How to Tell Your Story One Word At a Time

How to Tell Your Story One Word At a Time

The Pocket Guide to Social Video

The way audiences are watching videos online is changing dramatically and at a remarkable pace. The evolution of social networks is driving much of this disruption as different platforms demand different aspect ratios, formats and time constraints from publishers. We want to highlight trends and techniques from across the digital video landscape to help creators stay ahead of the curve.

With the sound turned down, so much of the storytelling in a social video is now done with text on screen. In addition to your footage, it’s the best tool you have for grabbing the audience’s attention and keeping them hooked. Some publishers use blocks of text to tell a story, others go line-by-line… but we’re going to look at another technique.

The Word-for-word Format

Let’s call this word-for-word storytelling and it’s something you may well have seen without giving it a second thought. The style is characterised by words appearing one at a time or in blocks of two or three on screen.

This video from Al Jazeera about Trump’s time in office is a great example, especially after 15 seconds when it starts listing what the president has done so far.

The words immediately grab your attention and their staggered appearance dictates how you follow the story. You’ll notice that the pace of the text is varied, which enables the video maker to better control the rhythm of the narrative.

They slow down the sentence “This bill is just one sentence long” to emphasise this particular point and it contrasts nicely with the speed of the previous frame. They also modify the size of the text, at times having just one word taking up the whole screen. This allows them to hammer home a point, but it also gives the video pleasing visual variety. 32 million views and over 600,000 shares indicate that the video resonated with its audience.

A little background

Telling a story word by word is not particularly new. In fact, it’s something advertisers have been doing for a long (and they do know a thing or two about getting a message across). This Honda ad from 2015 puts the audience’s speed-reading ability to the test and actually got into trouble for allegedly “encouraging speeding.” It’s hard to deny that it’s an engaging technique.

More recently, you may remember Apple’s iPhone 7 launch ad that used fast text as its core story-telling technique. They even make a cheeky nod to how successfully they control the audience by encouraging them to blink at the end of the video.

Spritz is a company that is actually focused on improving reading efficiency with a technology that publishes text word-for-word in a specific position on screen. According to their research, “Removing the eye movements associated with traditional reading methods… decreases the number of times your eyes must pass over a word for your brain to understand it.”

So, this sort of technique doesn’t just look good, it can help your audience retain a message. And it’s an approach that is well suited for videos on social media, where audiences are often time-starved and prone to distraction, but still interested in serious stories.

Social Video Examples

The UK branch of Amnesty International used speedy text successfully in one of their recent videos and the campaign group Stop Funding Hate used the technique in their video about diversity.

UK branch of Amnesty International

Stop Funding Hate

El Mundo has used Wochit to create similar text-driven stories about lying and learning how to say no.


Learning how to say ‘No’

Reader’s Digest have also been creating videos with big bold words on screen, at times even spelling it out for the viewers letter by letter.

Ready to try it out?

If you’re going to try this style, one of the most important things to consider is pacing. If you go too slowly, the video will drag and the viewers will switch off. Go too quickly and the audience will struggle to keep up.

That said, there are no hard and fast rules for getting the pace or rhythm of your video right. It is still something you have to get a feel for. When you’re working with text styles like this, make sure you watch the sequences a few times and make edits where necessary to get the pace right.

One trick for recreating the Spritz-style presentation is to use Wochit’s text styles. You can create a preset with the position wherever you want the text on the screen, with the word centered. Select that preset when you add your first word, then click to add a new text box for each word. It should remember the position.

Stagger the text timing using the box at the bottom of the page so that they’re spread across the asset and don’t overlap. Once you’ve created the effect, you can always stretch out the asset on the timeline to slow the words down, or shorten it to make it quicker.




No editing technique can replace for a good story, but they can enable you to communicate your message more effectively (and with a little more flair). This is one that can help grab and keep your audience’s attention in a fast-paced digital environment. So, start exploring! And don’t forget to blink.

Learn more about the do’s and don’ts of on-screen text in 3 Mistakes to Avoid When Using Text in Video.


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