Cave-Man, Selling and the Art of Visual Storytelling


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If you are unfamiliar with the Paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux or Chauvet Caves in France, you might click on this link to the Chauvet Cave Paintings.

The images scraped, engraved, charcoaled and ochred onto the cave walls are truly stunning, masterpieces of their time and although there is some controversy in the scientific community as the age of some of the images.

It is generally accepted that they range from between 20,000-35,000 years old and different image sets may have been painted up to 5,000 years apart.

I recommend a trip to the theatre to see “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”, by Werner Herzog and to view these artworks on a big screen in 3-D in the next week or two, while it’s still showing.

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 what the familiar animals are in the above image – we know horses instantly when we see them. There is conscious thought required if the animal is unfamiliar to us, such as the 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 is the story the artist is trying to tell? Without the benefit of written comments, it is open to interpretation, but it seems that these images convey the struggle for survival of ice-age man against the dangerous predators in the food chain that they compete with for their existence.

Chauvet Cave Art: Lions Hunting Bison

lion hunt

Visual Images and Communication

Most people will agree that the best salespeople, most successful business leaders and admired politicians are great communicators.

We know that the most effective form of communication-as we can see through the millennia, is through pictures, in the cave art – simple a line drawings and a little shading.

Having established this link between ancient cave-art and visual perception, I want to switch to cognitive science and analyze what’s actually going on in our heads when we see these images.

Visual Perception and Memory

Our visual perception is an ongoing, automatic, cognitive process of selecting, grouping and interpreting visual information (wiki). Familiar objects are instantly recognized and remembered as they are conveniently stored as complete objects in our brain.

An example used in neuroscience to illustrate the difference between remembering and constructing a memory is the butcher on the bus; the butcher’s face is familiar to us, we know that we know this person instantly, even on a bus full of strangers because the memory of the butchers face is stored in our brain.

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

The fundamental distinction between the two processes is that recollection is a slow, controlled search process of reconstruction, whereas familiarity is a fast, automatic process.

Selling with Pictures:

Stay with me while I extend this argument with a question.whiteboarding survey2

What makes a great sales presentation?

The best presentations in sales communication successfully integrate simple images with product value-creation and weave a story around the buyer condition.

When we use Whiteboards to tell our story vs. PowerPoint bullets, we use simple hand drawn images (that are immediately meaningful in the context of the discussion), interwoven into a story around issues that the buyer is potentially struggling to overcome.

In a WhiteboardSelling enablement symposium, everyone on the customer-facing team learns to tell the story and draw the whiteboard.

There is massive difference in the level of cognition in the audience between an un-trained novices scrawled notes on a whiteboard and the whiteboard created by a person trained to present a visual story and to use icons to convey meaning.

Buyers will remember a well constructed whiteboard story months after the interaction; the scrawled notes will not be stored in our brain in the same way a poor PowerPoint presentation is discarded from our memory.


  • The art of the Chauvet Cave is worthy of investigation for its own sake and for the appreciation of the artistic prowess of our ice-age ancestors.
  • The essence of selling is effective communication and the most effective communication 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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