By Caroline Gutman
Storytelling is the most important part of an entrepreneur's job. It helps your audience understand -- and support -- your vision for your company. It also ties together the fundamental questions of entrepreneurship (what do you do, why do you do it, and why is it important) into a single narrative.
Visual storytelling takes it one step further, using images to tell a story. And when done well, it can be even more powerful for an audience.
8 Visual Storytelling Tips to Win Over an Audience
Whether you’re building your splash page, pitching investors, or writing a report, visuals matter. Below are eight techniques borrowed from photojournalism that will help you sharpen your message and connect through photos and stock imagery with any audience.
1. Build an Arc.
There’s a reason the classic storytelling arc is found in virtually every culture: It works. Try to choose photos that represent each step of the arc. It’s what turns a series of images into a story.
- Exposition: Introduce the characters, the setting and the mood. These are the images that will draw your audience into the story and keep them engaged.
- Rising action. Character development and the beginning signs of tension.
- Climax. This is the moment of conflict and the turning point of the story. Your audience wants to know what happens next, as emotion builds.
- Falling Action. Release of some of the tension, and signs of initial changes in the characters. These images give your audience hope that things will be resolved but may still feel doubtful without knowing more.
- Resolution. Problem solved, and characters transformed. These images provide closure and relief, whether or not things worked out.
2. Keep the Contrast. Inspire your audience by alternating between the world today and what the future could look like.
Some of the greatest public speakers use this technique, which when you map it out looks like a battlement – the up and down of a castle tower’s edges. With photos, try alternating between aspirational photos of today’s problems and tomorrow’s possibilities – where your products or services can make the difference.
3. Seeing is Believing. Choose images that celebrate diversity and inclusion, and help your current and future audience feel like they're part of your story. As photographer Dorothea Lange once said, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” You have the chance to move your audience beyond what they’re most familiar with.
4. Play with Scissors. Having a range of image types will keep your audience engaged. Don’t be afraid to crop closer than feels comfortable in some photos, and zoom out in others. Try different angles. Composition is an important part of the visual language, and composition rules are meant to be broken.
5. This Time, with Feeling. Studies have shown that humans remember images that evoke emotion. (https://www.nature.com/articles/nn1353). Choose images that you connect with. How will you know if you’ve found the right picture? One way is to try describing it. If your description sounds dull but the photo makes you feel something, then you’re onto something. The description of the photo below might read, “Woman sits outside of store waiting for her ride.” But her expression is so much more: It shows curiosity, openness, humor, and connection with the photographer.
6. Keep it Simple. Help your audience focus on what you want them to see by eliminating distractions. Cropping your frame and using black and white images are two easy ways to do this.
7. Invest When You Can. There are free high-quality stock images out there that work well if you’re in a pinch (see resources below). But if you really want your images to stand out, license stock images, or better yet, work directly with a photographer. Your audience will recognize the difference. (Friendly reminder to make sure you have permission to use a photo; copyright infringement isn’t a joke.)
8. Trust Your Gut. Above all else, follow your instinct. In the words of photographer Ansel Adams, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” If an image speaks to you, use it.
- For the TEDx talk on story structure, see: https://www.ted.com/talks/nancy_duarte_the_secret_structure_of_great_talks/
- To learn more about visual storytelling, read Susan Sontag’s “On Photography”
- Recommended free stock image sites:
About the Author:
Caroline is the CEO and co-founder of Nu Market, a social enterprise that elevates women artisans around the world by sourcing their unique handmade textiles for interior designers, collectors and other clients. She is also a photojournalist whose work has been featured by CNN, National Geographic, the South China Morning Post, Apple, British Airways, and elsewhere.