The Guide to Virtual Tours and Immersive Experiences: Part 3

How to tell compelling and effective stories

Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA.
Crafting a positive and memorable digital experience is like telling a good story. — Dan Nessler, UX Expert

Storytelling establishes an emotional connection between your content and your audience. It takes viewers on a journey and helps indirectly reinforce the meaning and value that your organization delivers in an authentic way. When using immersive content to tell stories, you can inform and educate your audience in a way that is substantially more impactful than functional website copy. In this part of the guide, we’re going to review two frameworks you can use to create engaging stories in your virtual tour.

Structuring your story

Award-winning NPR journalist Scott Simon says to “tell your story in short, breathable sections and include lots of details.” That’s why we organize virtual tour experiences using a modified three-act story structure: purpose, substance and next steps.

Purpose

The beginning of your story should include your purpose. Why are you inviting your audience into your virtual tour? What are you promising to deliver? What’s in it for them? By stating your purpose in the beginning of your journey, it will engage your visitors and keep them interested.

For example, a college might articulate its purpose is to provide a valuable learning experience that will enable students to create their future. A fitness centre may exist as a place where individuals can meet their physical goals and boost their self-esteem. To create an effective and compelling narrative, you want to introduce your purpose in the beginning and point back to it throughout your story.

Substance

The middle of your story should include the bulk of the content that you want to deliver. In a hotel context, showing potential guests the suites, swimming pool and restaurant/lounge area might be the most important things to get across. When these amenities are conveyed from the perspective of a guest or on site staff (such as a concierge in this case), it can make content more relatable and relevant for your viewers.

Next steps

At the end of the tour, leave your audience with next steps. What should they do next? Why do they need what you’re offering? When your content is conveyed effectively throughout your tour, it should be clear as to what your audience should do and what the call to action is.

The four pillars of storytelling

To craft engaging stories is to apply the four pillars of storytelling: people, place, purpose and plot. Below is an explanation of each storytelling element and examples through the lens of a post-secondary institution.

  • People: use the information you’ve gathered from your user personas and journey maps to create a character that’s relatable. For a school tour, this can be a teacher, alumni, or students, and their personal experiences and anecdotes to make it real. Introducing an appropriate character creates empathy and a connection with your audience.
  • Place: use your place to let your story show what’s shaping your character and its decisions. Don’t just tell your audience about your organization and its interesting features — show them. For example, a school can include statistics about job percentages after graduation or industry partners to show the success rate of students in a particular program landing a job in their field.
  • Purpose: start your questions with ‘why’. Why is your audience likely to find the content important or helpful? Why should they pay attention? Does it align with their goals? For a school, your purpose could be to attract students by resolving their pain points. This could include offering support programs for students anxious about the transition from high school to post-secondary, or the variety of extra-curricular activities to keep busy and socialize.
  • Plot: create content that will keep your audience curious and wanting more. Highlight the most interesting and unique things about your organization, the authentic “behind-the-scenes” material. Showing current students making 3D printed prosthetics in a lab or students working on 4K video productions using state-of-the-art equipment. Teaching and educating through tangible experiences is a great way to increase engagement in general.
A student in a flight simulator at Conestoga College (Andrew Klotz/Beyond Media)

Developing a clear and concrete narrative will make your project relevant and relatable for your audience. Once you have a solid idea of how you want to portray your story and what elements you want to include in your tour, it’s time to start creating your project. In the next part of this guide, we will be laying out the different steps and stages in the virtual tour creation process and the approximate timeframe to produce it.