Wondering how to increase watch time on your YouTube videos? Want to become more memorable to your viewers?
In this article, you'll discover a seven-step story framework for creating effective YouTube content that inspires action.
Why Stories Are So Effective in YouTube Videos
Stories offer a powerful way to create an emotional connection between the viewer and the content. Or rather, stories create an emotional connection between the viewer and the storyteller's experience. And really, if the best way to experience something is firsthand, then listening to a really good storyteller is the second-best way to have that same experience.
As marketers, when we tell a story well, it lowers our viewers' defenses. As soon as a viewer clicks into your video, their guard is up against ads, promotions, and the catch. Telling a really good story helps people relax. They can lean back in their chairs and listen and simply enjoy the content they're consuming.
This experience has a huge impact on brain chemistry. Listening to a great story releases certain chemicals in the brain that create the reactions we hope our audience will have.
For example, dopamine is associated with suspense and an invitation to novelty, which often helps people to focus, feel more motivated, and better retain the content they're consuming. All of these things are positive impacts that we want our audience to feel. We want them to focus on our content, remember it, and feel motivated to take action after consuming it.
Stories also release oxytocin, which is associated with empathy, vulnerability, and pity. So if you can build a story around empathy, people watching your video often become more trusting and generous. Vulnerability helps the audience build a deeper bond with you as a creator or with the person in the video.
Storytelling also releases endorphins, which are associated with laughter and having a good time, and phenylethylamine, which is the happiness drug. When people are feeling happy, they want more of it.
When someone hears a good story from you on YouTube—or really on any social media channel—they're reacting exactly how you hope they'd react. They're focusing on your content, remembering it, and wanting more of it because it makes them feel good. They're becoming relaxed and empathetic toward you because you show vulnerability, and they're motivated to take action. All of this leads to a deeper bond between you and your audience on YouTube.
The Key Elements Every Story Should Include
Your YouTube video's thumbnail and title should be the hook of the story, the piece that grabs the audience's attention and leads them to make that click and watch the video.
Then, the first few seconds of the video should pick up where the hook left off. Many times, marketers will repeat the title of the video in the first few seconds, but this can actually lead to a higher abandonment rate.
Instead, you should weave your story's hook into the title and thumbnail of the video and then lead off the video with the seven elements of story we're going to cover next to keep your audience's attention.
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You'll notice that a lot of these elements are also prevalent in just about every movie or novel out there, and for good reason. They help create a story that the audience can get invested in and want to stick around to the end. Rather than merely listing a sequence of steps or explaining a new technique or concept, storytelling creates a more personal connection between you and your audience by building relationships, revealing possibilities, and influencing consumer behavior.
And the best part is that this can all happen fast—sometimes within just a few seconds. That's why this format works so well, whether you're producing long-form video for YouTube or shorter videos for YouTube Shorts. Either way, including these seven key elements is sure to keep your audience invested in your video, which will keep your channel growing.
#1: Who Is the Character of Your Story?
First and foremost, who's the character of your story? In most cases, the character is going to be the person recording the video or talking in it. It may be you as a business owner or marketer. It may also be the version of you that matches your audience, but the most effective videos will feature you as the main character.
For this element of your video, it may be as simple as introducing yourself (in the present or past) and flowing right into the next element, which is your desire. For example, you can say something along the lines of you're a new business owner, which would immediately identify you, the character, and who the video is for.
#2: What Do They Want?
The next element is the key desire the main character is after. This might be something basic like more sales, a larger business, or knowing how to do something. It doesn't have to be very complicated; in fact, the simpler the better.
This is often a continuation of the introduction of you, the character. It can even be in the same sentence in the video. To use the example from above, you could introduce yourself as a new business owner who's looking for a way to increase sales.
#3: Why Can't They Have What They Want?
Think about what's keeping the main character from being able to have what they want. In other words, what obstacles are blocking them from achieving the results they're after?
For example, you want to increase sales but don't have any more hours in the day to dedicate to your business. Or you're trying to grow your following on social media but are getting stuck behind the confusing algorithms and contradictory advice you find on the internet.
Again, these don't have to be huge or complex obstacles. They can be external obstacles such as a low budget, lack of resources, or even distractions around the home. They can also be more internal obstacles such as self-doubt, time management, or even a mindset block.
And while you do want to keep the obstacles simple and easily relatable, you can also stack more than one obstacle into a single story. Often, listing more than one obstacle helps create more attention within the story, which naturally makes the story more engaging and the viewer more invested in what will happen.
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#4: What's at Stake?
What's at stake refers to what happens if the character is unable to get what they want. In the movies, this might be something as dramatic as millions of innocent people suffering. What's at stake for you doesn't have to be life or death.
In fact, it can be something as simple as getting embarrassed or feeling guilty because it's something that you should've known before. It can be something more serious such as losing your life savings or business.
Going with our working example, you're trying to boost your sales but you don't have enough hours in the day, your family is starting to feel neglected, and you're feeling guilty that you've poured so much of your time and money into a business and you fear you're about to lose everything.
Stories that expose your fears awaken the empathy inside your audience. They have the same fears and can relate to you on a deeper level. In a way, watching you come through these struggles feels like a win for them before they even get to your answer.
#5: Who or What Helps Them Get What They Want?
Once your audience knows what's at stake and they're starting to feel empathetic toward you—they're invested in your story and want to see you come out the other end—it's time to introduce the person or resource that helps you out of the struggle. This might be a guide or mentor or it can be a book, formula, discovery, motivational quote, or some other tool that helps you find the answer you were after.
To continue with our working example, you're looking to increase sales but you don't have any more hours in the day to dedicate to your marketing, your family is starting to feel neglected, and you're worried that you'll fail, but then you attended an event where someone was speaking about sales in your industry. They gave you two pieces of advice that would change the way you looked at sales forever.
#6: How Do They Finally Get What They Want?
So what was a piece of advice that this speaker gave to you that changed the way you looked at sales forever? That's exactly the question your audience will be asking next. How did you finally get what you wanted? How did the main character finally get whatever it was they were after at the beginning of the story?
This is where the explanation, demonstrations, or tutorials come into play within your YouTube video. The story might be interwoven all the way through the content or it can be split up into a couple of sentences at the beginning and the end, but this is the meat of your content that people are after. They want to know how you attained your objective.
#7: How Is the Character Transformed?
And finally, people want to know how achieving that objective transformed you as the main character. Did it enhance your life? Boost your sales? If it did boost your sales, how did that impact your family or your business?
This is the part of the story where they reach the conclusion—the emotionally satisfying ending that shows viewers not only what's possible but what they want to see as a happy ending. This is the part where the hero saves the world, the workaholic saves their family, and the business takes off and all of their dreams come true.
And if you've told the story well through the other six elements, then even if this conclusion is semi-predictable, your viewers will still want to stick around to the end to see it play out.
Tim Schmoyer is a YouTube strategist and founder of Video Creators, an agency that helps established YouTube creators rapidly grow their YouTube following. He's also host of the Video Creators podcast and his course is called Video Labs. Connect with Tim on Instagram and Twitter.
Other Notes From This Episode
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