Get Smart Panel Q&A: An Inside look at “When Your Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words”

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Written by Zahra Adamjee

This year at Get Smart, industry leaders and some of the top visual communicators in Austin will come together to learn and share success stories. As we maneuver through a digital ecosystem, visual storytelling has become an essential part of both personal and organizational branding.

For the panel, “When Your Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words,” Women Communicators of Austin will host Stephanie Carls, Jane Ko, and Sonja Sommerfeld for an eye-opening discussion about how they’ve achieved their current success through imagery. Moderator Leah Fisher Nyfeler will lead the panel and prompt panelists to share how they create a deeper, more engaging connection with their audience.

To give you a sneak peek on who our speakers are and what they want to share, we asked our panelists questions about their professional lives and what they hope attendees will learn.

Stephanie Carls | digital consumer electronics reviewer, My Savvy Life

Stephanie Carls is a speaker, video marketer, digital correspondent, and founder of My Savvy Life, a weekly YouTube video series. Specializing in consumer electronics, Stephanie helps you navigate new devices, apps, and tech tips to help you tap and swipe your way to a simpler and more “savvy life.” Her creative videos have landed features in The New York Times, NBC News, and Huffington Post. As a digital correspondent, Stephanie has represented brands at events like Chevrolet, Cottonelle, Marketwired, and even Nexersys on CBS’ “The Doctors.” 

What are some ways you have used your creative skills to your professional advantage?

Video has helped me do some very fun and creative pieces to help me stand out professionally. I also have technology to thank for that as well. We all are carrying a studio in our pockets with our smartphones, so it’s fun to use that to our advantage. I’ve shared my wedding from the unique perspective of a GoPro in my bouquet and most recently went tech-free for 24 hours and documented it for Austin Woman Magazine. Plus, I love sending personalized video messages in emails as it is an easy way to share your personality and stand out.

What’s the first pivotal lesson you learned about achieving results?

The first lesson I’ve learned is to be true to yourself and your passion. My love for technology has been something fun for me to share with others through my YouTube channel and if you aren’t passionate about something, it shows — especially in video! Growing a community around the channel has been amazing and that has only happened through others seeing that excitement and sharing theirs with me as well.

What’s one media platform that has changed the way you communicate and why?

I’m sure you aren’t surprised at all to hear that my favorite media platform is YouTube. When you watch video, you feel more connected to the individual that through text on a page. You are able to watch emotions and feel even more a part of the story than ever before.

Can you give us a brief intro to what GetSmart attendees can expect to learn from your panel?

With this panel, attendees will be able to hear our stories on how visual content has helped change the way we communicate. Plus, we will all have stories about how visual content has changed in the past year and what we’ve had to do to keep up with the trends.

Follow Stephanie on Social Media:

Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Website

Jane Ko | food writer, A Taste of KoKo

Jane Ko is the blogger behind A Taste of Koko, Austin’s top food and travel blog. A Taste of Koko features the hottest restaurants and weekend getaways, and is the official restaurant expert for Visit Austin TX. A Taste of Koko has been featured in O Magazine, InStyle Magazine, OWN TV Network, and The New York Times.

What are some ways you have used your creative skills to your professional advantage?

In the past 7 years of running my blog, I’ve learned photography, social media, web development, copywriting and marketing. I was able to apply these professional skills to the various social media jobs I’ve had at different companies and agencies I worked at.

What’s the first pivotal lesson you learned about achieving results?

That you’ll just work even harder to achieve even more results 🙂

What’s one media platform that has changed the way you communicate and why?

Instagram has given me the opportunity to create a platform for locals and visitors to engage with me on things to do and where to eat in Austin.

Can you give us a brief intro to what GetSmart attendees can expect to learn from your panel?

A Taste of Koko is 100% visual brand so I will be talking about the magic behind creating this blog. I will also be sharing how I started A Taste of Koko when I was a college student to doing it full-time and working with brands like Carnival Cruise Line, Bud Light, IKEA, and more.

Follow Jane on Social Media:

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Website

Sonja Sommerfeld | photo editor, Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine

Sonja Sommerfeld has always been passionate about photography, starting at an early age by playing with toy cameras and learning darkroom techniques in her bathroom. Her technical training started at Texas State University, where she majored in International Marketing and Fine Art Photography before earning a prestigious master’s degree in photography in Paris. Before accepting the position of photo editor of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine four years ago, she was freelancing photojournalism and editorial assignments as well as advertising clients for the better of 15 years.

What are some ways you have used your creative skills to your professional advantage?

I’ve selected images that are visually arresting from hundreds of submissions is my main skill for my current job as photo editor at Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. I also find it invaluable to be able to select a single image to communicate a whole subject.

What’s the first pivotal lesson you learned about achieving results?

When you work in the creative world, confidence in your ability is key. Secondly, being able to defend your decisions with experience and art education is also very useful.   

What’s one media platform that has changed the way you communicate and why?

Instagram has open the door to a different kind of marketing. It allows you to be visually forward with your communications to reach a different younger audience.

Can you give us a brief intro to what GetSmart attendees can expect to learn from your panel?

Being in publishing, I know how important the role of visuals are in communications even for a state agency trying to get more (and younger) audience participation in conservation and awareness.

Follow Sonja on Social Media:

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Moderator of “When Your Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words,”Leah Fisher Nyfeler also shares her experience as a leader in communications and gives us a brief look at what to expect during the panel.

Leah Fisher Nyfeler | Programs Chair, Freelance Austin

Leah Fisher Nyfeler is the Programs Chair for Freelance Austin, a special interest group of Women Communicators of Austin. Former editor in chief of Austin Fit Magazine, Leah happily wears a variety of freelancer hats (writer, editor, social media manipulator, and communications director for Top Trip Rentals).

How did you develop an interest in communications?

My dad had an old manual typewriter; huge, “portable” only in the sense that he carried it with him throughout his undergraduate and graduate schooling, with an inky ribbon and zingy return bar. The kind of typewriter that makes a really satisfying clack-clack-clack. As a kid, I banged out stories and poems on that thing. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in communicating with the world through words.

I’ve been an English teacher, educational writer, editor, freelancer, court transcript proofer…but landing a job at Austin Fit Magazine (2011) transformed and solidified the type of communications I truly enjoy. Working as Editor In Chief revealed how much I love all aspects of content strategy: big picture planning, giving assignments, creating content, editing, overseeing layout, promoting (who knew I’d dive so willingly into social media?), and mentoring. As a freelancer, blogger, and communications manager, I continue to focus on work that satisfies my content strategy passion.

What is your biggest piece of advice for an aspiring leader in communications? Never, ever stop learning. The beauty (and challenge) of any communications position is fluidity. What’s the current technology, and does it work for you? How has language changed? Where do you find reputable sources? What’s the industry’s gold standard, and who’s modeling it? What exactly does “communications” cover these days? You’ll always be at the forefront if you realize what you don’t know and constantly strive to remedy that lack.

How has networking and active participation in organizations changed the way you connect? I would not be where I am today without mentors. There are just too many to name, but I think “seven degrees of separation” would all lead back to Patti DeNucci, my first and most influential mentor, and Women Communicators of Austin (in all its earlier iterations: I was there for those original “brown bag lunches”in the 1990s). You can’t separate networking from participating, because there’s no connection if you aren’t getting up and getting noticed. On a side note: Don’t think your hobbies aren’t valuable networking opportunities. Passion projects are fabulous resources, and I can count several opportunities, including that EIC position, stemming directly from my long, active involvement within Austin’s running and triathlon communities.

What will attendees gain from listening to a live panel discussion?

Jane Ko was speaking on brand building at BlogHer2017 when she laughingly reminisced about her first forays as a food blogger. When I learned of Get Smart’s “Visually Speaking” theme, I immediately thought of her story: how far things–expectations, equipment, education–have come in such a short time! This live panel will explore the changing nature of visual content via three communicators: Ko is a food and travel writer; Stephanie Carls creates digital content for personal electronics reviews; and Sonja Sommerfeld is the photo editor for Texas Parks & Highway Magazine. Our conversation will highlight practices through personal experiences–where they started, how increased visual emphasis impacts their work, and what each believes her ever-evolving communication field’s future will hold.

Follow Leah on Social Media:

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Website

About Jennifer Van Gilder

A marketing research and health communications professional passionate about doing work that changes lives for the better. Adept team leader able to develop and execute integrated, multichannel public awareness campaigns and community-based solutions.

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