Show, Don’t Tell

Show me, don't tell me

“I would have written, but…”

How many times do we find ourselves floundering, in such an introduction?

  • “I would have written, but…” I had no time.
  • “I would have written, but…” I kept forgetting to.
  • “I would have written, but…” I couldn’t think of what to say.
  • “I would have written, but…” there is just too much up in the air, right now.
  • “I would have written, but…” I just didn’t want to.
  • “I would have written, but…” the list goes on and on.

This short list is representative of a multitude of other examples for not writing, and these are primarily related to normal, simple social written communication; the day-to-day communication with others on a person-to-person basis. When we feel emotionally jammed up, inside, we struggle to communicate with others because we are waging an internal struggle of trying to sort everything out before we start trying to tell others how we feel and are doing. We simply feel that we must first figure all of our problems out and come up with our own answers, before we can open up to our own family and friends.

If our tendency among our trusted friends is to “Want answers before we give answers,” then how much moreso it is also, in business. Whether it’s answering the boss or ordering supplies, we want to sound confident and informed. Our greatest fear is to get caught not knowing what we’re talking about. Consequently, we are reluctant to put anything down in print that can be used against us or embarrass us. We might have the knowledge we need, but lack the skill to properly express ourselves, and essentially reduce our effectiveness in direct proportion to our inability to show, not tell.

What is Show, Not Tell? It’s the ability to take head knowledge and turn it into relatable, relevant knowledge. Quite often our heads are filled with the facts, but when it comes to showing real-life application of those facts, we trip ourselves up before we’re out of the gate. It becomes that point where our listener or reader rolls up their eyes, closes their mind and vacates the premises. In our own minds, we’ve seen our plans work and our products soar, but to properly convey that knowledge, we need to snap them out of their virtual vacations and spend some time taking them on a tour of a personal paradise, crafted just for them!

For instance; I can tell you that I’ve created an “App” that brings gasoline to your car. Since you’ve never really experienced such a thing, you figure I mean something like a Road Service App, where you can get someone in a tow truck to bring you gas when you’ve run out on the highway; entirely inaccurate. Here is a more accurate definition, showing instead of ‘telling’:

It’s Wednesday afternoon, and you’ve just returned to work from your lunch break. Glancing at your planner, you smile. You’ve got a great evening planned; run the kids to soccer practice, pick up your cleaning, dinner with the family and then a movie. suddenly, your boss comes out from his office, announcing a five o’clock mandatory meeting with the primary of one of your accounts that should take “less than half an hour.”

Your mind starts to race. You have planned this whole evening; leave work, stop and get gas, pick up the dry cleaning and get everybody home and cleaned up in time for your reservations. NOW what? That half-hour meeting, IF it only lasts that long, is going to ruin EVERYTHING!

But wait; you’ve got MY APP. You pick up your smartphone, and with three taps, a truck is dispatched to your car, at your location, and fills your tank, shaving off that 15-20 minutes that stopping at a station might take you. Your anxiety is relieved, and your afternoon just got more productive!

As you can now “See,” “Showing,” rather than telling, creates an imagery, not just a picture in words, but a scenery. And your scenery can be as descriptive and colorful as your heart desires, insofar as you keep your goal of communicating your product in sight. I have shown my client what my APP can do for them, without weighting them down with the complexities and details that brought the product int being, or citing numbers and demographics.

You will also notice that I didn’t include any details about how to sign up, delivery cost, how the driver knows where my car is, etc. These are questions the customer may ask, answers will be forthcoming, my client becomes an informed consumer, which leads closer to closing the sale. Each of these phases involve more showing, not telling; perhaps even a live demonstration. But every answer is yet another “Show, Don’t Tell.”

Showing makes your reader comfortable with your presentation, since it taps into their mind’s eye and

provides depth, color and detail to your product, with all of the warmth and familiarity your words can bring. But it doesn’t stop there; you can also build excitement and momentum and plug into your reader’s reasoning capabilities and emotional storehouses. It is more than a ‘commercial in words,’ it’s an expose, providing readers with the touch and feel of your product in their hands before they’ve ever touched it.

It doesn’t matter if your project is an App, a Widget, a Blog, an Article, a White Paper, a Letter, or any other written instrument, you will go farther with more conversions by Showing, instead of simply Telling. This is an art, not so much taught as it is experienced. To delve into this art is to begin to practice mentally and orally describing the things in your world that you’ve previously found to be mundane; this is where an Air Conditioner becomes “A whole-house environmental treatment system” and a front door becomes “A portal to 2,500 square feet of creature comforts and bliss.”

If you do catch yourself getting “Bogged down in the details,” simply step away for a moment, catch some air and a snack, and even daydream for a bit. When you return, read through your story and pick up where you left off, entertaining and informing the masses that await your words; something you will have to Show for you, and not tell.

~~~Thomas Whiteman