There is a process to find and tell stories that communicate
how a company changes lives.
Before you can tell stories for a company the company needs a strategy. This strategy is most always built around increasing profits. If you are a nonprofit you are still most likely trying to raise funds.
Start with the question, “What does the company do for its customers?” Usually this falls into two categories from my experience.
First is they help their customers with a problem they are having and cannot fix on their own. A great example are plumbers that help unclog people’s pipes.
Second many companies provide an experience for their
customers. Great example of this would be Disney World.
Decisions are largely emotional, not logical. In fact, even
with what we believe are logical decisions, the very point of choice is
arguably always based on emotion.
Companies want to inspire their customers. This involves
changing the way people think and feel about themselves so that they want to
take positive actions. It taps into people’s values and desires.
The best thing to do is to tell a story. Stories don’t tell
people what to do. They engage people’s imaginations and emotions. They show
people what they’re capable of becoming or of doing.
The key is to find the best story that illustrates how your
company played the hero by helping a customer.
Make a list of some customer stories that you have played a
part in and get these elements for each story.
Identify your customer crisis and the needed help
What would have happened if the help was not received?
How bad was it for them? Bump in the road or was this life and death?
Are they available to capture their story?
Will they be willing to tell their story?
Once you have a good list of possible stories, go through
them and rank them from the most emotional to least emotional.
While you will try and do the story with the emotional
impact that pulls on people’s heart strings, you must be realistic and see
which one is doable. Which one can you get the best visuals to support the
For the past 35+ years I have been going to photography workshops and seminars as well as getting the industry magazines. 99% of all the information is built around building better photography skills.
I believe that there are basically two categories of photographers in our industry: 1) Gear Acquisition Syndrome & 2) Aesthetically Driven.
I would notice through the years that those with Gear Acquisition Syndrome which I believe is basically the source of stress based in the uncertainties that are part of the creative process.
I actually think most all photographers have a little of the GAS in them. It takes courage to create and the anxiety will always be there. Overcoming fear is part of this process and in the end finding personal success with life’s challenges is rewarding.
The reason for that GAS problem is that when we are at these workshops and seminars we see that some of the creative content is produced with new gear. Time-Lapse and Drone Photography are two of the biggest things I see as motivating people to buy more gear to get something creative that they cannot do with their present gear.
Sooner or later you end up in the Aesthetically Driven camp. You are looking for images that have impact.
If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.
I watch as more and more photographers pursue interesting content. Many pursue wars, refugees, medical crisis, and so on. Many are treating people more like objects for their photographic prints. There are still some who are using the camera to move people’s hearts to take action to improve the world.
Too many are thinking that they are playing Checkers. They should be playing Chess. The problem is they see a game board with 64 squares, but the similarities stop there.
How to Make Money
The one thing that is missing for most trying to make a living in this industry is understanding of how a company makes money. Too many people think if they know how to make photos with their cameras that people will want to hire them.
Most photographers call around and ask if people need any photos taken. While there are many ways to do this the problem is this puts the average photographer in the category of a commodity. Once you are seen as a commodity like wheat, barley, sugar, maize, cotton, cocoa, coffee, milk products, pork bellies, oil, and metals it is almost impossible to make a living. The reason is simple there is always someone willing to do it cheaper.
How to avoid becoming a commodity
Say no to low prices. If someone wants your product or service for less than you are offering it, and you say No, then you are holding firm. There is no chance you are a commodity if you do this.
Price yourself higher. I know of some people who came into markets and made a killing because they priced themselves as the “Fine Jeweler” in a market flooded with “Walmart” priced photo services.
Know your value. If you believe in your value (because it is good value) then this will make a huge difference.
Copyright Knowledge & Cost of Doing Business isn’t the Secret
Too many photographers go to the seminars about usage rights and then start doing quotes based on this new knowledge and often see they are losing even more business. Others figure out their bottom line and discover they need to charge a minimum and when they put that into place also find they are losing business.
You see all this is being focused on you. Don’t get me wrong you need all of this knowledge to be successful, but that isn’t the key. Those are all necessary. But the compass for your business is the customer’s needs and desires.
Questions you should be asking
Why does the customer need this to improve their business?
What are my clients problems?
What could help my client communicate better with their clients?
What makes my client better/unique as compared to their competition?
How can I capture with my camera something that will communicate how they can help their clients make more money?
How can I create an experience for my client that makes them enjoy life better?
Who are your customers?
Focus on Customer Experience, Not Customer Service
When you interact with a client that is customer service, but when you are not there and the customer interacts with something from your business that is an experience. Customer service is critical and important, but it is only a part of the customer experience.
Maybe you are a wedding photographer and the people loved you and your team at the wedding. That is all about customer service. When you posted photos throughout the day of the wedding to social media and their family and friends were able to see them on their wedding day even if they were not there, well that is customer experience.
The photographers that turn around images quickly as compared to those that take 3 to 6 months to get the photos to the bride and groom create a better experience. When your photos capture precious moments and tell their story better than they could imagine–that is customer experience.
You need understanding of what drives profitability and cash flow, a market-focused approach to the business and an overall big picture understanding of the business and its interrelationships. Each of the pieces of your business are more like the pieces of a chess set. Together all of them are different and help you play the game and win.
Your Biggest Mistake
You discover that the 64 squares you have been playing on are a different game than you thought you were playing.
You have been trying to move all your pieces to the other side of the board, when the game really isn’t about that at all. In chess you can win in as little as two moves. It isn’t about taking all of your opponents pieces to win.
What is the objective of the game? What are you trying to accomplish? All those questions lead you to one thing in business. Those who get to know their client and see what they need to be success and do all they can to help them be successful in turn also become successful.
It Takes All Three
You need Gear
You need to be creative aesthetically
You need Business Acumen. Know how to help your clients make money.
[NIKON Z 6, Sigma 35.0 mm f/1.4, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/200, ƒ/1.4, (35mm = 35)]
Many of us may feel like Joseph, son of Jacob & Rachel in the Bible. His story was made into a broadway show Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Joseph repeated two of his dreams to his brothers, in which he was portrayed as ruling over them. In the first, the brothers were gathering wheat in the field, and the brothers’ bundles bowed to Joseph’s bundle. In the second, Joseph envisioned the sun, the moon, and eleven stars (symbolizing his parents and brothers) bowing to him.
This prompted feelings of jealousy within his brothers.
You can read the story in Genesis 37 if you haven’t heard it before or need to review it.
While all those dreams would become reality it didn’t happen right away.
The FaceApp which takes a photo of you and ages you was popular this week. It was a quick way to see into the future. It wasn’t long before someone read the fine print and realized you may be giving your data to a foreign government like Russia.
Patience Young Grasshopper
“Patience, young grasshopper” comes from a 1970s TV show called “Kung Fu”. David Carradine played the role of Kwai Chang Caine, a half-American half Chinese character in the old west who had been trained as a Shaolin monk in China.
The opening line to every show was the Master telling David Carridine “When you can snatch the pebble from my hand ‘Grasshopper’ it will be time to go.” Needless to say, the show went on for years before he finally snatched the pebble out of his hand. This, in turn, produced the saying to a young person, or any person trying to learn something that would take more than a day or two to learn, “patience young grasshopper” and it stuck all of these years.
Seeing the Prize vs Getting the Prize
Both Joseph and Kwai Chang Caine saw the prize. Joseph through his dream and Caine could see the pebble right in front of him.
I see all the time how I can help a client using my skills to help them attain their goals. So, why can’t they just see how I can help them? I can save them money, time and headache if they would just let me.
Does that sound familiar? I think all my photographer, writer and storyteller colleagues see every day with their clients how they could really help, but the client is for some reason not willing to let you do your thing.
Getting 20/20 Vision
I have found that often when I look back over my career that had I not had to wait to do what I thought I was ready to do I would have missed out on some experiences that prepared me to do an even better job for the client.
Had I not lost my job with the International Mission Board I couldn’t have then worked for Georgia Tech. I wouldn’t have gone back to school for my master’s in communication.
Without the masters degree I wouldn’t have been able to be an adjunct professor teaching photojournalism at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at The University of Georgia this past year.
When I first started working at the Hickory Daily Record in 1984 my skills were really limited. When I went to the International Mission Board I didn’t have things in my portfolio that said send Stanley to cover that story.
While working on my masters degree I had to work full-time to pay the bills. I was one of the first photographers hired with a new concept Glamour Shots. That was before PhotoShop days. I learned so much about posing and working with people to do headshots.
Going After What You Want vs. Letting Things Come To You
You do need to set goals. Going to college for instance is necessary for many jobs. You need to go after that goal in order to get the job you want.
Then there comes that point where even if you’ve done everything in your power to make it so you discover you can’t make it happen. This is where the letting things come to you part enters the conversation. At a certain point, we need to release control. Loosen our grip. Allow things to unfold. Give it up to a higher power, the universe, whatever. For me I pray about it and give it to God.
I do believe that what you need comes to you at the right time, even if you don’t quite understand it. My faith has taught me that God is in control.
I am learning that you need to let some things happen organically. This is where when a client brings up something you are ready to speak. It also means that you back off after speaking.
One of the best things I have learned is that Great Ideas also require the right season for them. Putting seeds in the ground is a great idea to grow something. However, it has to happen at the right time of year or they never will grow into anything. They actually can die.
Another thing I have learned that if you plant grass seed in the late fall it will grow in the spring. If you plant it early or later, the grass will not burst from the soil until the conditions are right. The right temperature, sunlight and water.
Prayer for Anxiety/Patience
Father, sometimes the wait is long and impatience gets the better of me. Forgive me and grant me the patience to await your blessings upon my life and not question your power.
Meghan Duncan & James Dockery catching up since their time together in Kosovo a couple years ago. This is Meghan’s second storytellers workshop. [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 140, 1/200, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 24)]
We have a teaching schedule that requires the subjects to be available to the storytellers for a good 3 to 4 days at the first of our time in the field. Meghan’s person had some job come up at the last moment which through her whole project either out and we find a substitute or as Meghan pushed for was to pack all the process into a couple days.
Since this was Meghan’s second workshop Jeff Raymond decided to let her along with the support of Bill Bangham going with her on getting the b-roll to meet that deadline.
The success of the project has a great deal to do with how motivated Meghan was for what would require event later night editing than most.
Meghan was given this paragraph about Cesar:
Cesar became a believer while he was in prison. He became a spiritual leader within the prison and now wants to continue ministry as a pastor. He has started studies at the Facultad but is currently taking a break to get married. He is involved with a new church plant and will hopefully become the pastor of that church.
Watch how she got more by peeling the onion as we say in storytelling.
If you are passionate about theological education, start the conversation with ABWE here at abwe.org/go.
Storyteller Ken Robinson is listening in class to James Dockery teaching Adobe Premiere Pro. [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 8000, 1/100, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 105)]
Storyteller Ken Robinson was assigned Christian Aracena for his story. Here is the paragraph that he was given.
“Christian Aracena is a Facultad graduate who is currently leading a thriving church plant in Las Condes. They have an English translation available for their service which ministers to ABWE short-term missionaries and other expats (not just from the US). His one daughter is currently attending SCA, but his older daughter is struggling with English impacting her ability to attend SCA. They are currently homeschooling her.”
Ken wrote on Facebook, “Well it is finished! The Storytellers Abroad Missions Multimedia Workshops is complete. The finished product is more than just this video, it is the friendship and connections made and the difference in the lives of everyone on our team. We may never know the full impact our work until the other side of heaven!”
Watch the final story that Ken captured.
If you want to support the Facultad Teológica Bautista ABEM so they can help more students like Christian Aracena go here to learn more on how to do just that.
If you want to do a workshop like Ken did to capture this story then go here Storytellers Abroad.
Storyteller Catherine Gray is out early capturing b-roll of the Ciliniroglu children being dropped off at school. [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 1400, 1/100, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 35)]
Storyteller Catherine Gray was given one of the stories that was to help ABWE missionaries running a school in Santiago, Chile. We asked the missionaries what they needed. One of the primary needs was funds to use as scholarships for the students to attend the school.
We then asked the team to identify some of the students/families that have benefited from a scholarship. They then gave us this information about one such family.
“Cuneyt & Claudia Cilingiroglu are parents of four students at SCA. He is from Turkey, and she is from Chile. Several years ago, they began a local business making muffins and desserts, but it had a slow start. As a result, money was tight. Through the Student Fund, SCA was able to reduce tuition to allow their kids to continue attending while the business got started.”
Watch the video, captured by Catherine, to see how ABWE stepped in and gave them more than just financial help.
If you want to support the Santiago Christian School so they can help more families like the Cilingiroglu family go here to learn more on how to do just that.
If you want to do a workshop like Catherine did to capture this story then go here Storytellers Abroad.
Cole Buchanan is off to get B-Roll of pastor Rodrigo Cisternas. [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 800, 1/100, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 82)]
Storyteller Cole Buchanan was given this small paragraph and then asked to flesh out the story.
“Rodrigo Cisternas is a graduate of the seminary (Facultad) in Santiago. He is now the pastor of a church in Recoleta that was planted by ABWE missionaries. That church has grown to almost 300 people, and they have worked to start 3 additional churches. He also teaches at the Facultad and has children attending Santiago Christian Academy at a reduced cost thanks to the Student Fund.”
Storyteller Jennifer Nelson works with coaches Bill Bangham and James Dockery putting the final touches before our showing to the missionaries who helped us in producing these stories.[NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 3200, 1/100, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 28)]
Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, Texas sent their former staff pastor Julian Pizarro to Santiago, Chile to do missions. Pizarro went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for his training.
He is planting a church in the upper income neighborhood of Los Ciruelos.
Storyteller Jennifer Nelson was assigned the Pizarro family because they are sending their children to Santiago Christian Academy which was founded by ABWE [Association for Baptists for World Evangelism] for the purpose of helping missionaries with the education of their children while doing missions.
Without the school Julian’s wife was staying out of the ministry to do full-time home schooling of their children.
Listen to the story that Jennifer captured telling how Santiago Christian Academy is helping them be more effective in their church plant.
If you are interested in teaching in a missions school around the world like in Chile to to www.abwe.org/go to learn more about opportunities to serve.
Maybe you are interested in learning how to tell stories like this one. Go to StorytellersAbroad.com to learn more about workshops in the future.
Emily Tromp, in the foreground, working hard on her story during our Storytellers Abroad Multimedia Missions Workshop in Santiago, Chile. [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 4500, 1/100, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 28)]
Before the workshop starts for participants, some of the coaches go early to the country and lay the foundation for the workshop. We spend time working on some of the logistics that involve housing, food and transportation for the workshop.
The core to this time is finding stories. We talk with the missionaries and find out what are the needs they have right now. Often these are things like a building, money for something and people.
Basically it is a list of wants and needs. The problem with this list is there is nothing emotionally engaging to it.
We then ask the important question “Why do you need this?” That is when they tell us what they can do if they get those resources. Often those answers are pretty generic. “We can help more people” is a common answer.
Can you give us an example of a life changed by your ministry that you need more support for? This is when we start to find those stories.
The teacher/missionaries at the Santiago Christian Academy shared how through the school they were doing evangelism of families. Some families just need some help with scholarships and that by individuals like you and churches also supporting they can reach more people with the Gospel.
This is one of those stories.
Storyteller Emily Tromp
Storyteller Emily Tromp shares the story of Maria Paz Gonzalez, a single mother who lives with her daughter, Antonia, in Ñuñoa, Chile. Maria has dealt with a great deal of adversity in regards to her health and has struggled with heart issues that have impacted her ability to work. Due to financial difficulties arising from her medical needs, she did not believe she could afford to send her daughter to Santiago Christian Academy, but thanks to the “SCA Student Fund” the school has been able to cover the costs of Antonia’s education. Despite continued struggles with her health, Maria continues to keep a positive outlook on life and gives thanks to God for everything he has given her.
To support the student fund, go to abwe.org/give and search for Santiago Christian Academy Student Fund.
Maybe you are a storyteller yourself, but have never done a missions story. We are planning workshops right now for next year. Go to Storytellers Abroad Multimedia Missions Workshop website and start the process so we can alert you to the trips and dates for next year.
The workshop is designed for those who already have a working knowledge of photography and have some basic writing skills. Many of the past workshop participants worked on their college newspapers, studied communications in college or have been working in the industry.
The workshop is designed around doing what a seasoned pro storyteller would be doing to tell stories for a missions agency. Our coaches have been working in missions for years. I grew up in missions and have been doing missions storytelling professionally since 1984.
Here are some of the things we address and this is not a complete list:
Identifying the Audience
Identifying the Client
Navigating the politics of missions organizations
Cross cultural issues
Difference between using logic and emotions to tell stories
Why you need to know the story before hitting the record button
Understanding how Human Voice, Words, Visuals and Music can all tell a story more effectively
Having a “REAL DEADLINE” and delivering a finished story to the client
Coaches share their call to “Missions Storytelling”
Deep dive into a person’s life that you get to tell their story