Storytelling Tips That Just Might Make Your Next YouTube® Video Go Viral!

Storytelling tips for a YouTube video? Really?! You mean to tell me there was a story behind such viral videos as the ever popular (and still viewable on YouTube): "Charlie Bit My Finger," "Keyboard Cat," "Sneezing Panda" or "David After Dentist"? 

Well, actually, yes, each of these viral oddities (in their own strange, fascinating YouTube pop-culture way) DID have some elements of a good yarn. 

While they didn't employ a traditional script (at least not one that was discernible to this indefatigable YouTube watcher), these videos did employ -- whether intentional or not -- what I'll term loosely as some good storytelling techniques. These are the same techniques which you can easily incorporate into your next YouTube video and which just might lead to a whole lotta views and some viral success.

Categories for YouTube Viral Videos

There are two categories for videos that go viral:

  1. Videos of spontaneous events. "David After Dentist" is a good example of this. A dad captured video of his son's reaction to anesthesia after having oral surgery. This kid's goofy, unplanned response to his "altered state" became an instant sensation.

    No scripting here, just a real honest-to-goodness funny reaction that tickled the funny bone of viewers enough to garner 119 million views. 

  2. Videos of a planned event that might include scripting, rehearsal or other preproduction efforts. 

    Despite its home-made, off-the-cuff charm, "Keyboard Cat" was a planned video. I suspect it took some preparation and dedication to develop kitty's natural talent and to entice him (her?) into a keyboard recital. Heavy-duty cat nip was probably involved. 

Telling a Story Keeps Your Audience Watching!

Whether your video is spontaneous or planned, here are some techniques that might pave the way to getting those important views.

  • Storytelling Tip #1 -- Hook Your Audience Right Away: Think of your video as a short story that needs to grab your audience from the first scene. Most popular YouTube videos are short, in the 2 to 5 minute range. You don't have the luxury of time to gradually develop your story. Start off with interesting action, dialogue, concept or situation that will intrigue your audience

    As an example, take a look at this video by EepyBird "The Coke Zero & Mentos Rocket Car," which is one in their series of Coke and Mentos experiments that has captured audience attention for many years now. Even the title implies action and an interesting concept. A rocket car fueled by Coke and Mentos? You bet I'd watch that!
  • Storytelling Tip #2 -- Include Memorable Characters and Situations: People respond to other people. We relate to one another's triumphs, failures and everyday struggles. Think back to your favorite stories. Didn't they all have a hero involved in a situation that compelled you to continue watching?

    The advantage with digital storytelling is that you can quickly develop memorable characters and situations with just a few seconds of footage. A scene of a mother protectively guiding her rambunctious toddler across a busy street not only gives us two memorable characters but also provides us with a dangerous predicament that keeps us glued to the screen.

    Here's our recent attempt at Groovy Videos to use humor to create memorable characters and situations. "The Reluctant Exerciser Survives the Elliptical Machine" may never reach viral status. Heck, we'd be happy with views in the 4 digits! Still, it was a good exercise for us to hone our skills in creating memorable characters and situations.
  • Storytelling Tip #3 -- Maintain the Pacing: Good digital storytellers are talented at keeping the pace and focus of their videos going strong throughout the video. Evaluate each scene critically to determine if it really advances your story. What would your video be like if you removed the scene? Would your viewer still be able to follow the story?

    It's easy to fall in love with a particular shot for aesthetic or personal reasons. Don't let that cloud your judgment though. Use your video editing software judiciously and aim for short shots that progress easily from one another.

    For more information on video editing and short shots, see our article: "How to Edit Video Using Short Shots."
  • Storytelling Tip #4 -- End With an Emotional Payoff: If you've included memorable characters and situations in your video, you'll have your audience on the edge of their seats waiting to see your video's conclusion.

    Your audience wants to feel something through your characters -- elation, despair, triumph, disgust, anger, amusement, etc. It's this emotional conclusion that will get your video more views and shares.

    With its 81 million views, "JK Wedding Entrance Dance" certainly qualifies as a viral video that continued the emotional momentum all the way through to the very happy ending.

OK, I've Read Your Article -- What's Next?

There's a lot you can do to improve your videos and gain a larger YouTube audience. We suggest the following Groovy Videos articles:

Return from Storytelling Tips to Groovy Videos Home Page.

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