Winning the Internet

Seeing is Believing: Visual Storytelling Best Practices

After a great run, the Winning the Internet blog has been retired. However, you can still keep in touch with New Media Mentors here.

As we gear up for Netroots Nation 2013, we’re taking a closer look at some of the convention’s hottest training sessions. We’re interviewing the trainers and taking you inside some of online activism’s most popular and elusive topics.

Today we’re interviewing Liz Banse, who’ll be leading Seeing is Believing: Visual Storytelling Best Practices.

NN13 Training Session

Seeing is Believing: Visual Storytelling Best Practices
You’ve heard countless times that a picture is worth a thousand words. In the mysterious inner world of the brain, pictures actually do take primacy over words. But how often have you actually taken that knowledge and opted for a picture instead of a paragraph to create powerful messages for your organization? Perhaps it’s time to shift from thinking “how can I say this best?” to “how can I show this best?” Resource Media’s Liz Banse will share the latest research about how the brain processes images and how you can apply that knowledge to your work. She’ll also share case studies featuring extraordinary visual storytelling and give you 10 tips for making your communications more visual and effective.


Q: How did you get involved in visual storytelling?

A: A few years ago, Resource Media’s staff were listening to a talk by a corporate branding consultant. He shared with us some anecdotes about the role of images in customer perceptions of products. No surprises there. The a-ha moment came, however, when we started talking about whether our nonprofit partners were using pictures to shape their brand image or to sell their organization to supporters or policy proposals to policy makers like Madison Avenue did for corporations and their products. Were there Mad Men amongst us? Yes, there were, but there could be more! We knew far too many nonprofits that started their persuasion efforts in the opposite fashion from corporations – with words. Oh, my, we sweat over every word choice, don’t we? But then we spend only a fraction of that time on finding a picture to go with our narrative, almost as an afterthought. This is the exact opposite way that our brains process information – the visual first, the verbal second.

I remember asking this guy whether there was a book I could read or a website I could peruse to learn everything I could about visual communications. As it turned out, there was no one stop shop, especially for cause communications. Just a tidbit here and a tidbit there and tons of people to interview. So, I ended up compiling the research and distilling it down to a few strategic recommendations that anyone in our community could apply to their work immediately. Much of the secret sauce can be found in Resource Media’s Seeing is Believing guide and I’ll share more in the NN13 workshop.

The good news for all of you who, like me, don’t self-identify as a professional photographer, the artistic type, a graphic designer or a film-maker is that you don’t have to be one to be a good visual storyteller. It is more science than art, not more art than science. You simply have to know visual communications strategy basics and how people’s brains process information and make decisions.

Q: In your opinion, why is it important to tell stories visually?

A: The timing could not be better for progressives to embrace the art of visual storytelling. As the traditional media world craters, nonprofits and other independent voices are taking on a growing role as a content provider. Images and video are no longer just stray add-ons; multimedia is avidly consumed and is at the heart of some of the most popular online news content.

Recent discoveries in brain science provide clues to why people respond so well to this type of communication vehicle. The result is that more people will click here, share there, engage, engage, and engage some more. The need to tell stories in new, more visual ways is only increasing. Our guess is that your metrics are telling you to “feed this beast!” So, if you are working in the field of cause communications, mastering the visual is incredibly important.

Q: What are the two most important things to keep in mind when telling a story visually?

A: 1) Tap into a certain set of human emotions. I will share some secrets from the subconscious that any of us who aren’t neuroscientists can do to influence people’s decisions.

2) The most beautiful photos are not the most effective photos. The same is true for video. I’ll tell you why at NN13…

Q: Why should folks attend your session at Netroots Nation, and how can they connect with you?

A: Have you ever bought things you wanted, but didn’t really need? Just thank the advertising execs from Madison Avenue. It’s high time that progressives shape-shift into Mad Men and Women and get more fellow Americans who need to be a part of our movement to want to be part of our movement. When we are at the top of our game in telling stories – with a visual punch – we are bringing in new, passionate supporters. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the best ideas I have come across from across our network and having session attendees share their ideas with the group.

I look forward to connecting with fellow NN13 attendees via Twitter, @LizBanse. When my tweets involve visual communications I will often use the hashtag #vizcom. Please join me in using that hashtag, so we can share more ideas via Twitter long after NN13. My colleagues and I are blogging on visual storytelling at as well. We welcome guest blogs from you! If you are interested in sharing your best practices or lessons learned around visual communications, please email us at Thanks and see you in San Jose!

To attend this training, or one of the 39 others at Netroots Nation 2013 in San Jose, register now.

About Melissa Foley

Melissa is the Director of Training and Mentoring for Netroots Foundation and New Media Mentors. She aims to use her MBA + nonprofit background to teach organizations to use new media tools strategically.


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