Ep. 39 – Visual Storytelling In A Virtual Era: The Ultimate Guide

Cece Payne

Cece Payne

Content & Graphic Design Manager - Follow us on social media to stay in the flow!
Cece Payne

Cece Payne

Content & Graphic Design Manager - Follow us on social media to stay in the flow!
Ep 39 - Visual Storytelling In A Virtual Era The Ultimate Guide with SpeakerFlow and John DeMato
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In today’s episode, we’re talking with photographer and portrait expert, John DeMato.

John is a branded lifestyle portrait, virtual/live event photographer who collaborates with speakers, trainers, consultants and other expert-based business owners to create an emotional connection with their audiences through persuasive visual storytelling.

John isn’t simply a photographer – he thinks like a marketer.

And this part is critical.

Listen to today’s episode to find out why and learn how to leverage your photographer in a virtual era.

Listen to the Podcast 🎤

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Show Notes 📓

✅   Reach out to John and get your shots in order! You won’t regret it: https://www.johndemato.com/

✅   Check out John’s Blog and learn more about visual storytelling: www.johndemato.com/personal-brand

🎤   Thank you to our sponsor, Auxbus! Want the best podcasting solution out there? Get your free offer here: https://auxbus.com/speakerflow

🚀   And as always, don’t forget about all the mind-blowing free resources at https://speakerflow.com/resources/

Read the Transcription 🤓

Taylorr: Welcome to another episode of Technically Speaking, we’re your hosts, Taylor and Austin and today we are talking about virtual photography and how you can leverage photography in a virtual era. Now, today we have brought in John DeMato. And Jon is a branded lifestyle portrait virtual live event photographer who collaborates with speakers, trainers, consultants, and other expert-based business owners to create an emotional connection with their audiences through persuasive visual storytelling. Now, John isn’t simply just a photographer, he thinks like a marketer and that part is critical. And we hope you love today’s episode as we unpack how to leverage photography in this virtual era, and as always stick around till the end for some awesome resources that John is providing to us, we hope you enjoy this one. And we are live. John, man, it is so great to have you on the show. Welcome.

John: Thank you for having me, gentlemen. I appreciate it. It’s nice seeing you again.

Taylorr: Yeah, it’s good seeing you.

Austin: This is kind of a long time in the making. You know, for our listeners. Here’s a fun story. We met a couple of years ago at Influence over the Cigar Peg Party. And we had a couple of drinks and we took some pictures only to be discovered later on after you and Taylorr reconnected and then being like, oh my God, we have pictures together and totally forgot. 

John: Yeah. And I take that as it’s not because I don’t want to remember people. It’s because I was drunk. [Inaudible 01:51].

Taylorr: It’s a scientific fact.

John: I’m sorry.

Austin: Honesty is important here.

Taylorr: Well, it’s funny how things come back around huh? So, John, one of the key way we love this show is just talking about your background, your history, what got you into photography? What got you into telling stories visually and what got you into the world of working with thought leaders and speakers? How did you get here? 

John: I got here after working nine years on a talk show and was tired of banging my head against the wall for many, many, many reasons. And then at a certain point I kind of got the inspiration to want to do something else. It was when my mother got sick and passed away, I kind of had that, what am I doing with my life moment? Apparently, the idea was to forget about working in television as a producer and jump into something that I never wanted to do, which was owned a business, to do something that I never thought I could do, which was photography, which ultimately led me to a place where I was flapping around like a fish out of water for the first year, year and a half of being on my own. And I across a speaker who focused on marketing and specifically focusing on how to build relationships and use that as a way to engage their audiences.

And that really caught my eye and my ear because I never even knew this kind of world existed up until the moment that I met this person on LinkedIn and then after that in real life. And I just kind of thought to myself, you know, I think this would be a cool kind of place to play and work with people that help other people. Where I came from a place where it was all about ratings and kind of taking advantage of people that didn’t really know any better and exploiting their stories and now, I’m working in a place of service with those who serve others. So that’s kind of how I fell into it. 

Austin: Wow. What a cool journey. I like that you took a leap too. That takes bravery and a little bit of insanity, maybe on some level or another. No offense.

John: Dude it scared the hell out of me. I had the three o’clock in the morning wake up out of a sound sleep asking myself what the hell did I just do? Walking away from a six-figure job with amazing health benefits so that I can go try to walk around with a camera in my hand and make something happen when I didn’t even know what the hell I was doing. It’s been a journey and it’s still a journey. It doesn’t stop. Keeps going.

Taylorr: It doesn’t stop.

John: No.

Austin: Things would be really boring if it stopped. 

John: Well, I know that now, seven plus years into this whole journey. You don’t realize, you hear that phrase, what is it? It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey and then you think it’s a bunch of crap when you work for someone else. It’s like, what is that? That’s some fortune cookie wisdom, nobody cares. But at the end of the day, it actually does mean something when you do something that is fulfilling and is a value to other people and it kind of ties into things that you’re extremely passionate about. And for me, my business is tied to my art so it’s my everything and I love it unconditionally. So now I get it. 

Austin: Yeah. That’s very cool. Well, it’s a process that unfolds too. And I think that at some point, if you don’t fall in love with the journey than the destination stops being worth it. Like the reality is nothing meaningful in life seems to happen overnight. Well, it does for some people, I guess if you get really, really, really lucky, but for most people, getting anywhere meaningful in life requires high highs and low lows and doing that consistently for a long period of time requires appreciating those highs and lows. If you don’t, then it seems to sort of self-implode and so way to stay consistent, man. That’s awesome.

John: Yeah, well, it was either that or stay doing what I was doing and start throwing people out windows so I figured this was a better option. 

Taylorr: Probably a better option. Yeah. So, one of the things I love about your work, particularly, I mean this in the most loving sense, but there are a lot of photographers out there and I think finding your niche and the thing that you specialize in kind of like what you said really early on, it was difficult. The things that you emphasize in your work is visual storytelling and it’s really synchronistic obviously with working with storytellers. And I’ve seen your photography man, and it does tell a story, but I’m a Luddite when it comes to photography. I don’t understand how visual storytelling is even possible. What goes into that thought process of being able to tell a story visually and how does photography play into that? How can we use photography to help heighten our story?

John: Well, the purpose of a photo, a portrait, or a self-portrait or a virtual photo or a photo of anything that relates to your life, your lifestyle, your brand, your business, all of them are meant as a business owner, if you’re leveraging these for your business, it’s meant to visually punctuate the sentiment of every story you tell. So, the goal is to have an array of images in your portfolio that have different sentiments all the way up from vulnerability to victory, because these are the stories that you share with your audience. You’re not sharing sunshine and rainbows every day, you’re not talking about how amazing life is all the time you’re sharing the ups and the downs, kind of like what we just talked about. And in order to effectively get that message across to your audience as a way to kind of captivate their attention, you need images that will resonate with people because it reinforces and compliments your expertise, your story, the way that you’re connecting with people.

And that’s what visual storytelling is. It’s not just a set of pretty photos where you’re looking wonderful looking into the camera and oh my God, I should be in a magazine. You definitely need flattering photos, but they also need to be revealing, they also need to be inspiring and they also need to be relatable. And then on the marketing end, they need to be flexible in the sense of being able to use it for different things. So, you’re not just shooting someone straight on in the same outfit or even different outfits, but from the same vantage point. You want to show a variety of images from up down left, right, wide, medium, close, different activities, different hobbies, different ways that you offer your expertise to your audience. They need to see that experience and that’s all a part of the visual storytelling umbrella.

Taylorr: Wow. I feel like I’ve just learned so many things when you said. That punctuation of sentiment.

Austin: Yeah, I love that.

John: Yeah. Visual punctuation. That is kind of the Hallmark of what I do and its what kind of presents my work in a way that might be unique from say someone who, also shoots speakers and authors and other experts. It’s that my approach is actually from my television life because I worked on a talk show with very dramatic storylines and the whole thing was driven by emotion. And what I realized is at the point that I started niching my brand towards experts and speaker was that the way that you capture people’s attention is not just through this it’s through here. And when you get them here, that’s when they’re going to start engaging. And once they start engaging, that’s when they connect and you start to build a rapport and from the rapport, you build the trust. And once they trust you, that is when they will make the decision to spend money on how you can help them get past what’s holding them back. 

Austin: Yeah. For the listeners, the this and the this was the head and the heart. Just to clarify that point. I totally see where… 

John: Oh sorry. 

Austin: Oh, no. Totally see where you’re coming from there. I’m curious, like the work that you do is I think in some ways inherently visionary oriented, it’s creative oriented, you’ve got to be able to take a static thing, which is a camera and a scene and capture something meaningful that elicits that emotional response, as well as tells the actual story of what’s happening in the picture. Do you ever find that there’s conflict between you as a creative and then your clients as creatives about how that story needs to be told or the best way in which that story can be told?

John: Well, during the calls that I have with clients prior to the session well, first of all, there’s the initial consultation calls. So that right there we’ll put to bed, whether there’s an issue with us being a fit to work together or not. And yeah, there has been times because some experts have their own way of perceiving themselves and that’s totally fine. I’m not for everybody and that’s why there are a million photographers out there and there’s plenty of opportunities for people. But a lot of people that come into my world are actually in a place where they don’t know what they don’t know. So, when we start talking about the way in which we’re going to capture these images of their lifestyle and the different portraits, looking into the camera too, I [inaudible 11:11] do that as well. But it’s really about them understanding why we’re capturing these photos and whether or not it resonates with them.

And generally speaking, once we start going down that road of explaining why we need to show your process, why we need to illustrate what your expertise looks like with respect to the experience your audience receives, be it on a screen or in real life, they get it because they understand what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to build relationships with people. And these types of photos are very effective at doing that. 

Austin: Yeah.

Taylorr: Nice. 

Austin: I like that. I like that you’re combining to the technical expertise that’s required to take really great photos top of the more conceptual side of things of how we tie the storytelling principles into it. It’s very much a left brain and right brain endeavor at the same time. 

John: Yeah. As I say to my clients, and that’s by design and that didn’t come out of the gate when I started doing this. The idea of having a photographer that thinks like a marketer is extremely important because otherwise the photos are not going to be positioned in a way that they can be immediately implemented into someone’s online presence, be it for the website or blog thumbnails or social posts or any kind of other promotional materials. They’re just going to get pretty photos that kind of have to be plugged in and changed and adjusted so that it’s retrofitted to plug that hole. Whereas what we do is get it right straight out of the gate and these things are ready to roll the moment that they’re in their inbox. That is the goal because we want to minimize the amount of friction between the time that they get the photos and then implement them immediately. We want it to be a very smooth process.

Taylorr: Nice.

Austin: Yeah.

Taylorr: [Inaudible 12:56] they have an implementation focus on that too, because I think some people, it’s easy to view any service that you’re getting from somebody else. It’s just the end product of the photos, for example, or if you’re getting a website, built the website and so on. But it’s a whole other thing to actually implement that and then get the value out of them at the exact same time. What are some of the best practices you give people generally with implementing their photos? How can they take these amazing photos that they now have sitting in their inbox and actually use them everywhere? Is it just a matter of using them everywhere? How do you choose the right ones? I just have so many questions.

John: Well, with some clients I’m actually on board with them to audit what they have and make sure that we put in what they need right off the bat. If I am not handholding them through that process or working with their marketing team to make sure that happens, every time that I have a session with a client with the lifestyle portrait stuff or any live stuff, we review the shots together right after the session or the day after on a zoom, if I’m flying back home or whatever the case may be, we review every photo. And as we’re looking at them, we’re not just looking at, oh, this is cool, keep it. This suck, get rid of it. It’s more about this is good and here’s how you can use it. And then talk about getting into the nuts and bolts of it, starting with the emotional sentiment of it.

Because as I mentioned before, visual punctuation is very important and that applies to every story you share by the way, across. So, if we’re talking website, copy, we’re reading that copy and we’re trying to figure out what sentiment works best with that. And one of the other things that I just started doing with some clients is suggest to them that as we go through these things, what you could do is instead of just having a pile of 500 photos or 200 photos or whatever, what you can do is segment the session based on the style of shot. So, if we have 20 headshots, 30 shots of them working on a laptop, 30 shots of them looking out a window, brainstorming ideas, sub folder all of those. That immediately is going to make the anxiety and the stress and the overwhelm of looking at your photos go down dramatically.

Because the moment that you have an idea for a story, or you’re updating the site or whatever you immediately have in your head, what kind of photo would I want? And out of the ones that I took, where should I start? You go one-to-one folder and then you only have like 20 instead of 300. And then the next step is the ones that really pop that you’re really like, create a sub folder as a favorite folder in each of them so then that’s the first folder you go to with like three to five pictures. Because again, it’s about minimizing friction.

Austin: Yeah. Oh man, that’s…

Taylorr: Super actionable. 

Austin: Very practical. Yeah. I appreciate that. This came up while you were talking about this, where zoom session reviews. There’s no doubt that we’re in a virtual world and I’m curious, how has this world that we’re in right now with an emphasis on zoom impacted your business as a photographer?

John: How did it impact my business? Well, it forced me to all of a sudden start shooting a laptop on a folding table in various rooms of my apartment as I roll around on the floor, like a crazy person shooting someone talking on a screen. [Cross-talk 16:22].

Austin: Got it. 

John: Never thought I was going to do that. But you know, the thing about that though is it comes back down to adding value to your people. It’s April of 2020, I’m getting over COVID and I got wrecked for a while, and I was not in a good space emotionally, mentally, physically, or anything because everything was wiped off the board because I shoot people in person, kind of need to be in the same room. Doesn’t work during a pandemic. But during an NSA NYC meeting in April, they had their first zoom meeting. I simply signed up so that I could just see some familiar faces and not feel completely depressed about my life. 

So, I signed up and watched, but as I was watching the program begin within three minutes, I’m like, all right, I got to do something. I can’t just sit here. I’m used to shooting their chapter meetings all the time, I’m a photography sponsor for the for that chapter. And my camera’s sits over there in my office and I just grabbed for the camera and I sat in this chair, I’m kind of slumped over and just started shooting the screen and the next thing you know, the photos kind of worked. I thought they were kind of interesting, I thought they were going to suck, but it was kind of interesting. Posted it on Facebook, two people shared it and from those two shares of virtual photography business and that’s pretty much how it happened. 

Taylorr: Wow. 

Austin: Wow. That’s serendipitous. It’s crazy that that came from a place in your life to where you’re feeling some despair about things. It’s pretty cool that creative energy came out of that.

John: Yeah. I just wanted to feel useful, man. Just in all honesty, I want it to feel useful and that there was no thought of, oh, this could be a thing, I’m going to make money off of it. The thought of it being a business reposition, I hate pivot, so I don’t ever say it. It was a reposition. And at the end of the day, my people want to zoom and so did I, and that’s pretty much all it is. 

Taylorr: Wow. What have you learned in that time of now having to tell stories still visually, but virtually? I can imagine after being what now a year and change into this whole fiasco of shooting virtually you’ve picked up on some things. So how can we as storytellers communicate our story, but still apply that kind of virtual component that we’re all experiencing still?

John: I think one of the things that I’ve seen that’s very effective is compelling the engagement of your audience through the chat, because that gets people excited, especially the introverts that really hate being in a normal room and they like to hide, this is their place to shine and they’ll be throwing comments off left right up and down so asking for engagement is great. On the speaker end, if you don’t have the ability to set up something with a high-level camera at all of the crazy bells and whistles, don’t try, just do something clean and simple. Get that camera at eye level, stop shooting up your nose. Don’t look like a hostage victim sitting in front of the window where you’re completely blacked out and silhouetted. Keep it simple, simple lighting, and just focus on the content because at the end of the day, what you’re saying on a screen is exactly the same stuff that you’re saying in real life, it’s the same thing that you say in your book, it’s the same thing that you say in your master class and your webinar or whatever the case may be. Virtual, just focus on the good stuff and make sure that the audience feels like they’re a part of the process. 

Austin: Nice.

Taylorr: Yeah. I feel like if you can capture that too, some images of chat blowing up on zoom will go a long way on your website these days too so that’s some good advice.

John: Yeah, I do it all the time. And one of the other things is when I do zoom meetings where it’s a staged audience, sometimes I don’t shoot actual events, sometimes clients will hire me just to build up a portfolio of virtual photos and will fake it. They’ll get colleagues and some clients or family members, whatever the case may be, they come on into the room and they’re doing that and what I’ll do is prompt the speaker to tell people in the audience, to write certain questions that relate directly to their expertise so when I shoot it, they can then use that image as a jumping off point for content because it’s an easy Q and A, and it’s a really interesting way to show the question.

Taylorr: Nice.

Austin: Boom. And I love that the advice that you’ve given has both been photography, visual storytelling, I guess we’ll put it in that way related and also just like general process related. I think that any speaker doing anything has to be in the right head space and have their mind right about what actually needs to be accomplished. And it sounds to me like if you can just create an organic environment where the right things are happening and the person feels able to communicate whatever their expertise is, that your ability to help them is easier. Am I hearing that right? 

John: Yeah. At the end of the day, what you need to do is minimize all those visual distractions, you don’t need all the fancy stuff, you don’t need to try to be anything more than you already are because at the end of the day, the reason why those people are in that room is for their own purposes to get better at whatever it is that you can help them get better at. So, worry less about, oh my God, my ATEM switch, or I don’t have this. If you have the means and the ability to do that, and that is where you want to go, that is awesome. But you don’t have to do that in order to create impact in the people’s lives that you serve.

Taylorr: Amen. If there’s anything to take away…

Austin: Seriously.

Taylorr: From this episode, it is that. So, John, what are some of the ways we can leverage photography as thought leaders? So, we’ve talked about, obviously you can sit down in front of a camera, we can take portrait shots, lifestyle shots. Is that what they call those? But what of all the other ways that we can leverage our thought leadership and photography? Just lay it on us? 

John: Well, the first place I used to start is what is your business look like? How are you serving your people? Figure out what that looks like and then capture the images of all of those different things so that you’re able to promote those things to the people that you serve. And, we’re promoting it on social, we’re promoting it on your blog, all of those regular channels, but also, these lifestyle images don’t necessarily just need to be used for content. I’ve had clients use this stuff, obviously for book jackets, for leave-behinds, for different kinds of promotion. I had a client who had his… I forgot where it was Singapore or somewhere in the far east and they basically took one of the portraits I took of him and blew it up as a 10-foot by 12-foot backdrop for a step and repeat. I thought it looked crazy.

But the point is, these photos can be used in a wide variety of areas, including your presentations as well. That’s another thing, because a lot of the photos that we capture are not your face. They’re your hands, they’re the equipment that you use for your business. Like for example, you guys are podcasting. So, I’ve shot podcasters before and they bring their boom arm and they bring their mic and we do all kinds of stuff with that. It’s really unlimited as to the different places that you can leverage it. It just first starts with figuring out what your business looks like and then working outward from there and then capturing that stuff so that you can use it to promote yourself wherever you need to. 

Taylorr: I love how simple that is. It’s just everything you do capture it, tell a story with it, share it with the people you serve. It seems like a pretty easy recipe for success and I don’t know that I’ve had photography breaking down so simply before. I remember when we were just starting the Speaker Flow days, just understanding how to capture imagery about what we do, I had no box for any of that. And so having to kind of learn some of that as we go, I feel like you just solidified two years’ worth of experiential knowledge for me so thanks John. 

John: You are welcome. And it took me a lot longer than that to figure out.

Taylorr: I’m sure. Yeah, that’s right.

John: But you know, it’s one of those things. I don’t know what this business is going to look like in three years from now. And I’m not that necessarily concerned about it. What I’m concerned about is just meeting my people where they’re at right now and being able to give them what they need and informing them of what they need that they don’t know about and then we just go from there. 

Taylorr: Nice. Oh, I love that super, super actionable and super clear. John, you are a wealth of knowledge. Everybody that’s listening right now needs to go check out John’s site. It’s going to be linked in the show notes below. He is a practitioner of what he preaches. Look at his images, read his copy, everything coincides. You certainly are going to have to check it out. John, thank you so much for being a wealth of wisdom for us today. As you know, we’re all about providing value for our audience members so what are some of the things you’re working on right now that our listeners can benefit from?

John: Well right now and also since 2017, I write a blog. I do three blogs a week and it just breaks down visual storytelling and the different components of the things that I do. And if people are interested in learning more about how I help people and learn more about how they can get more out of their images from what they already have, I suggest they go sign up for my blog. We’ll put that in the show notes, right?

Taylorr: Yeah, for sure. We’ll put a link below. I’ll put a link directly to John’s site so you can all check that out. Certainly connect with John if you’re feeling like you need a photo refresh and hey, if you liked this episode, don’t forget to rate it like it, subscribe to it. And if you want more awesome resources like this, go to speakerflow.com/resources. Thank you so much for chiming in. I just wanted to take a second to thank our sponsor Auxbus ox bus is the all-in-one suite of tools you need to run your podcast and it’s actually what we run here at Speaker Flow for Technically Speaking. It makes planning podcasts simple; it makes recording podcasts simple; it even makes publishing podcasts to the masses simple and quite honestly, Technically Speaking wouldn’t be up as soon as it is without Auxbus. Thank you so much Auxbus. And if you are interested in checking Auxbus out, whether you’re starting a podcast or you have one currently get our special offer auxbus.com/speakerflow, or click the link below in our show notes.

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