The Story Behind Storyboarding, and why it is Critical to Your Proposal Process
Storyboards have long been a part of our standard proposal best practices. We all know that the proposal giants include storyboarding as an integral part of the proposal development process, but where did this concept of storyboards originate? Interestingly, the storyboarding process, in the form we know it today, was actually developed at Walt Disney Productions during the early 1930s!
Traditionally, a storyboard is a graphic organizer of illustrations or images displayed in sequence for pre-visualizing a motion picture, animation, or interactive media sequence. The purpose of the storyboard is to visualize the storytelling, focus the story and timing in key frames, and define the technical parameters (e.g., description of the motion, camera, lighting, etc.). Because of the necessity for visual appeal, as well as the desire to present a cohesive “story” in our proposal responses, we adopted this process into our industry standard best practices.
Why Storyboarding is Important
Storyboarding is essentially structured prewriting. The importance of prewriting has been studied and established for many fields, including business, which routinely uses such techniques as brainstorming, listing, and discussion to develop projects and departmental evaluations (Winter). Prewriting increases efficiency by helping writers understand the task, brainstorm, and then map and/or plan their writing before beginning a first draft.
Understand the task. One key benefit of storyboarding is that it helps authors understand the writing task. Before authors dive into writing their assigned section(s), they should review the limitations of their assigned task. They should make sure they understand the page limitations and the relevant RFP sections to address. During storyboarding, authors should also review and understand the proposal schedule and any major deadlines.
Brainstorm. Another key benefit of storyboarding is the opportunity to brainstorm. This brainstorming provides an opportunity for authors to analyze the customer, the competition, and the proposal strategy. When brainstorming, writers simply throw ideas out in whichever order and form they come out. The idea behind this is that once the writers get everything out their heads, they can more easily organize and structure those ideas.
Analyze the customer. One important outcome of storyboarding is gaining an understanding of the customer. Authors should work with the capture team to gain an understanding of who will likely read each section of the proposal. As a group, the proposal team should consider the following questions: Who is the customer? What is important to this customer? What are the customer’s major hot buttons? What is their mission? What is the end-goal of the contract? What are current issues they are facing? What are some things they really like or appreciate with their current contractors? What is their biggest fear with the upcoming contract? What problems do they anticipate? Is a technical person likely reading the section or someone else?
Consider the competition. Another important outcome of storyboarding is a greater understanding of the competition. Analyzing the major competitors will help the team identify areas to highlight team strengths that will “ghost” the weaknesses of the competition. This will also help the team to identify areas where the competition may have a leg up so that the team can proactively come up with ways to compensate. As part of the brainstorming sessions, the team should consider the following: What are the likely strategies of the competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How can we mitigate those strengths and highlight the weaknesses in our proposal?
Consider your position. Another key outcome of storyboarding is a stronger understanding of your team’s position to win. This is especially important when consultant writers are involved. As part of the brainstorming sessions, the team should consider the following: What are the team’s strengths and weaknesses? How can we mitigate those weaknesses and highlight the strengths in our proposal? Are there any past performances or proof points to cite?
Define the section strategy. Another key storyboarding outcome is defining the section strategy. Authors should consider the following questions: What is your overall solution or strategy? What are the major features of your solution that solve the customer’s problems? What are the benefits the customer will receive?
Identify section themes. One of the most important outcomes of storyboarding are the section themes. Section themes should resonate with your overall win themes; however, section themes are specific to each section. Section themes should highlight a key feature of the section solution and the benefit that the customer receives from that feature. You can read more on developing section theme statements here.
Identify key graphics. Finally, at the heart of the storyboard, is the identification of key graphics and visuals for each section. Graphics serve to visually break up the text and make the narrative more digestible for the evaluators. If used properly, graphics can help you to more effectively communicate information as well as save space.
Map/Plan Writing Before Beginning the First Draft. After you brainstorm the information needed to create the storyboards, you’ll want to structure the information in a way that starts to create the skeleton for each section. Use the RFP or outline provided by your Proposal Manager to document your section outline. Annotate the outline with the information you will need to complete your section. List places where you can find information. Are there past proposals you can use? Boilerplate? SMEs you need to interview? Document these in your annotated outline.
Storyboarding is a critical planning process that increases proposal writing efficiency by helping writers understand the task, brainstorm, and then map and/or plan their writing before beginning a first draft. However, as we’ve all experienced, storyboarding processes can be difficult to implement, and when we do use them, they are often ineffective. But this isn’t really a fault of the storyboard—it’s because many of us have been using storyboards inappropriately! On October 3rd 2019, I will give a talk about how to implement an effective storyboarding process at the FREE PriviaUsers Conference. And don’t worry, if you are unable to listen to my presentation, I will cover my tips for implementing an effective storyboarding process in next week’s blog post. Cheers!
Written by Ashley Kayes, CP APMP
Senior Proposal Consultant, AOC Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI)LinkedIn
Winter, Janet K. "Student Perceptions of the Value of a Prewriting Problem-Solving Plan." Business Communication Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 4, 1996, pp. 47-55. General OneFile.