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Tell Me A Story

Most photographers understand the need to be able to tell stories through their images. This article is about telling stories with words to make a sales point. You may already tell stories well when making pictures, now I encourage you to use stories in a different way. A story makes your sales points easier to remember. Your prospect may want to pass your story on to others who may also find it interesting.

In this world of instant communication, prospects are bombarded by photographers trying to get their attention. After a while, one telephone call or mailer seems to blend into the next. Compounding the confusion, a lot of photographers and reps fail to connect with their prospects because they’re spending more time reciting data or telling the prospect how great they are rather than trying to establish a useful dialog. Worse yet, their use of vague buzzwords and industry double talk, increases the risk that misunderstandings will occur.

When no attempt is made to engage the prospect, even the most important message will not be heard. Countless hours are wasted every day — in portfolio showings, telephone conversations, meetings, conferences, and business lunches — as people drone on about how important they are and what they have done and who they have done it for without putting it into context to help their listeners comprehend what differentiates you. Finding an original and effective way to establish such a context is critical to communicating your ideas successfully. Instead tell them a story.

What you can do with a story

Storytelling is nothing more than getting a point across in a memorable way. Stories, which may be no longer than a couple sentences, can be used to do many things:

Some people tell stories in meetings; some use stories as sales tools. Engage listeners and keep the stories simple. Couching complicated information in a simple story improves retention rates.

Solidify creative culture. For example, you might tell a story about the time the account person had to take over when the art director got sick and how you and your staff came through with an award winning ad. The art director shared the creative kudos with the account person.

Communicate facts. Saying that you’ve never gone over budget, is not as effective of telling how you had to re-think an assignment to make that fabulous concept work.

Provide a context for statistics. Describing the thousands of square feet of concrete in your studio takes on more meaning when you say that it could fit an elephant and an 18 wheeler on your stage.

It’s important to find the right story for your purpose. Put as much effort into researching and developing the story as you would into any business presentation. Know your audience, and know what it is you want to convey to them. Ask lots of questions and listen carefully to the answers. Find out what matters to them. Pay attention.

Avoid the temptation to tell too much in a single story. You may tell several appropriate stories but pause between each and ask your prospect for input.

Use analogies or metaphors if they strengthen the story.

When journalists tell stories, they are trained to answer the five questions (4 W’s and an H) : Who, What, Where, When and How. Remember, stories are no more than a sequence of events.

Storytelling Tips

  • Know the story, but don’t memorize it verbatim. Allow yourself to be spontaneous – improvise.
  • Have a mental library of stories that apply to what you have found in common by listening carefully to the answers to your questions. If you do that your story will help to find the sparks that often build creative relationships.
  • Know the point you want to make. Structure a story that conveys it. This is your life.
  • Be careful not to recite a story word for word. It is okay to adlib. It is okay to make mistakes. Take risks.
  • Your stories are colorful enough. Beware of over exaggerating.
  • Take an acting or public speaking class to sharpen your presentation skills and learn basic improvisation techniques. We teach improvisation in Heartstorming Workshops.
  • Practice simple imagery exercises (if you can visualize the story, you’ll be able to convey it more vividly to your audience).
  • Tell it in the first person or present tense.
  • Like any skill, storytelling can be learned. It requires practice.

Influenced by my own experiences in storytelling. Extrapolated and adapted from an article by Edward Lowe.

Email Ian to enroll in a Heartstorming Storytelling Videoconference Groups – Imagine a virtual campfire where we sit in a circle and share and evaluate our stories using Google Hangouts.

Ian Summers

Ian offers teleconferences, workshops and career coaching to a wide range of artists. He's created a new 2-day offering called The Heartstorming Career Redirection Workshop, which is based on the concept that our passions remain more or less the same throughout our careers, however it is vital to take new actions to bring them into being.

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