In a Nutshell:
- Demonstrate, illustrate or otherwise prove your point right out of the gate. Then your audience might actually be interested in your explanation.
- Background information, logical reasoning and abstract descriptions can be counter-productive at the beginning of your presentation.
- Stories, examples and demonstrations are powerful tools to engage your audience, bypass any resistance and impart your message.
What ever happened to “Show & Tell”?
If you never had Show & Tell when you were in school, you must have at least heard of it! For many children, it’s their first experience of public speaking. And the format is simple: bring something in to show to your classmates; then tell them more about it. It works because once the children see the interesting item you’ve brought in for them, they’re curious to learn more about it. Try telling them without showing them and you’ll probably lose their interest and attention within minutes!
It’s nice to think that adults have longer attention spans than children… But with all the stress and multitasking and distractions of the typical adult life, many don’t. It’s nice to think that adults really want to know the “why” and the “how” of what you’re presenting to them. But again, I think you’ll often find that they don’t. That is, unless they’re already engaged and invested.
The typical business presentation is backwards. Audiences are forced to sit through 20-odd slides of research and rationale before finally getting some real-life examples. How many of them will mentally check out before the speaker gets to the good stuff?
What’s wrong with “telling” before “showing”?
A) Diving into the minor details with no motivation is mentally draining for your audience. What do I mean by motivation in this case? Your audience has to be engaged and eager to understand what you’re telling them. That’s unlikely if they’re not yet excited about your topic. You need a powerful story and/or an impressive demo to make your audience say, “Wow, that’s awesome! Tell us more! How does it work?”. It’s much easier for your audience to see and believe than to listen and think. Start off easy and you’ll have a better chance of holding your audience for the nitty gritty.
B) “Telling” can trigger resistance. If your audience has an opposing position on your topic (or if they’re undecided), pushing your point of view on them can backfire. When you uphold one side of the argument, they’ll tend to uphold the other side in their mind with equal vigour! And the problem is that they’ll favour their own side of the conversation.
“Show” before you “Tell”
Don’t hold out on your audience. Don’t take their attention for granted. Start with the highlight!
Stories, examples and demos can bypass your audience’s resistance. It’s about “push” and “pull”. When you try to make your case, you are pushing information and ideas on them; When you share a story or give a demonstration, you pull them in with wonder. You’ll encounter much less resistance when your audience is drawn in.
Try it. Show them the money. Then tell them how you got it.