Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Show, Don't Tell.

I've always loathed advertizing. It's an omnipresent thing in the world we live in. It's like a nagging child, always struggling to get your attention; never relenting and always needing your mental bandwidth. I can't even count the avenues that the marketing pros have developed to tell you about the latest thing they want you to buy. I mean, it serves a purpose right, other that to convince people that they need stuff, right? I guess...

Anyways, I think I have figured out what makes advertizing, storytelling, and communication in general very effective. There is an old adage that I have always thought of as underrated: "Show, Don't Tell". I never realized how important it was until I was watching a car commercial. Irony is awesome.

I have an idea that I want to share, let's see if I can pull it off...

It was the end of the day. I was weary and worn down by computer simulations, phone calls, emails, and just general work shenanigans. Caught the shuttle over to the repair shop, and my car was getting a wash when I got there so I had a few minutes to kill. I grabbed a cup of coffee from the waiting room as I stared blankly at an old episode of Friends that was playing out. Something about getting ready for Chandler and Monica's wedding. The commercial came on, and it was a nice looking Audi driving down the street. The driver had a smug smile on his face as he was driving down the shady neighborhood street. All of a sudden, a child started running in front of the car. The driver reacted quickly and braked and avoided the child. I didn't even realize it, but I breathed a sigh of relief.

So what happened there? I tried to do to you, what the car commercial did to me. I wanted to invite you into my world, and have you there with me seeing feeling what I felt, and seeing what I saw. I wanted to bring you into my experience, and show you, not tell you, what I saw.

I could have just said, "Hey, anti-lock brakes are really awesome and could save some kid's life". That doesnt really communicate anything though, it doesn't engage you and just falls flat. It just tells you what you already know.

The commercial showed me the advantages of the newest driving and braking technologies. It didn't spout off technical specs, babble or flashed words on the screen. It pulled me in and engaged my imagination and emotions. In that small time period, the small Audi story became a living moment that I shared with "it". That is the power of showing instead of telling, not only do you engage someone else into the story you want to tell, you allow someone else to share in the creation of that world.

Great storytellers can create such vivid worlds that their listeners/readers/viewers become engrossed and actually start to fill in the gaps with their own ideas and creating a world they want to see. This is the power of showing. I felt emotionally connected with the driver, because I was adding some of my own paint to the picture; applying what I saw to who I was.

Showing takes time, care, skill and practice; not everyone is going to get it, but those that do will have a much stronger connection with your story and your idea. Let your audience connect the dots, and don't spell everything out for them. Leave them clues that they will feel something about connecting.

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