6 Essentials to a captivating modern headshot

Even if you dread the camera


This week, I have the honor of delivering a new set of professional portraits to a smart, successful business advisor. Compelling modern headshots, oozing with personality and elements of her personal brand. They are real, relatable and refreshing. Soon, they will be featured in her social media profiles, website, proposals, speaking promotion and other collateral. These inviting images will greet clients, prospects and others in her network and the business community with the same down-to-earth warmth that she exudes in person. Each offers a sense of what she can bring to the business relationship. They will prompt those who know her to say, “Wow, she looks terrific. I need to give her a call, get together for a coffee and catch up on the latest.” They will cause others to say, “I want to meet her and learn about the work she does.” To say I am giddy with excitement as these photos prepare to go out into the world is an understatement. Why? I know they will play an important role in capturing attention, building trust and starting new conversations.

Thinking of new headshots?

Good news. This blog post is filled with insider advice to help you look your best, even if you are uncomfortable in front of the camera.

Good first impressions

In today’s digital world, you know your LinkedIn profile picture is often the first face-to-face contact many will have with you. The same goes for your company’s website. You understand the importance of showing up as the best version of yourself on these and other social media channels. You value the impact your image can make. You want your photo to cause busy people to pause for a moment and say, “I need to reconnect.” or “I want to meet her.” 

Here’s the struggle

You dread getting your picture made. It ranks right up there with organizing your sock drawer. Sadly, it all goes back to the bad haircut that botched your 4th grade school pics. But you are ready to give it another go. You realize professional up-to-date photos say “I care. I take pride in myself, my occupation and the quality of the work I do for others.”

Enter the modern headshot

Between digital transformations and the lifechanging work-from-home days of COVID, it is not surprising that the traditional headshot has undergone a makeover. Say goodbye to stiff poses in front of muted blue backgrounds. Get ready for fresh contemporary portraits that feature individuals as the best versions of themselves. It’s all about telling a human story that focuses on one’s spirit and presence. A visual tale that highlights a person’s unique traits, talents and interests. One that says “hello” in a welcoming way and encourages connection with others. The modern headshot can be made in a studio, workplace or location meaningful to you and your brand. Even in a classic or retro setting. The options are as endless as your creativity.

6 Essentials

The secret to compelling images begins in advance of your shoot. For maximum impact, focus on these 6 elements before you say “cheese.”    

  • Know what you want your photos to say  

What messages do you want to resonate? Identify key traits of your personality and personal brand that you would like to emerge. For example, positive energy, quiet confidence, voice of reason, trustworthiness. Next, consider how you want others to feel when they see your photos. Are there things you want them to remember or do upon seeing your picture?     

  • Be you

It is normal to be critical of yourself before a photoshoot. My nose is crooked. I need to drop a few pounds. I wish I looked like someone else. Stop. People want authenticity. They want to do business with real thinking, breathing, emotion-filled people. Show them who you are rather than a made-up version. Remember, there is only one you on the entire planet. The world needs your gifts. Be proud of who you are. Celebrate your uniqueness and what makes you, you. When you let your guard down and be yourself, others will be encouraged to do the same. This is where real dialogues begin.    

  • Work with a photographer who wants to help you tell your story

Meet with potential photographers to discuss your reasons for new photos. Talk about what you want to accomplish and ideas to bring them all to life. Learn how the shoot will be structured. Are they interested in helping you tell your own story or simply providing a quick one-and-done session? Good chemistry is another important factor. Not only will this help settle your angst it will set the stage for compelling images to emerge.

  • Select clothes that reflect your personal brand

Choose outfits to align with the image you want to project. Go with clothes that make you feel confident. Select colors that flatter you and blend well with the photoshoot venue. Solid colors generally photograph best. Fit and comfort are also important. Accessories, such as scarves, ties and jewelry can change the look of an outfit. Keep them simple. Consider bringing several for your shoot. Don’t forget the little details. Check your clothes for wrinkles. Iron if necessary. Clean and polish your shoes. Glasses too.  

  • Plan for freshly styled hair  

A trip to the hair salon before your session can create a finished look for your photos. This is not the time to experiment with a new hairdo. Remember that 4th grade haircut disaster? Avoid the temptation to get so glammed up you don’t really look like yourself. Work with your stylist to make you look like you.

  • Create a connection with your audience

When you get in front of the camera, let your body language do the talking. Look into the lens as if you are looking into the eyes of the person looking at you (via your pictures). Display warmth with a genuine smile. Beware. There’s no greater turnoff than an insincere grin or fake look. If you are not big on flashing your pearly whites, instead project interest or openness. Use your expressions to reveal a bit of your personality or the energy you could bring to the relationship. You may find it helpful to practice in front of a mirror before the big day.   

Bonus tips

Here are a few extra pointers to make your photoshoot a success.  

  • Pack a bag

It is helpful to pack a small bag with items for your session. Include extra clothes, accessories, makeup, eyedrops, glasses cleaning cloth, hairbrush and hair products. Don’t forget a bottle of water to keep you hydrated between takes.   

  • Get a good night’s sleep

Unfortunately, the camera is not forgiving when you are tired. To be your best, plan to get a good night’s sleep before your shoot.

  • Arrive early

This allows you a few minutes to relax. Take a deep breath or two. Get comfortable in the space.

Here’s to captivating new headshots. Professional portraits you will be proud to share. Ones that will capture attention, build trust and start new conversations. Don’t be surprised to say, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad.”  

How you say “hello” on social media is more important than ever

Does your profile photo build trust and start new conversations?  

It’s 6:47 when you take that first steamy sip of coffee to jumpstart another action-packed day. First up, visit the LinkedIn profile of the new contact you will meet later today. Ah there, that’s her. Hmmm…nice smile, good eye contact. Professional yet approachable, down to earth with a classic sense of style. She looks like someone I will enjoy speaking with and learning more about her and her work.

Suddenly a jolt of reality strikes, as you realize she will be doing the same thing in preparation for today’s meeting. Yikes. Now your mind is fixated on the outdated photo you have on your profile. A good reminder to book a that portrait session. Okay, it’s on my schedule.   

A new lens

In today’s digital world, your social media profile photo is often the first “face-to-face” interaction others will have with you. It’s the “go to” starting point for most professional relationships today. Think of your profile photo as your new online brand ambassador. The big question is this. Does yours say “hello” to prospects, investors, employers and industry leaders in a way that communicates trust and starts new conversations?  

While AI, robotics and automation capture business headlines, let’s not forget an essential element at the heart of it all. The human element. The one that causes us to feel, think, create, solve and lead. We are emotional creatures. Emotions drive our actions and our decisions. Emotions draw us into compelling images, pique our curiosity and cause us to want to learn more.

A closer look

When was the last time you examined your social media profile photo – a good look to make sure it sets the right tone for this new digital age? If it’s been too long to remember, you are due for review. Sure, you have a million things on your schedule. Even worse, the thought of sitting in front of the camera for a new portrait is enough to send your nerves on high alert. But can you bear the thought of another prospect being greeted by an outdated photo that doesn’t introduce you and your brand story the way you want it to?

Take Ten

In the time it takes for a coffee, you can put your photo to the “new visitor” test. So, grab that coffee, pen and paper too. Here are ten questions to ask. To get into the right mindset, reframe the focus to the prospect’s point of view. What would you honestly think if you were looking at your LinkedIn profile photo for the first time? If you are feeling extra brave, ask a trusted colleague to join you.   

  1. Does it say “hello” to a potential prospect, employer, investor, board member or conference organizer the way you want it to?
  2. Does it make a good first impression? 
  3. Does it look like you?
  4. Is it professional?
  5. Are you making good eye contact – looking into the camera?
  6. Does it capture the spirit of your personality?
  7. Does it show a passion for your work?
  8. Do you appear warm, approachable?
  9. Do you look competent and trustworthy?
  10. Does it encourage others to learn more about you and your work?

Did your photo pass the new visitor test or is it time for a refresh?  

Not all photos are created equal

Those with a mix of the right elements can spark our emotions, capture attention and build intrigue. Otherwise, the sound of crickets and it’s on to someone new.  

According to bestselling author, speaker and CEO Erica Dhawan, “Research shows that roughly 60% to 80% of our face-to-face communication is non-verbal language, such as the pacing, pauses, gestures and tone. All of these cues bring energy and emotional nuance to our message. In her latest book, Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance, she calls “digital body language” the new cues we send in our digital communications. It’s about how we make others feel in a digital marketplace.

These findings remind us how important our social media profile photo can be in setting the tone with others. It’s time to be purposeful in offering up digital cues that let our personality shine as we make new connections.

Five Elements to set the tone

Let’s explore five elements of a compelling profile photo. Inside each is the opportunity to create a meaningful visual for the person looking at you.   

  • Professionalism

The way you present yourself speaks volumes without a single word. This doesn’t always mean dressing in a suit but rather in a manner that offers a positive impression. When you make time to sit for a portrait, it says “I care.” “I take pride in myself, my profession and the quality of the work I do for others.”

  • Trustworthiness

“When we meet someone new, we quickly answer two questions.” according to social psychologist, bestselling author and keynote speaker Amy Cuddy in her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. “Can I trust this person?” and “Can I respect this person?” She refers to trust and respect as warmth and competence respectively. Cuddy reminds us that beginning with warmth allows trust to develop. Your facial expression, posture, eyes and stance can go a long way in expressing these traits.  

  • Eye contact

Good eye contact is essential when connecting with someone, especially for the first time. Recreate an in-person experience by looking straight into the camera. You will appear to be looking directly at them. It says, “they are important.” It also demonstrates honesty, builds trust and earns respect.

  • Likeness    

People want to know what you look like now, not a decade ago. Is your portrait current? No more than 18 to 24 months is ideal. They want to know who to look for when they meet you in person. For those who have been following you for a while, they want to feel as though they know you when you finally do connect.

  • Authenticity    

COVID lockdowns helped us embrace more authenticity by blurring the lines of work and home. We are drawn to images that show people in real, authentic ways, rather than something staged. While smiles can be engaging, it’s important to use expressions that depict your natural personality. There’s nothing worse than a fake or a forced smile, especially if you are not an outgoing or naturally bubbly person. Offer inviting alternatives with the hint of a smile or a look of delight when you talk about something meaningful. Demonstrate warmth and openness with engaged postures and open stances.     

Isn’t it time to say “hello” to new connections with a social media profile photo that builds trust and starts new conversations? Good news, you are just a few clicks away.  

In the next blog post, learn insider tips to ace your upcoming photoshoot.  

5 Tips to tell more impactful business stories in a modern world

Long live the story – the next generation is counting on you

Whether you are riding the wave or drowning in the undertow of AI and ChatGPT-4, you are not alone. Pile on decibels of intrigue and panic caused by bank collapses and bailouts in this already hypertense environment and it becomes a challenge of epic proportion. The world is filled with constantly changing stories that reflect the trending ebbs and flows of daily life and work. As an encore to World Storytelling Day, let’s take a closer look at our love affair with stories and explore ways to harness their power and fit them into our future for maximum impact.


I come from a long line of storytellers. Grandaddy was one of those brilliant orators who had a special talent for making his words come to life and drawing others into them. Sparks of delight flew as friends and neighbors joined in the conversation when they stopped by the house to share their garden bounties. The allure of their tales took me to lands far beyond the garden gate. Those formative years started my lifelong infatuation with stories and the people who tell captivating ones, just like my Grandaddy.

As my fascination grew, I realized I was not the only one enchanted by their powers. A closer look reveals the human body is programmed for stories. When we hear a compelling one, it can change the way our brain works and potentially change our brain chemistry, causing empathy, caring and social bonding. This is according to Dr. Paul Zak, scientist, professor and tech entrepreneur. In other words, stories remind us we are human. They invite us to step inside someone else’s shoes and get an understanding of what it feels like to be them. Plus, introduce us to experiences we never thought possible. Many of those same discoveries I made as a little girl with golden pigtails.

Pete Docter, Oscar-winning director and chief creative officer at Pixar Animation Studios puts it this way. “The power of a story is that it has the ability to connect with people on an emotional level.” When you get right down to it, they can ignite our imagination, move us to tears, help us to remember and cause us to act. Quite a strong case as we look to the future, don’t you think?

Passing the baton

From cave drawings and campfires to social media, gaming and binge-worthy films, stories have allowed us to communicate throughout the ages. Now the future calls on us to continue the tradition as modern-day storytellers. To prepare the next generation too. Our ability to inspire the human spirit will be more important than ever as we navigate artificial intelligence, robotics and digital transformation. Global issues ranging from scarcity and sustainability to inequality will require contemporary narratives that spotlight people helping people in their quest to adapt and thrive in ever-changing environments. Are you up for the challenge?  

Story impact questions

Not every story is created equal. If you want folks to put down their phones and stop scrolling, you first must capture their attention. This requires a little thought and preparation. For an extra dose of intrigue and relatability, consider these questions:

  • What story do you want to tell? Why?
  • What emotion(s) were you feeling when the story unfolded?
    • How will you communicate those feelings?
  • Who is your story for?
  • Will it resonate with your audience?
    • What will draw them in?
    • Why should they care?
    • Will it give them hope, offer new solutions, improve their life?
  • How would you like to impact the listener?
    • What approach will you take?

5 Tips for modern-day storytellers

Enlist your social media profile picture as an ambassador for your personal brand story

Did you know your profile pic on LinkedIn and your company’s website can speak volumes about you before anyone reads a single word? According to 3M Corporation’s Visual Systems Division, the average human can process images 60,000 times faster than words. A good photo can make a powerful statement about you in an instant. Are you confident, likeable, energetic, passionate, would you be good to work with? It can offer a glimpse into who you are and what you stand for. What does your profile picture say to others? Is it current, professional? If yours is older than 24 months, it is time for a refresh. Before you say “cheese” consider these questions:

  • What do you want your profile photo to say about you?
  • What elements of your personal brand do you want it to convey?
  • Does it encourage others to learn more about you and what you do?  

Share stories that humanize your work

We often enlist our job titles as conversation starters. Beware, this can lead to dead ends if they don’t make sense to others. Most people will not admit “I have no idea what that means.” Why not pique their interest with a narrative that helps them understand the work you do? Take them inside the life of a data scientist, digital transformation leader, chief diversity officer or change management specialist. Help them get to know the person behind it all. Post clips on social media about interesting, even quirky elements of your work. Talk about what led you on this path and why you enjoy it. Tell about breakthroughs in your research. Share a comment from a client that made your whole week and why you felt that way. Don’t be surprised to find all sorts of new connections with those around you.

Give them an “insider’s look”

People are inquisitive. They want to be the first to know what’s happening. Share a story that takes them inside a project you are passionate about. Create a “behind the scenes” video clip before the official event. Offer a “sneak peek” of your pitch to a potential investor prior to launch day. Don’t worry if it is not perfect, especially in its early days, according to Baba Shiv, Stanford Graduate School of Business professor. His research finds people often feel a greater attachment to evolving projects when they can provide insight to help move them along. Use these opportunities to initiate conversations that encourage input and gain support for a project, service or startup.   

Help them see new ways forward with thought leadership

Do you have extensive experience or knowledge in a particular industry or specialty? What about emerging topics, such as diversity, agility or sustainability? If so, position yourself as a down-to-earth thought leader with oodles of relatability. Be the voice of reason. Help them see new ways forward. Focus on practical wisdom they can put to work in their daily lives. Host a podcast or create a blog that offers fresh insight to address contemporary challenges. Invite them to gather around the conference table for meaningful future-focused discussions on current topics. Speak at an industry event or pen an article for their newsletter. Your tribe of followers will grow over time as they come to rely on your insight.  

Tell stories that reach beyond you and your company

The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that 63% of people buy or advocate for brands based on beliefs and values. Whether you are driven by access to clean water, mentoring young leaders or fighting homelessness, tell stories to help others understand what causes are important to you and your business. Create videos and photos that show you and your colleagues in action. Inject your culture, brand values and personality into each one you tell. Need a little inspiration from modern-day storytellers with their eyes on the future? Check out Patagonia Stories – it is filled with ideas for those who want to make an impact.

Long live the story

This is only the start of storytelling for a modern world. Now it’s time to add your flair in fueling imaginations as we move into the unknown. The next generation is counting on you.

An unintentional reinvention

The inspiration behind Contentalist

Ten years have passed since I left everything familiar to me and relocated. Not just a move to a nearby city or state where people had a different accent and a twist on their pimento cheese recipe but another country on a separate continent where pimento cheese was not even a thing. Can you imagine the shock for this southern gal upon realizing my beloved feelgood comfort food was no where to be found in this land famous for its cheese? This was the first in a long line of discoveries that would reshape my existence.

From communicator to illiterate alien

For an extra dose of intrigue, my new hometown of Basel sits on the borders of three countries – Switzerland, France and Germany. Was I fluent in any of these? Embarrassingly not. I went from living and working in a place as familiar as my favorite pair of Levi’s, to an alien, illiterate in the native language. A glacial-sized challenge at the start for a communicator and connector of people. Call me crazy but it was one of the most exciting, albeit scary times I could have imagined.

Discovery and frustration

Every day became an adventure. Even routine tasks, such as a trip to the grocery or the post, were far from standard fare. There were times of jaw-dropping discovery, mixed with facepalm incidents of incredible frustration. Who knew the embarrassment that would result in the checkout line when you fail to weigh your own produce or on the train when you don’t validate the ticket you just bought? Some days, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Need to be heard

Ironically, I spent much of my career helping others get their messages across but I quickly realized how inept I felt when I was unable to communicate with the locals. One day, I had a lightbulb experience when I witnessed a well-to-do businessman in an all-too-familiar predicament. This “ah-ha” moment changed everything. No matter what path we are on, our ability to be heard validates us. Reminds us we matter, that what we say and do matters. It connects us, helps us start conversations, comprehend, learn, build trust and relationships.

In an instant, I knew it was time for a new approach. First, I learned a handful of essential phrases. Then, I adjusted my voice after realizing how much quieter they spoke here. Next, I enrolled in German classes. While my new language skills were rudimentary, they gave me the tools and confidence to talk with others. Amazing the joy in sharing a quick chat with the neighbors. Or the satisfaction in being able to ask for what I needed in the market without feeling like a complete nincompoop. As last, I was starting to be heard. I felt a sense of belonging.

Unintentional reinvention

As I settled in, I continued to put my knowhow in marketing, communications and business development to work for leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. I filled my days writing articles, quick tips and online tools that helped busy professionals convey important messages to stakeholders. I found incredible satisfaction in sharing my experience, while creating all sorts of content for smart folks who were making a difference.

My camera became a constant companion. Not only did it record new discoveries, it provided a way to connect with people. Once I realized how to unlock its secret powers, I had a front-row pass to places I could not imagine. Soon, folks were asking me to photograph all sorts of things, from gatherings to headshots for their CVs and websites.

My world changed and so did my perspectives. I learned different routines and customs from Swiss neighbors and expats from across the globe. I was energized by connecting the dots between my interests and the interests of others. It was eye opening, liberating. I realized I was becoming someone new, yet familiar.

Introducing Contentalist 

I often laugh when I hear people say they dislike writing or having their picture made. Guess that makes me a bit of a weirdo. And I am perfectly fine with that because these are things I love to do.

Contentalist is all about creating compelling content for busy growth-focused professionals, entrepreneurs and startups that want to make an impact. Powerful words that demonstrate their smarts and insights. Captivating photographs that allow their personality to shine and make their work seem human, even if they dread the camera. Brand stories so engaging others feel connected before the first meeting.

What a thrill to combine my diverse experience and passions to help clients think bigger and broader about themselves and their businesses. A powerhouse combo that leads to all sorts of creative ideas and new approaches to propel them forward.

In case you are wondering

I just made the most delicious pimento cheese. A brilliant mix of my favorites – aged English cheddar with a Croatian spicy pepper spread called “ajvar” plus an extra-large splash of Mexican chipotle sauce. The anticipation of slathering this heavenly mixture on a hearty slice of traditional braided Swiss bread or “zopfbrot” was almost more than I could handle. It was an extra special loaf, made by a friend I collaborated with on a recent photography project. Each bite embodied who I have become. A perfect blend of beloved traditions and exciting new rituals. These familiar tastes are sure to spark fresh ideas that will fuel my trusty pen, camera and laptop on this ever-changing quest to be heard.

An invitation

Now that you know the inspiration behind Contentalist, get ready for hot little tips and “I need that” advice to help you break through the clutter. Be on the lookout for a new post soon.

P.S. Don’t want to miss out on the latest? Subscribe to the Contentalist Blog.

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