The Most Important Connection You’ll Make

Audience Illustration image

Websites have become a more important aspect of multimedia storytelling than ever before.

Fancy websites rule.

Not just the ones with clean design, crisp copy and useful information. But the ones with buttons to push, videos to watch, games to play and places to leave comments. Who doesn’t want control these days?

You’d be surprised. Perhaps the answer is your audience.

Companies and individuals should embrace new media for the possibilities it offers, but they should also be mindful of the people who buy their products and services or consume their content.

Do they want to watch the videos, play the Flash games, exchange with you via social media? The most likely answer is yes and no.

Everyone is different. Know that and know your audience. They are the most important connection you’ll ever make in the field of interactive media, and storytelling.

We all use interactive media, so keep that in mind when designing your websites and projects. Also, bend to the will of your fans. They matter.

Chances are, they want some control, but maybe not constant control. Do some research. Ask them. Maybe they love slideshows, but hate videos. Be willing to find out and enjoy getting to know them.

Brian Clark over at Copyblogger has some great advice on listening to your audience, if you even more information.

In interactive media, it’s all about choice. We usually give our audience plenty of choices. They can click on some photos. Read some text. Listen to a podcast. Watch a video. Play a game. The list goes on.

Don’t forget to give your audience a choice to be passive. Maybe they just want to soak it up and enjoy what you have to offer.

Your audience isn’t just your audience. In today’s evolving World Wide Web, they are audience architects, building something special along with you. Don’t get too fancy on them.

Image by Takie.

My Three Favorite Viral Videos

Videos have become a bigger part of the world wide web.

According to a recent report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, online adults who view videos on video-sharing websites has nearly doubled since 2006. The report also states that more Internet users rely on online video for their television and movie viewing.

With stats like these increasing, especially on a yearly basis, videos with strong stories will become more important than ever.

Here’s my top three viral videos.

Keep in mind, these represent my absolute favorites. I’m not going by stats, categories or anything else like that. You might call this list the most memorable videos – to me.

Enjoy!

1. Randy Pausch gives his last lecture – “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.”
This video is more than an hour long, well above the short viral video standard. Yet, it has more than 10 million views. Why? Superb content: a wonderful story and lesson combine for the perfect touch. Watch it. Now. 🙂

2. J-Mac: A Hoop Dream.
This video tells the take of Jason McElwain, an autistic teenager who captured the hearts and minds of millions when he went from basketball team manager to hoops hero in just under four minutes. What can I say? I’m a sucker for big dreams. There are several different videos of this story out there, but I like this one the best.

3. There’s something funny about a Font Conference.
If you’re a graphic designer or web designer, this video is for you. Wildly creative and full of characters, the world of fonts comes to life.

I look at these and I can tell that I, at least, love videos with a story and characters.

What are some of your favorites and why?

How to Finish Your Storytelling Project

Finish line sign

If you’re like me, you have a bad habit.

You get pumped about new projects only to see the excitement fade once you’re buried in the requirements. We’re creative storytellers. Sometimes the fuel just runs low…

You see, I’m a journalist by trade, and having worked at a small, community newspaper, I thrive on more of the quick hit kind of projects. I’m also a distance runner, so I equate this to going out too fast in a race with not enough kick for the big sprint at the end.

I’ve taken on a number of long-term, large projects recently, so I’m learning how to better sustain my creativity over time.

Here are a few tips to keep your creativity running strong:

  • Plan. The more we plan, the better. Yes, you can over-plan, but I like the old Boy Scout motto: be prepared. Planning can help you spread out your project and attack it one creative spark at a time.
  • Feedback, anyone? We all need some second opinions. What you think works may not even come close. Find out, and hey, maybe that feedback will spur a new idea.
  • Take a walk. Famed creative soul Julia Cameron recommends this in her book, Letters to a Young Artist. I do it sometimes. It works for me by taking my mind off what I have to do and centering it on what I want to do. Try it.
  • Find a Believer. Everyone has that one person in their life that they trust. Lean on them when you have to. When you think all has gone dark, it most likely hasn’t. And they’ll tell you so.
  • Turn on Some Inspiration. Figure out what inspires you at a moment’s notice. Use it. Always. My go to tends to be music by Seven Mary Three. Yours can be music, art, people, theater, cartoons – whatever works.

Image by cobrasoft.

Can You Have Too Much Media in a Project?

Thumb drive

After a first day of beneficial chaos, my classmates and I dominated the second day of content gathering in London on one of Elon iMedia’s project for public good.

Our faculty adviser, Ray Johnson, called it “the most productive day by a group I’ve ever seen.”

We’re back in the States now, and have an incredible amount of media to go through to create our final product – a digital prospectus for an elementary school in London.

We kept up a solid momentum for the last three days of the project and collected thousands of photos and videos. Now we have to turn all this media into a story, and it makes me wonder – can you have too much media on a project?

No. No way.

Here’s why:

  • A variety of media gives you choice and flexibility in storytelling.
  • You probably won’t regret not getting a shot or piece of footage.
  • You can give your client plenty of b-roll footage for future projects or as other sources of income.
  • You have plenty of places to find inspiration and stories.

Of course, a ton of media creates obstacles. You have more to comb through, it may be easy to lose focus of your final product and the sheer amount of material you have may eat up valuable time.

Here’s the strategy we’re taking on our London project:

  • We held a content and brainstorming meeting after two days to hash out exactly where the project was headed. We planned out our final product, so we knew exactly what we needed, but agreed we’d be flexible if we discovered any gems during the rest of the trip.
  • We created a shot list for video and followed it.
  • We created a log sheet for all media, so we know exactly what we have and how it might be organized.

These three simple steps have helped guide us and keep the amount of media we have from overwhelming us. That lets us concentrate on the important part of the project – the story.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

Image by svilen001.

Why Chaos Can Make a Storytelling Project Work

Buckingham Palace guards marching

Sometimes chaos can be the best thing for a big project.

My classmates and I discovered this today as we finished our first day on location at Barrow Hill Junior School in London. We gathered content today for a digital prospectus we will build the school as part of Elon University’s interactive media master’s program project for public good.

We arrived and received a warm welcome by the head teacher and staff at the school. We took a tour, brainstormed and attacked several different mini-projects.

As the day went on, some chaos was unavoidable. We all had landed in a new place (the school) today and an entirely different country less than four days ago. We all had to get acquainted with everything.

We did.

And the first day’s chaos – the rushing around, the meeting new people, the action of finally shooting something on video after mostly planning and brainstorming – felt wonderful.

We all have a hundreds of ideas flowing, and we can’t wait to see where the project takes us tomorrow.

Like I said, sometimes, chaos in a project can be an amazing thing. Welcome it, because it can fuel you and your colleagues like nothing else.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

Going with the Flow on a Storytelling Project

Tower of London tunnel

Every project has its challenges.

The winter term project I’m working on with my classmates at Elon University in London is no different. We knew that it would throw challenges our way, but the project hasn’t even begun and we’ve faced a major one.

It snowed in London a few days before we arrived and the school where we plan to shoot shut down for the week. It snowed again today, so we’re hoping the same thing doesn’t happen Monday.

To combat the uncertainty we’ve brainstormed ideas for possible new story ideas and solutions if the snow falls and we have to change plans. And we will probably have to ramp that up because it’s supposed to snow again tomorrow. We’ve also already shot one standalone project for the piece though, so starting the process felt good.

Ultimately, it’s about going with the flow.

You can do the same thing, no matter what kind of storytelling project you’re working on.

Go with this strategy:

  • Create a plan and a back-up plan for your project.
  • Go in knowing everything won’t work out.
  • Be ready to adjust at any time.

It’s a simple strategy, but one that can help you accomplish anything.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

The Strategy for a Storytelling Project with Unknowns

My classmates and I at Elon University have been huddled together planning some very exciting projects for public good.

My group heads to London tomorrow. We’ve brainstormed and brainstormed and discovered that many of our decisions about our project will have to wait until we get on the ground.

We will be creating a multimedia Web site for an elementary school in London – a digital prospectus, so to speak. We’d love to have more knowns than unknowns, but I think we’re learning that’s part of the excitement of this project.

It’s very journalistic in nature, even though it will serve as more of a marketing piece for the school in London. And that means reacting to what’s happening (with as much planning as possible) rather than following a specific schedule.

One of my classmates, and the Creative Director of our London project, Conor Britain, spelled out a great strategy for us yesterday.

He said that we will plan to create a good project, but once we get in London, we will discover how to make it great.

I like that approach – for any big storytelling project.

You’ll never know all the details. So plan all that is possible and be ready to be flexible.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

Planning a Big Storytelling Project: Have an Eye on the Story

Big Ben

Planning any large, group project can prove daunting.

However, with some creative thinking and teamwork, group members can accomplish a lot of pre-planning before any boots hit the ground. That’s something I’m realizing with one big project I’m working on right now.

The Adventure

I’ll be creating a digital prospectus for an elementary school in London with 10 classmates of mine. The project is part of the curriculum in my Interactive Media Master’s program at Elon University.

My 34 classmates and I will embark on four separate projects for public good around the world. We leave for London, Costa Rica and Panama in the coming days.

The Challenge

As my group members and I have planned how to attack our project, we’ve faced a few challenges. One of the biggest has been how to organize our creative teams.

We will develop a multimedia website for our client that tells its story. This will include photos, videos, text and more. To effectively gather the content we need, using all the technology available to us, we’ve split ourselves into three creative teams. Each team has three to four people.

The Solution

How could we divide our team’s talents and divvy up responsibilities without locking anyone into a role for good?

We took each person’s talents into account, placing a strong videographer, photographer and interviewer in each group. Then we developed a varied roles within each group for the members to keep in mind as they were out collecting content.

Obviously, we will have one person responsible for shooting video and one person responsible for shooting photos. The third role is the storyteller. When this person isn’t interviewing folks, he or she will be required to have an eye for what the videographer and photographer might be missing.

Are they missing any shots or angles? Who are the most engaging subjects or characters? They are a producer, more or less.

It’s not terribly innovative, but these roles will be interchangeable among group members, giving people the opportunity to try different tasks. And what could happen if we fail to have someone keeping their eye on the story?

I shudder just thinking about it.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

Image by et420.

Create a Digital Story – A Flash Tutorial

How to Create a Digital Story Screenshot

Digital stories remain a mostly untapped resource in the classroom for students and teachers.

They allow students the opportunity to create something meaningful that they’re invested in, sometimes more so than just a normal report or research paper. Through the stories they tell, students can employ critical thinking, conduct original research and contribute to a larger academic conversation.

Despite all the positives digital stories bring to the classroom, educators face many challenges when using them. One of the chief concerns is getting both students and teachers acquainted with the process of creating a digital story.

It’s why I designed a learning tool to help – How to Create a Digital Story.

The interactive tutorial runs through a 10-step story creation process. A blog post at Tech SoupDigital Storytelling: A Tutorial in 10 Easy Steps – along with my own original research on digital stories inspired the idea.

The text comes largely from Tech Soup’s post with images, design elements and a bit of interactivity added by me. The Tech Soup post was published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License so I did the same to what I created.

I hope teachers and students can use the tool to explore the power and potential of digital stories.

If you’d like to read the research paper, simply click the “paper” icon in the presentation. It discusses the current state and future of digital storytelling in more detail.

I’d like to thank all of the researchers who are cited in the bibliography for their research and insights. That goes double for the professionals who shared their time and spoke to me about digital storytelling.

They are:

See full-size version.