How to “show and tell”

This post contains my personal notes from the book: Show and Tell by Dan Roam.

Our goal as presenters is simple: To help others see what we see. To do this we entertain, educate, persuade, motivate and ultimately change our audience. To do this effectively, we have to show and tell. The three rules of show and tell are:

  1. Tell the truth
  2. Tell it with a story
  3. Tell the story with pictures

Tell the truth

There are many kinds of truth. There is data, knowledge and belief. Data is just the hard facts. We use our brains to convert the data into knowledge. We use our hearts to change the data into belief.

  • A good presentation gives new data.
  • A great presentation changes what we know.
  • An extraordinary presentation changes what we believe.

All presentations have only three elements:

  • Ideas:What do you really want to say?
  • Yourself: What do I want the audience to remember about me?
  • Audience: If the presentation could change them in just one way, what would that change be?( get the audience to be personally engaged and think that it their idea but definitely change them)

Tell it with a story

Presentations can change the audience’s information, abilities, actions and beliefs. Successful presentations are built on clear storylines. A storyline is the backbone of any presentation. There are only four storylines:

  1. The report: Conveys the facts
  2. The explanation: Teaches new insights or abilities
  3. The pitch: Recommends a new action or solution.
  4. The drama: Inspires a new belief or way of looking at the world.

A story line has a beginning and an end. The end point is always higher than the beginning point: this means we take them high and far by changing their information, knowledge or ability, actions and beliefs. The story line we choose will depend on how we want our audience to be different after the end of the presentation.

Each story line has four components:

  • 1. Head=main idea
  • 2. Spine=main structure
  • 3. Legs=supporting ideas
  • 4. Tail = one last look

The report: The best way to present reports is to use 6-mode thinking.

  • Why are we here?
  • Who and what are we going to talk about?
  • Where are they located? Where are they going?
  • When do they interact?
  • How does it occur?
  • How much?

The explanation: The explanation changes the audience’s knowledge or abilities. It takes us to a new level of understanding. 

  • The lay of the land and the roadmap: We start at the base.
  • The steps: Each step is small.
  • Each step directly leads to the next.
  • Each step is marked.
  • The destination: When we reach the top we have a new ability.

The pitch: The pitch changes the audience’s actions.

  • The windup: We start with a quick summary of where we are today.
  • The hurdle: We introduce a problem we are all facing
  • The vision: We show a glimpse of a way over the problem.
  • The options: We present two ways to reach the vision – a boring one and an inspiring one.
  • The close: We show why the inspiring option is really the only option.
  • The fine print: With the audience excited, we cover the details of how we can make it happen.
  • The hook: We end with an added benefit.

The drama: With a drama, we change our audience’s beliefs. The classic structure of a great drama follows this simple line:

  • One fine day: Maybe everything isn’t perfect, but we’re doing okay.
  • The challenge: Out of nowhere comes a problem we can’t ignore.
  • Descending crises: As we grapple with the problem, things go from bad to worse until we hit rock-bottom.
  • The worst: We lie there awaiting the end. All hope is lost.
  • The discovery: Wait a minute, what’s this. We suddenly see a way out.
  • The rise: Through abilities we never knew we had, we find our way back to the surface.
  • The return: We don’t just make it home, we burst into a whole new world of possibility.
  • The lesson: We come away with a gift that we’ll never forget.

Whichever story line we choose, it serves as our guide rope from our mind to our audience’s experience. Our story lines are strong, but they can be broken. If they are broken we lose the audience. It gets broken if the story line becomes too complex, flabby or loses continuity. To keep our story line tight, we stack it in a single deck. To keep our slides tight, we limit each to a single idea – and that is all.

The ideal slide contains:

  • A headline
  • A picture
  • A brief caption
  • Nothing else.

Any slide that breaks the continuity of our storyline is a bad slide. During our presentation, single slides that try to explain multiple ideas are the fastest way to break our storyline and lose or confuse the audience.If an idea is too complicated to explain with one slide, then we build that idea by breaking it into several slides. The other way is to show pictures.

Tell the story with pictures

We are all vision-processing machines. We can stay focused if we can get the mind to look at interesting pictures. In order to illustrate any story, we need only six pictures which correspond to the six modes of thinking:

  • Who? What? = Portrait( shows our players and objects)= people, objects, things
  • Why? = Equation( shows the moral of the story)=quantities, numbers, values
  • How much? = Chart( shows how much there is)=equation
  • How? =  Flowchart( shows the chains of cause, effect and influence)=cause and effect or process
  • When? = Timeline( shows their sequence in time)= time, sequence, order
  • Where?= Map( shows where they are located and overlap)= location, position, overlap

All presentations- we use the same pictures. Only the details( which pictures we use) and the style( photos, drawings or graphics) changes.

How not to worry about presenting

We are all natural born presenters. Somewhere down the line we developed fear. We channel fear away by knowing what it is. Fear protects us and asks us to be prepared so that we can have fun. Worry dissolves instantly on contact with planning. Fear fades with practice. Plan and prepare. Then practice in an environment as close as possible to the presenting environment – at least twice. Then visualise how you are going to present in the morning of the talk. Talk slowly. Be yourself. In the end presenting is a simple thing: We’re just trying to get what is in our heads into our audience’s heads as quickly, clearly and believably as we can. The best gift we can give ourselves is learning how to show and tell. The best gift we can give one another is an extraordinary presentation.


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