When a friend recently told me that her team at Walt Disney Feature Animation was using PowerPoint as a tool for storyboarding, I really wasn’t surprised. After all, who would be more likely to instinctively see the true potential of PowerPoint, than one of our planet’s most influential storytellers?
If you want to tap into the true power of PowerPoint like Disney is doing, choose View –> Slide Sorter, then Save. Welcome to your storyboard. A pad of paper or a Word document are the starting point for communicating with text, but a storyboard is the starting point for communicating with time-based visual media. Disney understands it, every filmmaker understands it, and now it’s time for those of us who use PowerPoint to understand it too. When we do, we will bring greater clarity and focus to our communications and our organizations.
When you look at a storyboard, it presents some built-in questions: What do I want to say? In what sequence? How do I start, what happens next, and how will it end? What techniques will I use to make this relevant to my audience? Look at these questions again — if we ask the same questions in a business context, we would call them strategy, marketing, branding, design, and organizational communications. Your story isn’t the only thing a storyboard can bring together.
Of course, we’re not Disney, and we don’t have the daunting task of producing an animated film. Our job, in fact, is harder. Companies like Disney produce media in a pre-packaged and pre-determined format that is presented to you in a theater. Our more difficult challenge is to adapt the techniques Disney uses into a much more organic and flexible media format that helps people relate to each other better, evokes understanding, and serves us to the point that it is useful, at which point we simply turn it off. Disney can’t do that, but you can. A good place where you can start is to tap in to the focusing power of the storyboarding technique.
Take a look at your data projector in your meeting room — it’s likely it uses a technology created by Texas Instruments called DLP – Digital Light Processing. At the heart of each projector is an optical semiconductor chip with 1.3 million micro-mirrors. Your laptop signals the projector’s bulb to beam a ray of light onto the chip, where a microprocessor adjusts each tiny mirror to reflect an image through a lens and onto your screen.
This process is a way we can understand the roles of story and storyboard. Our original signal is our intent to communicate meaning. But in any organization, we all have millions of ideas, thoughts, emotions, and pieces of information. A storyboard aligns these tiny mirrors in a specific way. If the mirrors are not properly aligned, the story that reflects out through our cultural lens is unfocused. But if our storyboard finds a focused order and sequence, the story that comes out is clear.
The powerful point here is that we need the organizing power of a storyboard in order to see clearly.
Here’s how you can begin to sharpen your view:
Tip: No need to build your PowerPoint storyboard from scratch – you’re welcome to a complimentary copy of a PowerPoint storyboard that you can right-click and download here. Open it up, and spend a few minutes looking at an example of the future story(board) of PowerPoint. The PowerPoint file contains 10 blank slides and 3 story guides, that you can begin to rearrange and align to focus your ideas into your own very clear vision.