Category Archives: Video Storytelling

Visuals Matter

BrightCarbon’s Richard Goring Shares Why Infographics can Drive Compelling Proposals

Writing winning proposals goes beyond just powerful executive summaries and value propositions: visuals play a role, too. Attending my first Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) BidCon last month, I heard from Richard Goring, a director of BrightCarbon, a Manchaster, UK-based presentation design agency. Richard, based out of the Boston office, gave an engaging presentation at BidCon and graciously agreed to be featured today on The Writing Well.

Q. Why do visuals matter in proposals? How much easier is it for our brains to synthesize visual cues?

Despite the popular phrase, most books are judged by their cover, which usually has some lovely visuals on it. The same is partly true with proposals. The use of graphics makes it more inviting, opening up the dense copy to give a sense of space, and in general be more appealing to the reader. Of course, that’s superficial, but it’s an important first step, to get someone to actually want to read your proposal.

Assuming they’re reading it, visuals are important to help people navigate through a document, to identify relevant topics, or find content they’ve already read. The visuals can act as cues or markers that stand out in a way that a wall of text simply doesn’t. They’re making things much easier for your reader, allowing them to focus more time and effort on what you’re actually saying.

Then, visuals also help people to understand things more clearly. Infographics in particular are a huge boost to aid comprehension, bringing an elegance to complexity that text often lacks. There are many examples of a single graphic conveying information both beautifully, but also efficiently. Minard’s March of Napoleon helps you understand what happened over a six-month period. And it’s that efficiency which is also key, giving your reader the information they need quickly so they can act upon it.

And finally, visuals are critical in a proposal as they help your prospect remember the information you’re presenting. The picture superiority effect is the name for this, and it’s been demonstrated that three days after receiving information, you’ll remember only 10% of the information that you read or hear, but 65% of the information you see as a visual. Three days after reading your proposal is, perhaps, when your prospect is likely to make or justify their decision to choose you over everyone else. If you can help them to remember more of what makes you better, what value you deliver, and how easy it will be for them, then you’re much more likely to be successful.

Q. What are the biggest mistakes proposal writers make when it comes to graphics or the visual aspects of their storytelling? 

To not use a graphic that’s useful. Often visuals are put into documents purely to make them look better, but it doesn’t help achieve your objective. Or you’ll see so-called infographics that are simply a collection of icons next to some bullet-point text. To be fair, this can have it’s place if it’s appropriate for the content, but all too often the author has used some default SmartArt-type graphic that contributes nothing to the information.


“Always think about the story you’re trying to tell. Consider what graphic will get the point across more clearly, rather than just what will fit.”

– Richard Goring, BrightCarbon

My recommendation would be to always think about the story you’re trying to tell. Consider what graphic will help get the point across more clearly, rather than just what will fit. And don’t always try to fit in too much. A collection of small and simple processes, pyramid diagrams, and bar, line, and pie charts are probably more effective than an over-complex graphic where you’re trying to fit everything in. But if you can find a way to link it all, it can be really powerful. Often things like a process flow, map, or bubble, matrix, or waterfall charts are good ways to combine lots of points or data in an elegant way. It can be complex, but we’ve got a step-by-step process to follow to create visual infographics that can help kick things off.

Q. What are some best practices for creating compelling visuals – especially infographics?

Think about your audience, your objective, and what the story in the graphic is. Remove anything that you don’t need and make sure it’s clear what the graphic is about, with some kind of context-setting element to it (like a title), and some kind of summary (like a punchline), to make it really clear why this is important and how your prospect benefit.

With the story in-place, you need to think about what will make the biggest impact in the graphic itself. Often that’s going to be contrast. Comparing one thing with another, or at least providing context for the information that you are presenting. For example, don’t just show how long your process takes. Show that it’s 40% shorter than what they currently have, or the next best competitor. You can see a summary of a masterclass we run on how to create compelling infographics, but I’d also encourage you to check out Information is Beautiful for inspiration on the kind of infographics you might be able to create.

Once you’ve got a graphic, make sure that it’s of good quality. Another common mistake is using a low-resolution image, which not only looks unprofessional, but is usually pixelated and difficult to read. I’m a big fan of using vector graphics, which scale easily, and any text in them can also be searched or accessed by a screen reader. They’re easy to create in tools like Adobe Illustrator, but you can also create vector graphics really easily in PowerPoint, for example. All the shapes you draw or graphs you create are all vector graphics by default. The same is true in Excel.

If you’re using Word to create the proposal, you can group all the objects in your PowerPoint infographic together (select all with Ctrl + A, then group with Ctrl + G) and simply copy and paste into Word, where the graphic will be treated as a single object. Just don’t paste it as a picture. If you do that, those lovely, crisp, clear, scalable vector graphics will be turned into a raster graphic, which means it can become grainy and won’t resize easily.

Q. Can you illustrate these best practices with an example of how you improved one aspect of a proposal or sales presentation (before and after)?

That’s tricky because of confidentiality, but some generic examples that use the same techniques, and are also on the simpler side making them to easier to see on the blog are this one, showing how you can turn a basic table of the most retweeted tweets into a bubble chart for data visualization, color coding for easier interpretation, and insight added on what attributes each tweet has.

And this, which shows simple portion size information with a variety of foods, compared with an infographic with everything built around an actual hand to show you relative portion sizes and text hierarchies to allow easy comparison across different elements.

5. Many proposal writers have to create their own graphics using whatever tools they have (Microsoft Office suite). Any resources you recommend for helping them hone their graphics skills?

There are so many places for great resources. If you have Office 365, then PowerPoint and Word actually have icons built-in, so you can access scalable vector graphics. If not, then sites like Illustrio and The Noun Project are great sources for free. If you want something more custom, then check out Creative Market for loads of very inexpensive icon sets. For images, Pexels and Unsplash are both great sources of free, for-commercial-use images, and they’re all beautiful.

And then there’s building the graphic once you’ve got all the elements you need. BrightCarbon has loads of free online masterclasses and resources to help you with this. We get really great feedback on them and it all comes from being graphics creators ourselves and sharing the cool things we’ve learned or how to do things more quickly.

The Presentation Guild is another good source of ideas, with a community of people that create presentations of all sorts, often using lots of visuals and infographics. They run a great webinar series from some experts in the field. A lot of the content is member’s only, but it’s pretty inexpensive to join and you can get some excellent help in the forums.

Q. What software or other tools do you recommend?

Honestly, I’d probably suggest sticking with PowerPoint. It’s a versatile tool that everyone has. It won’t cause compatibility problems when sharing or co-creating graphics within the bid team. And it’s actually pretty quick, once you get into it. Tools like Abode Illustrator or InDesign are clearly awesome, and you can do so much with them, but they’re expensive and the learning curve is crazy, if you’ve not used them before.

That said, there are things you can add in to PowerPoint or support you. Build-a-Graphic is a neat tool that analyzes your content and suggests different infographic layouts. It also has loads of graphics, in many different styles for you to choose from, so it makes creating graphics (in PowerPoint) really quick and easy.

eLearning Art is another good option for loads of graphics. It’s main strength is in scenario-building, where you can have different characters doing different things, which is great for consistency across a set of graphics in a proposal.

Otherwise, outside of PowerPoint-based options, Canva and Vyond are both good options to create great content. Vyond is really about video, but makes it really easy, and more and more proposals are becoming multi-media, so it may be interesting to try.

7. Why did you start BrightCarbon? How does your firm differ from other creative agencies? What type of clients do you serve?

That’s very kind to ask. Shameless plug alert time! We started BrightCarbon because there’s a huge need for visual content, whether that’s presentations, animations, eLearning, or infographics, and it’s what we specialize in. Everything at BrightCarbon is built around the idea of communicating more effectively using visuals, and there aren’t many agencies that really do that (you’ll find everyone that does in the Presentation Guild).

Richard Goring, director at BrightCarbon

We work with all sorts of people, because engaging graphics is something that’s required universally. It can be small companies that don’t have the time or people to do this themselves, up to large organizations that have their own in-house teams, but they don’t specialize in this field. Or, we offer training to those teams on how to do it themselves.

You can find out more about us on the BrightCarbon website, or follow us on Twitter @BrightCarbon, where we post lots of great resources and quick Twitter tips. We’re really happy to chat about anything visual-related and love to geek out about presentations and infographics.

Check out Richard’s next APMP webinar, “Repurposing Content – Do More with PowerPoint,” this Wednesday at 11 a.m. Cost is free for APMP members.

For the Love of Star Trek


This month marks the 50-year anniversary of the classic Star Trek series.  The story of the starship Enterprise, first envisioned by Gene Roddenberry, and its five-year mission to “explore new life and new civilizations” has endured for five decades – spurring numerous TV series, nine movies (and counting), and a throng of Trek conventions. It’s also inspired a new generation of people to pursue the stars as scientists, astronauts and engineers.

As a writer born in the year of the Apollo landing, I have pursued my own passion for space, covering technology and space trends for the satellite industry. In April, I watched from Cape Canaveral as a SpaceX Dragon  rocketed into orbit on its mission to resupply the ISS. Within minutes SpaceX successfully landed the first phase on a drone ship.

Organizing a Birthday Worthy of a Vulcan

Fortunately for me, I married a Trekkie who had the good fortune to turn 50 recently. I marked my husband’s special day around our beloved series, complete with a “Live Long and Prosper” birthday cake, Spock ears for the guest of honor and party guests who got into the spirit by wearing T-shirts and even costumes in homage to the show.

It was so fun, replacing my spouse over the face of Kirk in the famous Spock death scene in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” when he utters the famous words, “I have been and always shall be your friend.”

I pulled together a Captain’s log for everyone to sign, and handed out “irradiated tribbles” as party favors for the youngest celebrants.

Meeting Captain Kirk

The next weekend was Dragon*Con, the world’s largest fantasy/SF convention, held annually in

William Shatner speaking at Dragon*Con 2016.

Atlanta, and whose guest of honor the last day was none other than Captain Kirk himself – William Shatner. My sister and I attended his standing-room-only talk, where he shared some of his recent activities, including working on “The Truth Is In the Stars,” a feature documentary   currently in production expected to be out by the end of 2016. The program poses the question of whether our society has the capacity to live up to Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision for humanity’s future.

Shatner examines the impact of Star Trek on popular culture, human innovation, discovery and creativity through one-on-one interviews with famous innovators, celebrities and politicians. He told Dragon*Con attendees about his conversation with Stephen Hawking, the world’s most famous theoretical physicist, who also is a big Star Trek fan.  A sufferer of ALS, Dr. Hawking has no muscle control, so talks using a small sensor activated by a muscle in his cheek. He uses this sensor to ‘type’ characters and numbers on his keyboard.

Shatner recalled how when Hawking asked him to share his favorite episode of Star Trek, his first reaction was to admit that he hardly remembers individual  shows, but then he thought more and realized that it was “the ones that expressed those brilliant ideas that tackled social issues like the stupidity of racial hatreds.” Shatner pointed to the episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” when two aliens from the same planet are differentiated due to one being black on the left side and white on the right and the other being the opposite.
“These stories appeal to our senses – these are the most powerful because they are based on something human,” he says,

Shatner then asked Hawking to share his favorite episode, to which he responded not too surprisingly, “Anything to do with black holes.”

Star Trek TNG character Data (played by Brent Spiner) with Stephen Hawking.

Interestingly, Hawking is the only person to ever play himself on Star Trek. In the Star Trek: TNG episode, “Descent,”  Data, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, and Stephen Hawking are playing poker.

Shatner demonstrated his humor and seemed to really enjoy his interplay with the fans during the Q&A session. When asked if Kirk had ended up with one woman in Star Trek, whom would she be, he responded, “Given Captain Kirk’s proclivities he would have liked to have ended up with all of them.”

leonard-book-jacketWhen the Q&A turned to his long-time collaborator, Leonard Nimoy, Shatner shared that he, like many men, struggled to have close male friends, and how their relationship grew over many years.

“He was my best friend,” he said, recalling how a heartfelt friendship developed and grew when the two actors’ paths continued to cross even after Star Trek was cancelled but then gained new life in syndication, which led to films and convention appearances.  Shatner said he wrote the memoir, Leonard,  in honor of their 50-year friendship, soon after Nimoy’s death in February 2015, to get as many memories down as he could.


Watching Spock Documentary


My husband and I capped off our month-long Trek lovefest by heading to the screening of “For the Love of Spock,”  a documentary and moving tribute to Nimoy written and directed by his son, Adam, which he funded through Kickstarter.

The screening, at the Plaza Theatre, Atlanta’s landmark and the city’s longest continuously operating movie theatre, was the perfect backdrop given its vintage feel. The documentary shed light on Nimoy the man, including his work ethic and family struggles.

I found the interviews with the elder Nimoy toward the end of his life especially moving as well as the many tributes from the original show and present-day cast of Star Trek, including filmmaker JJ Abrams.  Walter Koenig, who played Chekov, recalled how Nimoy stepped in when Koenig, Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were not cast in the 1973 animated Star Trek series.  Noting that the spirit of Star Trek was embracing diversity, and that the very cast members who most signify that diversity were being excluded, Nimoy refused to participate unless they were included.

There were many other behind-the-scenes tidbits revealed during the film, including the origin of the Vulcan greeting, which Nimoy devised from a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

I knew how hard Nimoy worked throughout his career, how seriously he took his craft, and the long hours spent on set and doing appearances.  Nimoy was the only actor kept when NBC rejected the original pilot, “The Cage,” as “too intellectual.”  NBC was interested enough in the concept to give Roddenberry the go-ahead to try again with a new cast that included Shatner as captain in place of Jeffrey Hunter.

During the documentary viewers see an excerpt of Nimoy laughing as he read the original Variety review of the show, which dubbed “Star Trek” a “dreary mess of confusion” and called Shatner’s performance “wooden” – hardly the description people use to describe Captain Kirk.  Overall, this documentary is definitely worth a viewing for those who loved the series and the character of Spock.

As for me, after catching up on some of my favorite episodes on the Star Trek marathon shown on the BBC America channel, I have resumed my normal routine with many fond Trek memories.

Thanks, Roddenberry, for your brilliant storytelling vision. It’s been quite a voyage!









Video as Story

Mountain View Group Shares Best Practices in
Digital & Video Communications 

Mountain View Group Principals

(L to R) Thom Gonyeau and Stephen Pruitt, principals with Atlanta creative agency Mountain View Group.

Mountain View Group, an award-winning Atlanta-based creative communications agency founded in 1981 by a documentary filmmaker, wowed professional communicators on Jan. 26 with their insights on the power of video storytelling.

“Story is ultimately about affecting change – it could be change in what someone knows…it could be change in what someone believes…and it could be change in what one does,” Thom Gonyeau, Mountain View Group’s principal and founder told the Atlanta chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) during the organization’s first meeting of 2016.  “Story is the means, and change is the end.”

Gonyeau, a creative storyteller for over 20 years, was joined by principal Stephen Pruitt, as they shared the keys to engaging people’s hearts and minds in today’s video age.

Noting that “a very high value is placed on video content,” Gonyeau cited a statistic from B2B Marketer that over 80% of B2B marketers now rely on video content in their annual communication plans, posting video via corporate websites, YouTube, video blogs and even six-second Vines., reports an even higher percentage of video usage at around 96%.  “In the B2C space, you are talking about 100%,” he added.

Gonyeau called the “holy grail’ of video storytelling is when companies take a long-term approach to their video strategy rather than doing one-off videos.

“One thing we’ve learned is that no one really needs a video. What you need is a solution to a business problem,” said Pruitt, explaining that is how his firm always starts conversations with new clients. “If you start to think that way about your video content or any creative content, you start to think more strategically about your message and what you need that content to do for you.”

Pruitt explained that video isn’t always the best communication tool if one needs to present a lot of detailed information. But it’s a great medium to excite, engage and emotionally connect with people. “Video can stir the imagination – it’s a great vehicle to showcase people, places…it’s also a great way to motivate people to want to learn more,” he said.

One thing is clear, Mountain View Group knows its stuff.  Pruitt said the team tackles an average of 150 projects a year, from corporate videos, animation and commercials to graphic design, communications strategy planning to social media. Last year at the IABC Atlanta’s annual Golden Flame Awards, the Inman Park creative firm won eight Golden Flames for their work.

Gonyeau said there are three ideal times for a video story:  at the birth of a new company, when a company is going through major change, and when it is facing real challenges. In the case of change, video can “bring some certainty to the chaos.” During times of challenge there’s “an incredible opportunity to use story in an authentic and purposeful way to get your message out there,” he said.

Mountain View’s team of 15 full-time creatives takes a process-driven approach to helping their clients strategically think about their video project. They start with the “Creative Brief” – a consensus-building tool that enables client and agency to jointly define the project deliverables and the purpose and objectives, including audience and key messages.

Gonyeau considers the purpose and objectives “the real meat” of the brief.  It’s where he asks clients, “Why this?” “Why now?” “What’s changed?”  It’s also when the agency helps the clients define the creative challenge of “What do you want the audience to think, feel and do?”

From the Project Brief, Mountain View’s team defines their client’s story. A storytelling worksheet helps the process along – it embraces the classic three-act screenplay structure, including the concept of a hero.

An important detail is distribution of the video, leveraging a company’s internal and external social media, video and PR channels. “Too many people leave this as an afterthought,”   said Pruitt.  “When  you tell stories with video, you are making an investment and you want to make sure you are getting the most out of that investment. Creating a multi-channel distribution plan is the way to do that.”

He advised, “Look at what the core communication channels are to reach the target audience, whether it’s internal, external, corporate marketing, PR, social media. You can figure out which ones to take the most advantage of and which ones you didn’t think of to get this message out. Then, once you have the distribution plan mapped out, promote it.”

Mountain View’s principals then shared examples of their agency’s video work from clients such as Coca-Cola, Raytheon and GE.  Check out videos showcasing:

The two presenters summed up their talk by sharing a quote by Seth Godin: “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.”

Following the presentation, communication pros shared their impressions:

  • “I loved the talk and the Creative Brief leave-behind in how to construct a story. Very worthwhile!” – Scott Dixon, President, CATMEDIA
  • “The most valuable takeaway from the talk was the necessity of doing a Creative Brief and to know the one key message you’re going to give. In my experience working as freelancer for corporate clients, we sometimes forget to ask, ‘What is your objective?’ ‘Why do you need a video?’”- Elisabeth Holmes, The Writing Studio
  • “The point that no one needs a video; what they need is a solution to a problem, really stood out for me because it brings everything back to the business and keeps us focused, allowing us to drive the business forward. “ –Uzo Amajor, Internal Communications Manager