Thursday, January 10, 2013

Storyboarding—Not Just for the Movies

After one of my graphics presentations to a group of proposal professionals, a 25-year industry veteran commented to me:

“If you do the storyboards right, the proposal writes itself.” 

I wholeheartedly agree. On many proposals I've worked, the team creates a storyboard. They dedicate a room or several blank walls (depending on how extensive the RFP) where they hang printouts of slides or documents in the order in which they will be given or read. Unfortunately, time constraints, budget, misunderstanding of the process, and other factors have caused people to take shortcuts when it comes to storyboarding. They don't realize that spending a few hours creating a storyboard, especially one with visual elements, will save even more time in the long run and create a more successful proposal.

Before you write, before you render any graphics, you need to know where to start and where to end. Habit 2 of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People states:

Begin with the end in mind.

An effective storyboard is a visual outline of your project. When you "walk the wall" where the slides and pages hang, you see the story come together, piece by piece. You see the areas where more information is needed. You see where graphics will be beneficial. In fact, the more graphics in your storyboards, the easier it is to write. If you can sketch out your ideas with an image in the beginning, then your writers will have something to reference to make their jobs easier and have a better understanding of your concept. And you don't need to have an art degree to do this. A very basic line drawing is all that is needed.

If you and your proposal team have the good fortune of knowing the solution and have the story outlined and agreed to ahead of time, it is far easier to write your proposal. Don’t laugh. I’m sure most of you are wondering in what perfect proposal world does everyone agree to the final solution let alone have the time to outline the proposal. It does happen … sometimes … but, as you know from experience, the solution is being developed or evolves as the proposal is written. The story tends to change as the solution matures.

This leads us to the question I often get asked, “How can I make powerful storyboards when my team’s motto is ‘I’ll know it when I see it?’” Well, here are a few tips to turn the rest of your team into wise, proposal-savvy professionals.

  1. Step 1: Get buy in. I’m sure you will agree that if you and your proposal team know the solution and have the story outlined and approved ahead of time, it is far easier to write your proposal. Your job is to put you and your supporters on the same page. Most teams rush into writing. They want to see the proposal materialize piece-by-piece, section-by-section as quickly as possible. There is a sense of accomplishment when an author’s section is written or when a subject matter expert has done their job. Even better, when their section is finished or their task is done they get to go home! (Woo Hoo!) However, when writers rush the job without a proper plan, they end up rewriting their sections, redoing graphics that are now unrelated to the new plan, or they need to revise paragraphs because someone's section described the solution in a different way. They rushed to get their sections finished but still had to work the entire weekend on rewrites because their solution wasn’t consistent with the rest of the proposal. (Ugh!) Avoid frustrating your writers and yourself by getting the team to buy into text and graphics for storyboards. Why? Because, we are visual creatures. (Don’t believe me? What do you picture when I say “sad”—the word or an image of something sad? Watch someone give directions. Watch their hands. They are picturing the path in their mind.) If we can see something in our mind’s eye, we can write to it. Another proposal professional with 16 years experience said it best: “If my team can’t picture it, my team can’t write to it.” Seeing the solution with enough clarity from a visual representation is a powerful advantage and will definitely speed the writing process. (And, hopefully, cut back on the long weekend rewrites—yay!) 
  2. Step 2: Start with the 10,000-foot view. Assemble a pre-proposal team to figure out the solution at a very high level. No need for details here. (Stay out of the “weeds.”) Keep to the core question: what will we do for our future client? Avoid how you’ll implement it, just what you will do to meet and exceed your client’s needs. Think about it from your future client’s perspective. What do you think the optimal solution is for them? Use this as your roadmap. To make the associated graphic for this overview, use the techniques I share in my book, Do-It-Yourself Billion Dollar Graphics:
    A. Mind your P.A.Q.s: Know your primary objective, audience, questions they want answered, and (of course) subject matter. For example, the primary objective is to show your audience how they will get their new widget on time and on budget. Your audience is Inform Systems. The questions at this high level are “What are you going to do for me? Do you know what I want? What does it look like?” The subject matter is what you and your team are experts at (or will become intimately aware of during the proposal).
    B. Next, remember that your solution L.A.Q.S. (“lacks”) power if it isn’t visual. Use the four methods to turn the information into a graphic.
    • L = Literal Method: show exactly what is being described
    • A = Assembly Method: pull the pieces together and assemble the solution
    • Q = Quantitative Method: look for amounts, time, or values and show it with a quantitative chart (i.e., bar charts, circle charts, time lines, dashboards, and so on)
    • S = Substitution Method: substitute one thing for another to better communicate the value. Use analogies, metaphors, or similes.
    C. Sketch your solution. No need to be Michelangelo. Just make it simple enough for the team to understand it.
  3. Step 3: Map your solution. Use the 10,000-foot-view solution as a map (for you and your audience) and fill in the blanks and the “how” aspect. For example, what questions would your audience have about the technical aspects of your solution? What about managing the project? (Notice that I am using the 10,000-foot-view graphic in the upper left corner to highlight the path through our solution.)
    Now it’s time to get into the “weeds.” Each level will be more detailed.
    Here is a secret that helps guarantee compelling proposals: focus on your audience at all times. The story you tell should be about how your future client will benefit from the choices you have made. Why should they care that you are using a proven risk mitigation system to implement the new technology? Do not assume your audience knows the benefits. 
  4. Step 4: Make sure it tells a story. By now, your storyboards should tell the story of how you will solve your future client’s problem. If there is a missing component, fill in the blank. The storyboard should weave the pieces together, and the pages will want to write themselves. (Government proposals may force you to break your story apart to align with the RFP. That’s OK. To speed the writing process and increase your chances of success, storyboarding was necessary.) You and your team can picture the solution. Now it’s simply a matter of sharing it and pointing out features, benefits, and discriminators along the way. Visualization is the key to effective storyboards. Using sketches and graphics in your storyboards will make our proposal veteran's statement a reality: “If you do the storyboards right, the proposal writes itself.” 

Storyboarding is not only important for proposals but for any presentation or detailed marketing document that is selling and documenting your vision—whether you are a teacher, corporate trainer, or VP of sales. Use storyboards to focus your goals and vision, and your message will have more impact with less time spent on rewrites and more time for clearly rendering your vision.

If you are still struggling to visualize your solutions, browse our Get My Graphic site to search common concepts and keywords to get ideas for your storyboards.

1 comment:

Brent said...

Mike, I love all of this. I've never looked back on after a proposal effort and wished I'd spent less time planning and storyboarding. The LAQS method for figuring out how it can be said visually is especially helpful.