6 storytelling lessons from the ‘NBA Bubble’

Consider these insights from a rookie player as he invites fans to look at life inside of the isolation zone at Walt Disney World and ESPN Wide World of Sports.

Storytelling lessons from the NBA Bubble

As the National Basketball Association prepares to continue its 2020 season during COVID-19, many fans have wondered what life is like inside of the “NBA Bubble,” the name given to the area within Walt Disney World Resorts and ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

Enter Philadelphia 76ers’ rookie player, Matisse Thybulle. He started a YouTube channel documenting life in the isolation zone, and within two weeks, he’s amassed more than 325,000 subscribers. His first three videos have garnered more than 1 million views each.

Besides being a fantastic personal branding move, the NBA player can provide PR and marketing pros several video storytelling takeaways.

Consider these lessons:

1. Show the unglamorous views as well.

After a few brief clips of the plane and his luggage, Thybulle shows himself returning to the hotel with fast food for his team, which he struggles to get out of the car.

“For those that don’t know, part of my job as being a rookie is getting Chick-fil-A for all the players on that plane,” he says. “And even in a state of pandemic, that job still stands.”

It might be tempting to only show off your best work and finest moments, but if you’re aiming to be authentic, don’t airbrush over your imperfections. Instead, include a real look behind the scenes, even if that’s messy or not always glamorous.

2. Edit wisely.

Along with shots of conversations with his teammates, getting tested for COVID-19 and eating breakfast, Thybulle also shows a peek into unpacking, but acknowledges that “there’s nothing entertaining about [him] putting away clothes.” Instead, he includes a jump cut, where you see his hand blocking the camera lens, followed by the completed closet. He does it again, with a snap of his fingers, for his shoes:

Though you want to aim for authenticity and realness as you showcase your organization’s story and give viewers a look behind the curtain, not everything is exciting to watch. Don’t hide your flaws, but also don’t publish long stretches of monotonous action. Lean on editing techniques and tools to cut out the fat and make your videos more appealing.

Use this advice to avoid the corporate video trap of “talking heads.” Share a video message from your chief executive or another leader simply talking into the camera when you must, such as when delivering a crisis response. Don’t only publish these types of videos, hoping to garner engagement.

3. Show off your brand’s family.

“What are you doing?” Thybulle asks his father in a video call, as his father flexes his arm and laughs. “I said be normal.” It’s a fun, heartwarming moment. In another video, Thybulle laughs as he brings up pictures of his dad on the in-room digital photo frame, providing another opportunity for the audience to connect with the rookie.

Show off your employees. Amplify their voices, experiences and ideas. They interface most often with your customers and are treasure troves of stories. By enabling them to tell your brand’s stories, you strengthen your workforce and culture as well as highlight the humanity of your organization.

4. Share takeaways, tips and tricks.

“For those of you who think I’m not actually editing these things myself, this is it—this is it, where the magic happens,” Thybulle says as he shows off his laptop screen, which has one of his videos in Adobe Premiere.

Whether you use Adobe Premiere or free video editing tool, share the steps of your success with other communicators. Especially during COVID-19, partnering with other PR pros can help you exchange notes and ideas on how to create content, craft extensive strategic plans and more.

Check out these tips for shooting videos on your smartphone, too.

5. Involve your audience.

“Since this whole bubble thing is becoming normal for us, I don’t really know what to show,” Thybulle says at the end of his fourth video. “Leave in the comments what you want to see or what you want to see more of.”

6. Be transparent about the process.

Thybulle highlights a few minutes of a conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement with his teammates Tobias Harris and Kyle O’Quinn and the team’s vice president of player development, Annelie Schmittel. He acknowledges the difficulty of distilling the lengthy talks down to highlights as well:

It is so hard to do this conversation justice. Because basically I’m trying to take what was a two-hour talk and cut it down to three or four minutes. And there’s just so much information that’s being missed, but I know that if it was any longer, this wouldn’t be something that people want to listen to. But I hope I can get the point across of us just trying to have this conversation and beginning the talks of how we can make an impact while we’re here in this bubble.

However, within the few minutes, viewers get a glimpse into the group’s process of creating social justice initiatives and messages. There are also gems such as this truth from O’Quinn: “The easier the message is, the more powerful it is.”

As your organization grapples with meaningful responses to Black Lives Matter protests and initiatives that support racial justice and equality, consider showing pieces of the process. You don’t have to show the conversation as Thybulle did, but you can outline your steps and how they fit in with your organization’s mission and values.

Being transparent also means taking the time to come up with solutions that work. Make your statement, then commit to following up with a plan and steps for which you can be held accountable.


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