorite topics: Visual Storytelling. You can find the the slides on Speakerdeck. Feel free to go check them out! I’ll wait.

I’ve given versions of this talk before, but this time I did something extra – I also sketchnoted it, and captured a 30-second video replay of my process creating it. Very meta, right? I did that for a reason - the same reason why I sketchnote everything. Because for visual learners like me, having a big picture view of something helpa me understand, retain, and recall, it later!

In the rest of this blog I want to share the sketchnote, and the process behind it. But first, I want to briefly talk about what visual storytelling is, why it matters, and how you can get started on your own skilling journey.

What is Visual Storytelling?

To me, visual storytelling is about building a narrative using a visual vocabulary, exploring graphical elements like images, colors, typography and composition, to communicate ideas to the viewer.

We all learn in different ways, using different senses. We read/write articles, hear lectures, and complete hands-on activities that help us understand concepts kinesthetically. But 65% of us are also visual learners. We absorb information from spatial and visual cues, detect patterns and connect the dots to familiar ideas.

So when we want to teach others new concepts, such as with complex technology, it makes sense to explore incorporating visual language and assets to support learning.

My Visual Storytelling Journey

My journey started with a simple activity: doodling. In her book, The Doodle Revolution Sunni Brown talks about the power of doodling as a way to help us think. In my case, doodling started off as a self-care mechanism, helping me be present in the moment and improving my ability to focus on the topic being discussed.

Soon, I was using the same visual vocabulary for rapid note-taking in meetings, a technique now referred to as sketchnoting. The key here is to combine speed (of capture) with synthesis (of information) and clarity (of writing), to summarize an entire talk or document in a single visual image.

Sketchnoting helps capture information visually, but you may need additional techniques to help viewers connect to those ideas, and understand their application. For instance anthropomorphism - the usage of visual characters to represent objects - can help learners create emotionally to those ideas. And visual metaphors can help them transfer learning from a familiar concept, to the one they are trying to learn.

A Visual Storytelling Toolkit

Undertaking a visual storytelling journey requires two things - a visual storytelling toolkit, and lots and lots of practice. The toolkit is simply about identifying and exploring visual tactics and elements that help you capture information succinctly.

In the talk, I give examples of ways to use various elements (fonts, icons, colors, containers etc.) and sources of inspiration that you can learn from, and practice on. And I provide a series of example sketchnotes that explain how we can apply these visual storytelling techniques to do everything from preparing our own presentations, to sharing our recaps of others' talks, to journalling, building visual guides, and more.

If you want to learn about the visual storytelling toolkit, check out the recording from one of my earlier talks, from Microsoft Build 2020.

The Sketchnote Summary

Here’s the sketchnote summary of the talk I gave to the Microsoft Student Ambassadors. And below it is the 30-second video replay that shows the process behind the sketchnote. This was created using an iPad with Procreate. And I share it for two reasons:

  • It gives you a visual summary of the talk, and hopefully helps you make connections to many of the points I outlined before.
  • It gives you a literal example of a sketchnote, and helps you connect the visual toolkit elements (theory) to examples of their usage (practice).
Sketchnote summarizing my talk on Visual Storytelling For Tech

The behind-the-scenes video replay also reinforces a simple idea. Sketchnoting (and visual storytelling) are not about art and perfection; they are about ideas and perspectives. And chances are, no two sketchnotes will be alike, even if the sketchnoters are watching the same talk, at the same time. And it is this diversity of representation that ultimately makes this so valuable!

Resources To Get Started

Want to get started on your own visual storytelling journey?

I’ll keep this page updated with more resources so do check back for updates!