Monday, September 13, 2010

3 Reasons you may not want to use Stock Images in your Presentations or Elearning

Last Wednesday, Richard Lee treated us to a great Pecha Kucha performance (above). His talk - "More than Words", was not just a treat in terms presenting naked, but also used a style of presentation visuals. Richard hand drew all his visuals, creating a very organic, edgy feel for his talk. Now that's something I've been thinking about. I have a love-hate relationship with stock images. There are times I like them, but then there are other times when they're just inappropriate. In today's blogpost, I want to cover off some reasons why you may not want to use stock imagery in your presentations.

Stock images are beautiful. Actors dress up perfectly; they put up the right expression; the lighting and the backgrounds fit perfectly -- it's symphony in action! And that's where they sometimes fail. Real life isn't all that perfect. In fact real people don't even dress as perfectly as the actors on stock images. If I was doing a generic presentation at a conference the picture on the left hand side (above) could be a great one to depict a meeting or people trying to collaborate in a physical space. On the other hand, if I was to be presenting at ThoughtWorks, I'll get laughed at for using that same picture. We're a company of geeks and to start with we have a very informal dress code at the office. The photograph on the left is just not authentic. The image on the right, however, is a real ThoughtWorks image from a real meeting and provides a more authentic representation. It's fairly important to tailor visuals to an audience and while some visuals may just be more stunning, authenticity often trumps asthetics.

Story Telling

In presentations, your images are not just placeholders for your speech. Often they tell a story. For example the picture above is a great example of teamwork for me, and is an opportunity for me to tell the story of how these two acrobats worked as a team to create stunning poses and an awe-inspiring performance. I could choose a stock image instead, but it takes away the opportunity for me to tell a story from my own experience. The bane of stock photography is that the visuals lack context. When you click your own images or use images that capture a moment from your own life, you can tell stories that no one else can. That's something that makes your presentation unique. Your presentation is your 'purple cow'.

Recreating Real Situations
Often times, stock images are just so generic that they struggle to capture the dynamism of a real situation. In the case of Richard's presentation, he wanted to pick out situations that we'd all seen in recent days to make his point about how people might mean something completely different from what you think they're saying. While extreme Photoshopping skills might help you along, sometimes that's way too much trouble. In Richard's case, he found it easier to borrow my tablet and sketch together a bunch of images to show examples of how people in our team talk about food, hiring rickshaws and choice of apparel! Sometimes it may mean that you have to try and snag a photograph with the help of your colleagues at work and use that image for your presentation. The key here is to stay true to your story and to ensure that you're recreating it in a credible manner.
"Stock images are the bullet points of the 20th century" - Martin Fowler
While I'm not as critical of stock images as Martin and I continue to use them quite a bit in my presentations and elearning, I like to be pragmatic about their use. The fun thing about presentations is that there is no silver bullet. Slides are only a medium to express your thoughts and should be secondary to your story. So while my Pecha-Kucha offering career advice to TWU grads primarily used stock images, my other Pecha-Kucha on how the magic never ends at Disneyworld Orlando, uses a lot of my own photographs. I am particular about beautiful slides, but I'd like to warn you against doing that at the cost of your story and content. After all, the presentation is not about the slides, it's about you and what you want to share!

That brings me to the end of this little blogpost and I'm sorry I've run late this time; do let me know what you think by leaving a comment or two.


Terry Reid said...

I also have a love-hate relationship with stockphotos. Another reason to limit their use in your work is you begin to see them everyone - other people's e-learning, websites, ads. One day I was in an elevator and saw a poster for another companies summer do - using an image I'd just used in an e-learning course. Leaves you feeling less than original!

YvesHanoulle said...

I use a lot of pictures of my kids in my presentations. When I am away so much, I have a professional excuse to look at them. It also shows (them and my audience) they are important to me. It makes the stories I tell so much more personal. I have also found out, it gives people less temptation to steal my presentation as it is.

Anonymous said...

I hate loathe and despise stock images. Seeing one (and as you point out they are obvious) makes me feel that the presenter is simply not telling the truth. I make no exceptions for this. A blank slide is better than a stock photo. Always.

Sarrah W. said...

You have really expressed a good thing or thought about the stock images. I mean that stock images can represent the theme but to express it freely we have to choose for the diagrammatic and thinking presentation to much extent. When we choose a diagram we can able to judge and present it freely too. stock images are good for the photography lovers those who also want to decorate their PC or laptop or their tabs and phones. It is just good when we want to have a sort of memories for the future.
stock images royalty free

Agen Ibcbet said...

I really admire the important ideas that you offer in the content. I am looking forward for more important thoughts and more blogs.

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