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Show and Tell is better Than Just Tell


“The soul does not think without a picture."

-- Aristotle

Remember when you were a kid, and it was your turn to do Show and Tell? Whether you liked getting up in front of the class or not (I did not), there was something special about being allowed to bring your favorite thing to school to show off to everyone else, and they were usually really excited to see what you brought too.

We lost something of this as we grew up and were no longer able to bring our favorite stuffed animal, the baseball your dad got signed for you, your pet lizard, or a trinket from your trip to Disney World. We lost the excitement of communicating, and our audience has lost the thrill of seeing what special thing we have to share.

This is a problem for our communication because most people are visual learners (about 60%), meaning that when we hear a word, we don't think of the letters that make that word, but the image that identifies or resonates with that word. In addition to this, images stick in our minds to aid our memory, tug our heartstrings, process information, and spark our imaginations.

Now maybe you can't bring your pet or toy to the boardroom, the construction site, the office, or wherever you go now instead of your 2nd grade class, but you still have the power to engage your audience with visual cues because show and tell is better than just tell; that's the Law of Visual Expression. According to John C. Maxwell, there are three main ways you can improve your communication through visual expression.

1. Body Movement, Gestures, and Facial Expressions

"The first visual aid you need to employ as a communicator is your body. If you want to become a better communicator, you must do more than speak from the neck up."

While this may seem simple, it takes intentionality to draw your audience in through your body movement. Research shows that 55% of our communication is visual body cues such as facial expressions, crossing your arms, talking with your hands, your stance or movement while talking, etc.

If you want to engage your audience, here are some examples to consider:

  • Smile at them (it's a universal language of appreciation)

  • Lean closer to them when you have something important to say (like you're about to tell them a secret)

  • Use your fingers to count your points

  • Take strategic steps across your "stage" to mark the movement of time (i.e., one step to the side for each "then this happened")

  • Exaggerate your facial expressions for things like shock, worry, and excitement to "perform" the story

But these visual expressions must be in alignment with your words, or you will distract or undermine your message.

2. Word Pictures

If a picture is worth a thousand words, but you don't have a picture to show, paint it with your words. "Word pictures engage both hemispheres of our brains and bring us to greater levels of understanding and involvement."

An example of this can be found at the top of this writing: "Remember when you were a kid, and it was your turn to do Show and Tell?" Everyone should be able to picture what being a kid is, and unless you had an unusual educational experience, you can probably picture your own Show and Tell experience or that of another child.

You can also paint word pictures with the use of metaphors and similes.

  • She has a heart of gold.

  • He was always a night owl.

  • My siblings fight like cats and dogs.

  • My boss tells stories like a hummingbird.

"If you communicate an idea in a way that resonates, change will happen, and you can change the world." -- Nancy Duarte

3. Pictures, Props, and Videos

Last, but not least, you can also use physical or digital images, props, or videos to engage your audience. Research shows that "just three hours after a presentation, 85& of the audience can remember content presented visually versus 70% who can retain verbal content. But after three days, 60% can still remember the visual content, whereas only 10% can remember something from the oral presentation."

Examples of these visual expressions may include:

  • Relevant photos or drawings

  • Props (i.e., someone communicating about window shutters could have a shutter present to use during the message)

  • A flip chart that you write on with markers

  • Relevant video clips

"People want to be engaged and entertained, now more than ever. They crave and expect multisensory experiences. The more you can do visually, the more most people will like it -- and the better communicator you will become."

This week, answer these questions:

  • Which of these three methods resonates the most with you?

  • How can you incorporate visual expression into your next communication?

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