show what you mean

Showing Rather Than Explaining

Showing what you mean is often the better strategy than trying to explain what you mean. Visuals grab attention and are more likely to be shared than narrative explanations.

Showing what you mean is often the better strategy than trying to explain what you mean. Visuals grab attention and are more likely to be shared than narrative explanations.

In the battle to win over public opinion, showing is a better strategy than explaining.

For the vast majority of people, public issues are often too puzzling to take the time to understand, let alone take sides. If you want them on your side, you need to reduce the issue to comprehensible size and give them a reason to pay attention. Only then will you have a chance to turn them from disinterested bystanders to supporters.

Getting people's attention demands simplifying what you share to essentials and focusing on what will interest your intended audience, even if it isn't your narrative. Showing your audience what you mean and why they should care may open the door down the line for them to listen to your longer explanation.

Visualization is one of the strongest ways to show what you mean. An image can show perspective. An infographic can give a visual description of a process. A chart can demonstrate critical contrasts.  An illustration can compress a lot of meaningful detail into an easy-to-grasp picture. Good design can guide the eyes of viewers to key information or the sequence of data that you present.

Shareability is a serendipitous byproduct of well-done visual explanations. Some people share stories with friends; a lot more people share cool pictures and infographics with friends.

Shareability is a great test for audience-centric communication because a "share" reflects whether a visualization conveys something important to the sender. 

Sending a message is important, but your message will never be received if you don't aim at the heart strings of viewers, which is a core difference between showing and explaining. You want to explain, but your audience wants to be shown.

Designing your information to show what you mean in an interesting, compelling, disarming or entertaining way is a more effective way to attract attention and sway opinion. Save your explanations for later.

Turning Complexity into Clarity

The right infographic can help make complex ideas clear.

The right infographic can help make complex ideas clear.

Turning complexity into clarity is a critical challenge for today's communicators. Visual tools can help. A lot.

Telling your audience a subject is complex is a big turn-off. Showing people the essence of a complex subject is something they will appreciate. It is a proven way to earn trust, even from doubters.

The secret to decoding "complexity" is to identify what makes it seem complex. A Tektronix subsidiary that made circuit boards found itself in political hot water after neighbors went to city hall to oppose what should have been a routine air permit renewal. A few visits to neighbors revealed the concern was rooted over what went on inside the company's austere, windowless building that generated so much air pollution.

Company officials explained how the plant's manufacturing process worked. When we were called in to help, we had a simpler idea – an open house. We wanted people to see there was nothing menacing inside the manufacturing facility. We also wanted people to see – as soon as they walked through the front door – how circuit boards power products they use everyday.

The "complexity" was eliminated with visitors, with a warm cookie in hand, strolling by the circuit board display and wandering around in the factory. The issue disappeared instantly and the subsidiary got a renewed air permit.

It is harder to clarify "complexity" when you are still in the design stage of a project. There is no place to hold an open house. That's where an infographic or a SlideShare presentation come in handy.

Saying a proposed project is safe may not be as effective as showing project safety features. An infographic is a great tool to show how a process works and the key safety features at each critical point. An illustration can be easy and logical to follow. It can use visual symbols that are familiar to the eye. An interactive illustration can include links to video clips showing safety features in operation at an existing facility.

A SlideShare presentation or flip chart can enable a viewer to walk through a "complex" process that has been sliced into 10-12 digestible, comprehensible and visually powerful slides. Creating such presentations sends the message that your views are capable of understanding a project's "complexity." Well-conceived slides that show key details and their significance contribute to understanding and earn respect for your overall message.

Increasing numbers of products and projects involve complex technologies, medical advances or emerging science. Many communicators, who graduated with liberal arts degrees and shunned the science building like the plague, may seem ill-prepared to talk about them. Not so.

Not knowing about technical subjects makes it easier – and necessary – to ask the basic questions, which are the questions most likely on the minds of the target audience of the communications.

Turning "complexity" into clarity isn't a test of how much you know, but rather how well you can synthesize what you know into something that people can read, view or experience and understand.

The Battle for Trust

To win public issues and policy debates, you need more than good facts. You need to battle for trust to win over supporters and overwhelm opponents.Issue managers must do more than dispense facts. They must battle for trust.

Widespread skepticism is one of the biggest handicaps in trying to manage a public issue. You may have all the facts and figures, but if neighbors, community activists and even policymakers don't believe they are true, you are nowhere. 

There is no formula for building trust, but there are some tried and true principles in the battle for trust. Here are some of them: 

Tell Your Story — the Whole Story

You need to tell your story, but you gain credibility by telling the whole story. Better to hear it all — good and bad — from you than from your opponents.

Telling the whole story won't automatically build trust, but it establishes you are trustworthy, which is a very good beginning in the battle for trust.

Be Proactive, Don't Wait

PowerPoints that Soar, Not Stink

PowerPoint presentations are ubiquitous in boardrooms and classrooms, but more often than not they stink.

There is no single formula to produce a great PowerPoint presentation. They need to be tailored to meet the expectations of their intended audience. However, there are some basic principles that should guide anyone who uses PowerPoint.

1. It's eye candy, not a teleprompter.  Too many presenters treat PowerPoint slides like a script scrolling on a teleprompter. Effective PowerPoints should by a presentation sidekick that smartly highlights your key points.

2. Leverage a flexible, visual medium.  PowerPoints shouldn't be CliffsNotes for your speech. They should be a visual reinforcement of your key messages. PowerPoint is a flexible platform that enables almost anyone to design and execute slides with some style and pizzazz. Slide after slide of bullet points doesn't pass the test for style and pizzazz.

3. Elegant, not dumbed down.  Simplified explanations or powerful imagery can greatly aid an audience's understanding of what you say. Simplicity doesn't mean bleaching out complexity, it means finding elegant expression of the complexity. The goal isn't to prove how smart you are, but to help you audience to see the wisdom in your presentation.

4. Show what you mean.  An often-unexploited advantage of PowerPoint is its ability to assist you in showing an audience what you mean, rather than just telling them in words. You can insert memorable images, meaningful charts and mesmerizing videos that add depth and heighten audience interest.

5. Package your information.  People today are sophisticated viewers of visual media. They have access to tons of data and expect presenters to package it in a way that is easy to grasp. PowerPoint slides also carry the burden of being easy to see while sitting in an audience that can range from around a conference room table to the back of a banquet hall. A slide crammed with incomprehensible information, forcing viewers to squint, detracts from your presentation. A well-designed chart or other visual device that points to the key data enriches audience understanding.

6. You are the main act.  Don't fall into the trap of being the golf caddy for your PowerPoint, reading each slide. You are the main act and the presentation is your prop. What you say counts. Your presentation's job is to underline your key messages.