Look for Audience before Story

ESPN broadcasting from the Fanzone at the Georgia vs Alabama SEC Championship game at the Georgia World Congress Center. [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 2500, Ä/5.6, 1/80]

When you first begin your journey into becoming a storyteller you start with a story. When I am teaching Intro to Photojournalism at the University of Georgia the students find something that interests them.

I started my career professionally at East Carolina University where the photo staff of the newspaper was paid to do stories. After college I went on to the Hickory Daily Record where I continued to focus on finding stories.

I continued to look for stories as I went to work for The Commission Magazine and then on to Georgia Tech working in communications.

Greg Thompson, Director of Corporate Communications, Chick-fil-A [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 100, Ä/1.8, 1/30]

In 2008 Greg Thompson, Director of Corporate Communications, Chick-fil-A proposed a crazy idea that I work with his team a couple days a week where I would sit in on meetings and listen. He and I would get together and discuss my thoughts and if I thought the timing was good I would speak in the meetings to give some of my opinions.

Greg said lets evaluate this after six months. Well now 10 years later we are doing the same thing.  In those years I have learned a lot as well as helped them a great deal with visual communication and storytelling. 

Greg taught me a great deal about the in’s and out’s of strategy. What I discovered over the years is I really had a gift for strategy and Greg helped me to understand how to navigate some of the politics of working with an organization.

Biggest Take Away from Chick-fil-A

Greg was leading the team not to focus on the content, but rather the audience. The answers to better storytelling were in better questions.

Why is this content important to the audience? In case you haven’t noticed in the time I started working with Chick-fil-A in 2008 they celebrated 2-Billion in sales. This past December they celebrated 10 Billion in sales. That is a 500% increase.

This commercial from a few years ago for UPS sums up it pretty well from my perspective.

Try communicating with an audience that is so busy they have no time for interruptions.

In this environment you should be very aware of your audience. We worked with departments helping them understand why the audience doesn’t have time for their information and also helping the audience get information that would help them with the business to run more efficiently.

I have so many friends and organizations that basically want people to take notice of something important to them. What I have learned these past ten years with the help of Greg Thompson and his team is that understanding your audience helps you know how to tell a story so that it is relevant to the audience.

James Dockery and Stanley Leary behind the camera demonstrating to the students how to do an interview with the help of Evelyn Stone with her some Jon doing the translation at the Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru. [X-E3, XF18-55mm Ä/2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 4000, Ä/4.5, 1/100, Focal Length = 27]

Servant First – A Servant of the Heart

Here is my tip for those who want to be successful. You must be focused on making others successful, not yourself. 

I believe there are basically two types of stories – 1) Entertainment Only & 2) Call to Action Stories.

Most movies and TV shows are great stories that move us to laughter and/or tears. They move our heart and souls. They bring out emotions in our bodies.

The Call to Action Stories do the same thing, but they are told with the purpose of getting the audience to be involved in some way.

Advertising is a Call to Action. Non-profits use storytelling also as a call to action to get their audience involved in their mission.

The best storytellers for nonprofits is the person who cares so much for the subject and the audience they see how using a story to connect the two is a way that serves them both. The audience sees a way that they can use their gifts to serve an audience in need of them. The subject is uplifted and is also able to serve the audience. 

When storytelling is done at it’s very best the audience is understood and helps in the shaping of how the subject’s story is told so that a partnership is formed where they can serve one another.

Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. 

 Philippians 2:4

Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 

Galatians 6:2

And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works. 

Hebrews 10:24

Storytellers Abroad Peru Workshop

Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 2000, f/8, 1/200, Focal Length = 24]

This was a packed week for the team in Lima, Peru. We were getting up around 7 am and going to bed around midnight or later every day.

Jay York interviewing Elvira Cuevas and Andrea Carhuachîn  Translates during the Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru[NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 2200, ƒ/4, 1/200, Focal Length = 24]

We had a big group of 18 people. Jeff Raymond organized all of us. We had three instructors, four administrative staff [one of those a translator] and 10 workshop participants working on 9 stories. Two of the team worked together on one story.

James Dockery teaching on Adobe Premier during the Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru[X-E3, XF18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 4000, ƒ /4.5, 1/100, Focal Length = 29]

Eight of the nine stories were done in Spanish with subtitles in English. 

Josiah McConville interviews Lucho & Rosa Martinez while David Heim translates Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 1800, ƒ/7.1, 1/200, Focal Length = 24]

One of the first thing that the first timers noticed was how long it took to do an interview when you must work with a translator. 

We taught what a storyline includes and how to do a better job interviewing people to improve the quality of that story.

Every story we did was about a person impacted by a ministry.

Jay York’s Story on Elvira Cuevas
Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru[NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 4500, ƒ/4.5, 1/200, Focal Length = 68]

Life Before & After

What was the difference this ministry made in your life? Due to the ministry what is it now that is different than before?

Josh Hart’s story on Darwin & Vanessa Diaz. He is a teacher at Iglesia Evangelica Bautista “Las Flores” in San Juan de Lurigancho area of Lima, Peru. Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/640, Focal Length = 28]

The Inciting Moment

What was the moment that you realized you needed some help and how did  you find this ministry to help you?

This is from the first getting to know you dinner we had where Jay York is meeting the subject Elvira and her son Chris during the  Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 51200, ƒ/4, 1/100, Focal Length = 105]

Call to Action

Unlike going to a movie where the primary purpose of the movie is only to entertain, all of our stories had a call to action. After hearing this story would you like to support this ministry in some way? 

Josh Hart’s story on Darwin & Vanessa Diaz. He is a teacher at Iglesia Evangelica Bautista “Las Flores” in San Juan de Lurigancho area of Lima, Peru.
Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/640, Focal Length = 28]


There are basically two parts to the finished projects. There is the interview and then there is all the B-roll which is shown while they are talking that compliments what they are saying.

Marissa Dickey, missionary to Columbia and also a workshop participant, gives the devotional during the Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru. [X-E3, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, ISO 6400, Ä/4.8, 1/100, Focal Length = 300]

The students learned how to shoot a series of photos from a scene and then would put these in an order to help move the story along visually. 

Josh Hart shot a lot of video of the subjects getting in and out of a cab, walking to the church, opening the door and walking in. He shot this from their front, their back and from the side. That was just one scene. He had scenes of the pastor walking from the back of the church to the pulpit and then another series on him preaching.

After doing many more scenes he had enough b-roll to help compliment the interview so that you felt like you saw and well as heard the story.

Our next trip is June 18th to July 4th to Romania. If you are interested and want to learn more then go here and learn more StorytellersAbroad.com.

Why you should be data-informed and not data-driven

Storytellers Abroad Multimedia Workshop [X-E2, XF18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 400, ƒ/4.5, 1/150, Focal Length = 83]

In data driven decision making, data is at the center of the decision making. It’s the primary (and sometimes, the only) input. You rely on data alone to decide the best path forward. In data informed decision making, data is a key input among many other variables. You use the data to build a deeper understanding of what value you are providing to your users.

I have sat in many meetings hearing about analytics. When I first learned about analytics I was thrilled. You see one of the things that is very frustrating is how the content you create is seen but no one clicks the LIKE button.

However, analytics doesn’t rely on the audience to “LIKE” your content to know if they have been to it or even shared it. It can record if someone came to the page and how long they were on the page as well as many other tidbits.

FANZONE for the Georgia vs Alabama SEC Championship game Georgia World Congress Center[NIKON D5, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, ISO 65535, ƒ/4.8, 1/4000, Focal Length = 62]

Are you aware of “Blind Spots” in your analytics such as images?

Images are increasingly taking over social media and becoming a major way of engaging and talking about your brand. Images are generally more memorable and shareable than text.

There are over  300 million active daily users on Instagram alone, it’s clear images are a huge social commodity. But why is the intent behind sharing images such a big deal? For starters, not all images are accompanied by text. Sometimes the whole point is that words can’t adequately convey the emotion or event, so it’s shared in image form. If your social media listening is all about text, these posts and users aren’t accounted for in your analytics. This is your “Blind Spot”.

What this means is there is really no way to get accurate analytics about photos, unless you could employ eye tracking technology. Most people are not going to allow for their cameras on their phones and computers to be turned on to watch how they are behaving while looking at your content.

Georgia vs Alabama [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 14400, ƒ/5.6, 1/250, Focal Length = 52]

Why are clickbaity headlines working? Content that piques users’ curiosity does well. Instead of writing clickbaity headlines, can we integrate this insight it into our content strategy. Write about topics that people are curious about, but may not know enough.

I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I‘d asked customers what they wantedthey would have told me, “A faster horse!”’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

Steve Jobs
Lifeshape Third Annual Legacy of Leaders Golf Classic [NIKON D5, 35.0 mm f/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/1250, Focal Length = 35]

Editorial judgment is still needed alongside analysis of quantitative data. Each newspaper and station adopts its own news values. Having good “news judgement” means you understand your audience and your organizations principles and values.

Being a good storyteller/journalist is very much akin to being a good parent/teacher. You do rely on data to help you know what is working and at the same time you are looking out for them and distill information into a digestable form for them.