Five Tips for Attention-Grabbing Visual Storytelling 


Axelle Vanquaillie, Visual Storyteller and Founder, Drawify 

Attention. Attention. Attention. As every PR professional can attest, it’s a precious resource, hard to wrangle, and sought-after commodity. (We’re waving at you, Editor). If you sat through a press event with boring bullet points or bad PowerPoint presentations, you already know how conveying key messages requires interest and everyone’s favorite buzzword: engagement.

But if there was ever a time to consider how to accommodate the brain and make sustaining attention easier: it is now. If capturing eyeballs and interest was hard before the pandemic, take a look at it in the age of Zoom, remote work, and chronic worry about infection. Burnout and the Great Resignation attest to the sense of overwhelm and anxiety, major workplace stressors1 and attention killers. 

Visual storytelling is a useful approach to keep the neurons firing. It is not hard to imagine why. If nearly half the brain is devoted to visual processing, using drawings or illustrations to go with written or spoken messaging allocates more gray matter to your ideas. More brain real estate means ideas are more likely to root.

Another reason visual storytelling is effective is it helps remove some of the anxiety and complexity. Noted visual storyteller Dan Roam said in a recent webinar, “drawing through ideas simplifies concepts and makes them easier to understand. In a complex and uncertain world–which let’s face it, our world certainly has become these last few years–visual storytelling is very clear…” 

One major misconception about visual storytelling is the need for drawing talent. Your preschooler skills are just fine. Stick figures, basic shapes like stars and arrows, even circled words can help navigate the eye to the core message. You don’t need to get bogged down in perspective, shading, or pine for Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro. Quick sketches nearly always suffice. 

To help you add visual storytelling to your repertoire, here are five tips to get started: 


  1. Don’t overlook the words! What’s the one thing you want your audience to remember? Why is it important and urgent? People often forget to have a catchy title to serve as an umbrella for the story. Both the title and select highlighted words guide your audience through the story. When some smaller words/sentences act as easy-to-scan subtitles, your audience can cruise through your message more easily.
  1. Define a main character for your story. What’s his/her mission? Make sure his/her emotions are captured in the illustrations, too. Every story contains drama. (Without drama, no story). Consider which feelings you want to evoke before you start and incorporate them in your visual storytelling. 
  1. Include the story’s context. Where does the story take place? And when? Adding elements that locate the story in time or place gives more meaning (and urgency) to the message. It helps your audience guess what the story is about even without words (which is not to say that you shouldn’t use words; the combination of words and illustrations is gold).
  1. Help your audience find their way. Indicate the story’s flow. Which path does your audience need to follow to get to the end? Leave some visual breadcrumbs with arrows, numbers, or lines to help their eyes get to the happily ever after (your key message). 
  1. Separate your story’s key ideas. Use frames or colors to break the story into manageable chunks. Our brain is efficient. It will always look for patterns to make its way through dense content. The more consistent you are in using frames, color, cursive/print … the more brain-friendly your story will be.

Brain-friendly is the entire modus operandi behind visual storytelling. The world–as any busy public relations professional knows all too well–is riddled with distractions and pressing to do lists. In the first place, visual storytelling clarifies complexity making information easier to swallow whole. 

Visual storytelling allows you to spoon-feed information. This sparks a natural rhythm which steers your audience focus. Sketches, illustrations, and drawings funnel information to create a natural momentum. Information is not too overwhelming. Not too boring. It’s just right. 

Breaking down content to easy-to-digest bits ensures your ideas will be stored, recalled, and remembered—getting the platinum-level attention they deserve! 

1 Kaushik, Meenakshi, and Neha Guleria. “The impact of pandemic COVID-19 in workplace.” European Journal of Business and Management 12.15 (2020): 1-10.