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.
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 FowlerWhile 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.