Cave-Man, Selling and the Art of Visual Storytelling


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Are you familiar with the Paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux or Chauvet Caves in France? If you are not, please click on this link to the  Chauvet Cave Paintings.

The images scraped, engraved, charcoaled and ochred onto the cave walls are stunning. They are masterpieces of their time. 

Scientists date the paintings at between 20,000-35,000 years old, with some images drawn 5,000 years apart.

I recommend a visit to Netfix to see “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”, by Werner Herzog.  

Chauvet Cave Art: Horses, Aurochs and Rhino Fighting 

chauvet horses


The artwork in these caves is around 30,000 years old, yet in a fraction of a second we recognize the objects. 

We don’t have to think when we see the familiar animals in the above image – we know horses when we see them.

We do have to think if the animal is unfamiliar to us.  Such is the case with Aurochs (giant pre-historic cattle) on the left of the image  – but we know it looks like a steer of some sort. Aurochs have been extinct since the 1600’s.

Consider the image of the lions hunting bison below. What story are the artists trying to tell?

The images seem to convey ice-age man’s story of survival against the dangerous predators in the food chain. 

Chauvet Cave Art: Lions Hunting Bison

lion hunt

Visual Images and Communication

Great salespeople, successful business leaders and admired politicians excel as communicators.

The most effective form of communication throughout human history, is through words and pictures. In the cave art – simple line drawings and a little shading. Today’s best business communicators use simple images and stories.

Why is this medium so powerful and what’s going on in our brain when we see these images.

Visual Perception and Memory

Visual perception is an ongoing, automatic, cognitive process of selecting, grouping and interpreting visual information (wiki).

Familiar objects exist as complete entities in our brain, requiring, no construction or interpretation

To illustrate the neurological difference between remembering and constructing a memory, we use the story of the butcher on the bus. The butcher’s face is familiar to us.

We know that we know this person, even on a bus full of strangers, because the image of the butchers face exists in our brain. 

We don’t have the context, but we know the face. It takes time for us to think, recall and reconstruct the circumstance of seeing the face until we remember, “ah – it’s the butcher”.

Recollection is a slow, controlled search process of memory reconstruction.

Image recognition is a fast, automatic process. When telling visual stories, simple line drawings or meaningful high quality photgraphs work better than metaphorical images.

Selling with Pictures:

Stay with me while I extend this argument with a question. What makes a great sales presentation?

The best sales presentations use simple images and weave a story around the buyer condition – not bullets. Click the image below to view an 8 minute video review of Chip and Dan Heath’s book “Switch”, which is source of the elephant idea.


Buyers will remember a well constructed visual story months after the interaction. We will have forgotten 90% of a standard PowerPoint product or company presentation within a day or two of the presentation.


  • The art of the Chauvet Cave is worthy of investigation for its own sake for the artistic prowess of our ice-age ancestors.

  • The essence of selling is effective communication.

  • The most effective communication form uses simple visual images interwoven into a story.

  • Visual Storytelling is our link to man’s earliest recorded history and works as well today as it did 35,000 years ago.

* images c/- Bradshaw Foundation  

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mark Gibson
Mark Gibson has been at the forefront of developing sales and marketing tools that create clarity in messaging value for 30 years. As a consultant he is now engaged in helping sales, marketing and enablement teams to get clear about value creation. Clarity attracts inbound leads, clarity converts visitors into leads and leads into customers, clarity builds mindshare, clarity engages customers, clarity differentiates value, clarity helps onboard new hires clarity helps raise funds, clarity + execution win markets.


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