The Portfolio Presentation: Mistakes photographers make and how to avoid them

There are many ways you may get to show your work to someone. What you need to know is that you never know who is the actual person who may end up hiring you. While this person is having their work reviewed by the legendary Dave Black, two other people were watching.

I know that one of those looking on was probably more likely to be the one who could hire the person than any of the others, including Dave.

Photographers are often given the opportunity to speak to groups and many of those groups are other photographers. Here Joanna Pinneo, National Geographic Photographer, speaks to a group of photographers. In the room were a few of us who would hire Joanna to do work for some of our clients. I know I called her and had her shoot some work for Chick-fil-A.

Every year at the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference in Fort Worth, TX one of the biggest highlights of the conference is the 2-minute shows. Here is a link to the rules for the two minute shows.
Here is one of my 2-minute shows that I used one year.

One of the best things about the 2-minute show is it really helps you to get your thoughts focused and presented in a timely fashion. I believe every photographer should have at least one or more 2-minute shows that are self contained. This is where you might voice over the photos to help clients know what you do and can do for them.

Today clients may not even give you 5 minutes for an in person interview. Just send me a link to your website is what you will hear a great deal. So, why not direct them to the 2-minute presentation you created just for them?

Why did we use 2-minutes as a standard?

We used the elevator pitch as the one thing most of us should be able to do at a moments notice in order to get jobs.  Here is Chris O’Leary’s outline for you to understand the core essentials of the Elevator Pitch.

What is an Elevator Pitch? 
A quick definition of an Elevator Pitch is as follows…

An Elevator Pitch is an overview of a product, service, project, person, or other thing and is designed to get a conversation started.

Why do I need an Elevator Pitch? 
You need an Elevator Pitch for one reason: time. Most people are extremely busy and simply won’t give you much time to get their attention. As a result, you must get your point across in an extremely rapid manner.

What is the purpose of an Elevator Pitch? 
The purpose of an Elevator Pitch is to get the attention of the person you are talking to and convince them to keep talking to you.

How long should it take to deliver an Elevator Pitch? 
In general, the less time the better. More often than not, that means 30 seconds or less (the time-span of the typical elevator ride). However, in some cases an Elevator Pitch can run as long as one or two minutes.

What are the characteristics of an effective Elevator Pitch?
An effective Elevator Pitch is nine things…

1. Concise
2. Clear
3. Compelling
4. Credible
5. Conceptual
6. Concrete
7. Customized
8. Consistent
9. Conversational

I highly recommend every photographer to go to the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference and do a 2-minute presentation. The goal is to hook people in the audience so they want to talk to you. Then the other thing is to have a folder of images [20 or so] that you can sit down with people and get your work reviewed.

Many who come are editors and are looking for hiring people for projects through the year. This is a great time to show your work, get some feedback and then make those changes to improve your presentation.

Tips for photographers who want to get hired more often

Treat every presentation you give as an opportunity to show the audience how you help clients improve their business.

Tip #1 Start on positive
Never start your presentation by apologizing. It sets a negative tone for the entire meeting, and it also makes you look like you’re shirking your responsibilities. Customers like to work with agents – not victims.

The only thing worse is an apology with strings attached. I’m sorry I am running late, but I still need the full time.

Tip #2 Focus on the client
“I have 15 minutes left, and I’m only through 20 of my 58 PowerPoint slides, so I’m going to be going through this last bit a little fast.” Sound familiar?

Guilting your audience into paying attention not only doesn’t work; it’s insulting. Don’t try to force your customers through your agenda. Your presentation needs to focus on their needs – period.

Tip #3 Avoid Excuses
Talking about yourself instead of your customer’s needs will only waste their time. Who cares where you were last night, how long your flight was or how late you were up? Get over yourself, quit whining and start focusing on your customer.

Tip #4 Start with the hook
Please put all your customers’ issues, problems and objectives up front, and save your corporate marketing material for last. Believe me, your customer isn’t even slightly interested in hearing about how great you are, unless they first hear about how you understand their problems, and how you can solve them.

Tip #5 Smile
Don’t forget to smile. You need to continue to show how excited you are about what you do and the opportunity to work with them.

Tip #6 Remain visible
Be very careful to not turn your back on the audience. This is really important for you not to read your PowerPoint slides to them. People are reading your expressions and body language while you talk. Help them see you.

Tip #7 Watch your speed for talking
Talking too fast or too slow can be a turn off. Keep your speed conversational as if you are having a cup of coffee with a friend.

Tip #8 Use real examples
Do use real life examples, quotes, stories and testimonials. They’re critical to making your story come alive, and persuading people to buy your products or services. Just make sure that these stories are as specific – and as relevant to your customer’s situation – as possible.

After all, no matter how much you love that favorite anecdote about what happened last year at a friend’s house, unless it involves your customers’ problems, challenges or your solution for them, a business presentation probably isn’t the best place to tell it!

Content AND Presentation

Too many photographers think their pictures alone will be getting them jobs. They may even have the work on the level of the best in the industry, but you must also be able to package your content [photos] in a way that is digestible for the audience.

If you are ever given a time frame to stay in for your presentation, always stay in it. Arrive early and test everything so you know it is working.

Practice your presentation many times before giving it. Do not ever give a presentation that you haven’t run through before. Try to find someone to listen and give you feedback to your presentation.

Presidents take a few months to work on their State of the Union Address. Comedians take a year or two to prepare for a show. Musicians work for a long time before they take their concert tours on the road.

Successful photographers prepare just as much. Those who can’t find jobs are the ones who are not prepared to present their work.

Photographer Public Speaking Tips

Next month I am speaking at Grandfather Mountain’s Camera Clinic. As I was preparing for this, I realized each time I speak I am trying to improve over the time before.

Many years ago Dennis Fahringer asked me to be a guest instructor in the Youth With A Mission Photography School. The very first time I spoke to the group I felt like I was not connecting with the class. By the end of the week teaching I was connecting. If you would like to attend that school Dennis Fahringer created a web page for all your questions here.

What I learned during that first time teaching in Kona, Hawaii were a few things. If you find yourself asked to do public speaking to groups here are some tips that I found have worked for me.

Break your talk up into segments. Think of beginning, middle and end or like chapters of a book.

Example of your work

I believe the very first thing people need to hear and see from me is what I do. This is why I am often asked to speak.

Create a visual elevator speech. I’m sure you are familiar with the concept of the “elevator speech.” The idea is that — if you are asked what you do for a living or what your company does — you should be able to give a complete, compelling answer in the time it takes to ride an elevator to your destination.

I have many small multimedia presentations and one of those is a 2-minute elevator speech. I like to start with this and then quickly show one of my most recent multimedia presentations to warm up the audience.

This approach helps establish my credentials and why I am speaking to the group on a topic.

Your Story

While people are interested in what you do, they are equally interested in your story on how you came to this career.

If you were in the audience you will have noticed that I first had you look at a screen for about 7 minutes showing my work with just a brief setup for the multimedia shows. You will now notice that I have gone to a black screen and now visually shifted your attention from the screen to me talking.

Rather than just telling my story I engage the audience with my story. Since I am usually talking to adults, I tell the group how I didn’t talk at all until I was three years old and this was a major concern for my parents. I ask them what this often means about a child.  Usually someone in the audience knows the answer—I most likely am autistic.

Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behavior. The diagnostic criteria require that symptoms become apparent before a child is three years old.

I then share how ironic it is that someone with autism is a professional communicator.  After a few comments on how I still have some quirks in my personality due to autism I find the audience is much more sympathetic and appreciative that I have been so open.

This takes about seven minutes to share.

My topic

I try my best to keep my core presentation to 18 minutes. Why? Well I think the TED talks format seems to resonate right now with most audiences.

TED curator Chris Anderson says:

It’s long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It turns out that this length also works incredibly well online. It’s the length of a coffee break. So, you watch a great talk, and forward the link to two or three people. It can go viral, very easily.

The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.

Often this is when I go back to the projector and setup the topic with establishing first there is a problem.

Then I follow it with a solution.

Next step is I establish another problem.

Then I follow it with a solution.

This method is great for moving people through the subject to me showing my problem solving techniques and solutions I have come up with for the problems I see in the industry.

I learned this technique from Nancy Duarte who uncovered the structure of great storytelling.



I try to allow for about 10 minutes of questions at the end of my talks. If no one is asking questions, I go into my Socratic method to get them thinking and ask questions to the audience on the topic.

I hope this helps you when you prepare to give your next speech.

Need a speaker?

Give me a call if you need a speaker for your next event.

Are you experiencing professional photographer burnout?

Do you feel burned out? How often are your pitches to your clients landing on deaf ears? Do you feel like your clients no longer care about quality?

While in the best of times I felt like there was a disconnect, when the economy tanked I understood the lack of funds. Today I am seeing money spent, but from my perspective unwisely. I see the possibilities of how I could really help clients.

If you are thinking like this maybe the key is to rethink how you are doing business.

There are three sides to every story—yours, the truth and mine.

I have been coordinating a group of photographers for a few years now. We meet quarterly in the Atlanta area. We started giving everyone the opportunity to give a two-minute presentation. So few could adhere to the time limit I changed it to five-minutes and still most cannot get their material presented in the time frame.

Frankly this is a key insight into why so many photographers are failing today—they waste people’s time. If you are not clear as to what you do and can help others do then no one else will understand as well.

Your Elevator Speech

You should be able to tell people what you do in an “elevator speech.” This is a very concise short summary of what you do and has a value proposition. The name comes from the amount of time it takes to ride an elevator to your destination, which is usually thirty seconds to two minutes.

If you do not have an “elevator speech” I would recommend putting one together. It is very similar to a Mission Statement or Vision Statement.

Start with these parts:

•    Define who you are
•    Define what you do
•    Define how you are different
•    Define your audience
•    Call to action
•    Why should they care

Refine each of these and then assemble this and start with the why. This is the hook to pull them in. Here is one example I have used a few times.

Have you ever given your elevator pitch and realized they just need to see it to believe it? This is what I help companies do everyday. I help them with visual storytelling.

I have on my phone, iPad, computer and website a quick slide show that is my two-minute elevator speech. When I am talking to someone I am showing a few examples of what I do to accompany my narrative.

Time to Listen

After you have done this long enough you will get clients that know you and recommend you.  Once you have some people using you, then you can go to them and see how they would describe you. In a way you are looking for your two-minute speech, as they would give it on your behalf. 

I recommend going deeper than this and really get to understand how others define you.

You can hire a professional coach who will help you do a 360 where they talk to people and find out how others see you. If you don’t have the resources to do this, then you just need to approach some clients and ask them for some time to help you out. 

You could do a focus group. You can choose to get a group of people together or you can do this one-on-one. The key here is to treat this like a focus group. Most people are compensated for their time.  My suggestion is to have a game plan and timetable.

Be upfront with what you are doing and respect their time. Maybe offer to take them to lunch and tell them you need about 90 minutes of their time. Set aside 30 minutes to eat and then take the time they agree to remaining, ask your questions and when time is up, not when you finish your questions stop.

Some people may not want to be all that honest and upfront, so you may have to bring up touchy topics by saying some people say that you are strategic but not good with follow through, and then ask them if they agree or disagree.

You might find out that you come across as an arrogant person. All this time you thought you were being helpful and now you are finding out you were sabotaging your brand.

Whatever you find out remember they think highly enough of you to meet with you and want to help you.  This is why after you have heard some weaknesses you might want to ask what are some things they suggest to make a change.

Look for a consensus before making changes. The patterns are what you are listening for and not each individual comment alone.

The Truth

We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My mentor, Don Rutledge, used to say to me that the best judge for a photography contest is the public, because they will judge the photograph merely on the impact it has on them. He went on to say that as practitioners of photography we should study which photos have the most impact and understand why.

If you take the time to listen to how you are perceived then you are now ready to make the necessary adjustments to help you grow in your business.

Take all those positive comments and be sure those are now part of your “elevator speech.”

Take the constructive criticism and make some changes. Let’s say people think you come across as a know-it-all or arrogant. Maybe instead of just shutting down all your comments, you ask nonthreatening questions.  Have you ever thought about …?

You may need to practice this new way of bringing up your concerns or ideas. Remember it will take time to make these adjustments.

When you lack a hook

You maybe fully aware of your brand and what you offer, but you still are not getting business.

Your business model is not addressing the needs or desires of the customer or they would be using you.

A few things can be happening here and you need to be honest with yourself.


•    They need what I offer, but can get this somewhere else
•    They don’t see what I offer as a need
•    What I offer isn’t desirable. Think luxury here

Be sure your elevator speech is not about facts but is about emotions. When you are able to hook into people’s emotions, then you will be successful.

Some wedding photographers say they take pictures of weddings, some say they are helping families write the first chapter for their new family. Which one is getting to the core of what they offer?

SWPJC 2-Minute Show

This is the 20th Annual Southwestern Photojournalism Conference this week in Fort Worth, Texas.  You can read more about it here

One of the highlights through the years is the “2-minute shows.”

Everyone’s got something to say, but can you say it in two minutes? We’d like to give you the chance to take the stage and share your vision in 120 seconds. That’s right, you’ve got just 2 minutes be it in photos (limit of six) or multimedia.

[youtube]This year I am using my 2-Minute Show to invite folks to Tibet with me. I would love some feedback. Give me your comments below.

We normally start at Billy Bob’s at the Fort Worth Stockyards on Thursday night with the students shooting the dancers.

I enjoy seeing my good friend Morris Abernathy each year.

Anke enjoys her friend Ashley Veneman

Louis Deluca and Garret Hubbard.  This year Garret is a keynote speaker. 

Bill Bangham as you can see is a CLOSE personal friend.  He has a show hanging in Richmond, Virginia.

Jim Veneman is the driver of the SWPJC Bus.  He helps keep us on time.

Louis Deluca, Morris Abernathy and Jim Morris are up to something as always here in the Stockyards.

OK this was the moment I decided I wanted a Nikon P7000.  Jim Veneman looked like he had left his cameras at home and then out of no where he pulls this out. 

Gary & Vivian Chapman talk with Kevin Vandivier

Garrett Hubbard is just a great guy and loves to help others by reviewing their work at the conference.

This was one of my past slide shows at the conference.  I liked it enough to keep it on my website. 
You may not be coming to Fort Worth, but take the time to create your 2-Minute Show and see if you can WOW us with your work and tell a story in the process.