How to Incorporate Multimedia into Your Storytelling

What is multimedia storytelling and why should you incorporate it into your content plan?

Also co-authored by Calvin Koon-Stack, Hattaway Communications. 

Before the dawn of written history, people have been sharing stories through spoken word. This tradition has produced some of the greatest stories of the Western world, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. But much has changed since the heyday of Homer. The creation of new forms of media—ranging from the written word to video and social media—have radically changed the way that people tell stories. These new forms of media—and new platforms that can integrate them—have incredible implications for storytelling.

To help navigate the world of multimedia storytelling, we’ve sought out best practices from the Advanced Media Institute at UC Berkeley, the Poynter Institute, and the International Center for Journalists.

What is multimedia storytelling, and why use it?

Multimedia storytelling is the art of conveying a narrative through multiple forms of media, such as text, audio and video. This approach provides new opportunities for telling stories, but also raises new challenges. Different forms of media have different strengths—and they must be used intentionally. When done well, multimedia stories are able to leverage those strengths to convey emotion and build empathy in ways that single-medium stories cannot.

Multimedia stories are also interactive in a way that single-medium stories aren’t. By incorporating various types of media, you are creating a story that your readers can explore. This interactivity is an important feature that allows you to engage your audience and seek their input and feedback. Inserting clickable quizzes, comment boxes, and graphics provides an exciting way to get the audience to participate in the story experience.

Additionally, multimedia storytelling is versatile. Multimedia stories can take many forms, and you can adapt the model endlessly to find what form works best for your story and your organization. This versatility can also help build capacity in your organization. For example, creating short video clips to include in a multimedia story can help prepare your team for producing longer video stories in the future.

How to create a multimedia story

Identify a story. Consider the different specific stories your organization can tell, and select one that is well-suited to multimedia. The best multimedia stories are multifaceted. They include action, exposition, strong characters and powerful emotions, all of which can be conveyed through different forms of media. In order to have a successful multimedia story, it needs to have several elements that come together to play an important role.

Create a storyboard. Building the storyboard of a multimedia story requires nonlinear thinking. Instead of identifying the “beginning,” “middle,” and “end” of your story, break it down further into constituent parts such as who, what, when, where, why and how. Who are the main characters in your story? What is the event or situation? What is the context? Understanding these constituent parts will help you to decide what media are necessary to your story.

Choose your media. Each medium has specific strengths, and depending on the skills and knowledge held by your team, you may find yourself leaning on some media more than others. When creating your storyboard, identify which medium can be used for which constituent part of your story.

  • Video. Great for conveying action and emotion, but limited ability to show processes or explain complexity.
  • Photos. Great for conveying emotion and the scale of landscapes. Remember to “put people in the picture,” and select photographs that feature people’s faces.
  • Audio. Works well in combination with other media, such as photos or video. Short clips have greater impact. Brings the voices of characters into the story.
  • Text. Can be used to describe background, complex processes and big ideas, complementary with other media.
  • Graphics. Can take you where cameras can’t go. Great way to illustrate processes that explain how something works.

Construct your narrative. Once you have identified the constituent pieces of your story, you can begin to arrange them into a narrative. You can use the Social Impact Story Map from Storytelling for Good, or an alternative story map such as the Voyage & Return. As part of this process, it will be helpful to sketch the visual layout of your story, to make sure that you are using your multimedia evenly throughout.

Create a media bank. Just as it is important to create and maintain an archive of your stories, so too is it important to archive your multimedia content. If your organization is holding a major event or conducting work in your community, be sure to take pictures, make recordings, and save them. Once these events have taken place, you won’t be able to go back and gather content—so gather material while you can. You might not have discovered a purpose for the content yet, but it will be a vital resource for your future storytelling work.

Links for inspiration: