The amazing powers of text overlays for creating super compelling videos

and the 15 essential tips every media publisher needs
(and anyone else who wants to tell a killer story with video)

“If you’re a journalist, show me a damn story.” 
Scott Rensberger, award winning journalist and producer (Journalism)

So, you’re in the storytelling business, right? You might be telling the stories of public policy, fashion, sports, travel, or other – but, when it boils down to it, it’s all about the story.

And what do we want and need when we tell our story with video? We need to be able to capture the attention of our audience, keep them engaged, and make sure that they remember our story. (Otherwise, what’s the point, right?)

But this is no easy task. With attention spans so limited these days, and so much competition for readership and viewership, we need to have some pretty compelling rabbits that we can pull out of our storytelling hats. 

This is where text overlays can help.

To better understand text overlays and how they work their magic, let’s first take a look at some of the basic principles of what makes for a compelling story. 

This will help us take a more informed look at how masterful use of text overlays can take audience engagement and memorability to a whole new level.

The makings of a compelling story

“Only humans tell stories. Story sets us apart. For humans, story is like gravity: a field of force that surrounds us and influences all of our movements.” (Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal)

The power of a great story is no secret. Storytelling, in fact, according to research in neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology, is woven into the very fabric of what it is that makes us human. 

It has even been neurologically proven that our brains are hard wired to remember stories. When we are being told a story, it’s not only the language processing parts in our brain that get activated. As far as our brains are concerned, when we hear stories, we experience them. And that’s what makes stories so memorable.

But for the story to be memorable it is critical not just to tell our story, what we need to do is to make sure that we craft it with the following tried and true principles of amazing story making:

Know thy audience: for our story to resonate with our audience we must understand our audience fully – what are their interests, what is meaningful to them, what are their needs? We must speak to them and tell our story from their perspective. 

If our video is not about their world and what’s important to them, they ain’t gonna watch it.

Bring value: a good story that is worth sticking around until its end is one that does not merely inform. It brings value with new insights and key takeaways that will remain with the audience long after the video is over.

Keep it simple: focus your story on a single message and reiterate that message in different and new ways throughout the video. When you convey one simple message – the greater the chance is that it will be both understood and remembered.

Start at the beginning: every great story from the beginning of time has three things in common – a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the beginning introduce the situation, such as the characters of our story and the obstacles they are facing. 

For example, this can be the athlete who struggles to reach new heights, the village that struggles to gain access to clean water, or the lawyer who struggles to gain justice for the wrong that has been done. Then, in the middle, show how the struggle was handled, and at the end describe the resolution.

Make it about the people: this is not always possible and is greatly dependent on what story it is you want to tell. But whenever you can, find the human angle and then find the person through whom the story can be told. People need to identify with or root for a character. This makes for a much more impactful video.

Highlight the struggle: developing dramatic tension is a key pillar of great stories. Think – Luke Skywalker fighting the dark side, Erin Brockovich fighting PG&E, Roy Scheider fighting Jaws, even Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf. It’s all about the struggle and how the ‘little guy’ or gal overcomes the big bad monster in the woods (so to speak).

Answer the main questions: don’t keep your audience in the dark about the context of your story, making sure to address the four w’s and one ‘h’ – what, when, where, who, and how.

So now that we understand the main principles of compelling stories – how can we leverage text overlays to make sure that each principle of our story comes across?

Before we can answer that question, let’s take one more step side for a quick look at what text overlays are and why they are so important for makers of video stories.

A quick text overlay primer

Simply put, a text overlay is text that we superimpose on our video for our audience to read along as they watch our video. 

Text overlay elements can be comprised of fonts that vary in size, color, placement, and motion. 

Especially in the age of mobile and social video, the role of text overlays is pivotal in capturing and keeping the attention of our audience. This is because most videos are watched via social channels or while on the go without the sound on. Consider this – 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound at all. Just think about all that is missed if there is no text to complement/compensate for the lack of sound.

This is why text overlays are so important, as they convey the information that is otherwise completely missed when the mobile device is muted.

Indeed, this is a tool that will serve you best in grabbing your audience’s attention as they scroll through their feed, and one which will keep them hooked when done right – as it helps the viewer follow the story from beginning to the end.

To help you create masterful text overlays, here are some of the top tricks of the trade for capturing and keeping attention.

15 essential text overlays tips

  1. Word count: keep your word count low, so viewers don’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of text on-screen at any one time. 

Keeping text short: from E! News

2.   Time on screen: leave the text on the screen just long enough to be read, so viewers are not rushed to catch it all. Basically, if you have time to read what you wrote out loud then it’s the right timing, if not, cut down on the text until you can. And generally speaking, no slide should be up for longer than 4-5 seconds.

3.   Idea per asset (i.e. image or video clip): one idea per asset.

One idea per asset: from Women’s Health

4.   Font size: make the text large enough to be read, even on a small screen.

5.   Font color: we recommend sticking to no more than two different colors. The colors are yours to choose – but should be aligned with your brand. You may note that we have found that white, sky blue/aqua, and yellow/gold work especially well.

6.   Grabbing attention: make the text stand out by using colorful, bold, all-caps text that can’t be ignored.

All caps: from Slate

7.   Tone of voice: keep the text conversational. Put together the words as though you were telling the story to a friend.

8.   Branding: align your text design with your brand identity and color palette.

9.   Animation: animate the text in eye-catching ways, i.e. onto and off the screen in varying ways, to assure that viewers’ short attention spans are being continually (but not overly) stimulated.

10.   Text position: place the text on the asset in a way that it doesn’t compete with the visuals. For example, you should have it occupy the top and/or bottom of the frame.

11.   Bottom orientation: when orienting text to the bottom of the frame, use no more than three lines and don’t stretch more than halfway up the screen. Center justification often works best for text at the bottom of the frame.

12.   Left/right orientation: when orienting the text to the right or left, make sure to keep your text box from coming more than halfway across the screen, and try to use one size of the text for the whole slide.

13.   Opening frames: should have text that is large and attention grabbing, so it can’t be missed in cluttered social feeds.

14.   Quotes: when it comes to time on screen for quotes, here we have an exception to the 4-5 second rule per slide. With quotes, try not to have your text box take up more than half of the frame. Split your quote into more than one slide if needed.

15.   Readability: to help readability, try splitting up the colors of your text line-by-line. Moreover, when the colors and qualities of an asset make it difficult to read the text overlay, you can utilize an overlay box. Namely, you can add a background of color to the text box to help it stand out over a visual asset. Generally, try not to go darker than 65-75% opacity.

Using an overlay box: from Eurosport

How Wochit can help

Wochit offers media publishers (and anyone else who wants to tell a great story) a video creation tool that provides unlimited freedom in creating text overlays that grab and keep attention, and which help to tell a supremely compelling story.

With its intuitive interface you can set the font, color, background, position, and animation of text boxes with unmatched ease.

Video creators can create styles for the text and save them privately or share them with others to ensure brand consistency in video creation.

And, by making the creation of text overlays so accessible, it couldn’t be easier to adhere to the main principles of compelling storytelling. To illustrate:

Principle How text overlays can support
Know thy audience Call out your audience in the text, e.g. Every lawyer knows that . . .
Bring value Emphasize the value word/phrase with different color font
Keep it simple Articulate the message simply in just a few words 
Start at the beginning Start with text that asks a provocative question or intrigues the viewer
Make it about the people Put the people’s/characters’ names on screen 
Highlight the struggle Have a text overlay that clearly articulates the struggle or hurdle
Answer the main questions Answer the 4 w’s and 1 ‘h’ in separate overlays at the right time

It really is as easy as that. Now, admit it, you can’t wait to go and create a killer video that tells the most compelling story ever. Right?

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