Amateurs don’t show when they tell

Everybody loves show and tell. Check out this monthly event in Brooklyn. Sadly, the workplace equivalent of “showing” typically consists of PowerPoint slides filled with text. That’s tell and tell rather than show and tell. Everybody complains about PowerPoint. A Google search showed that “Death by PowerPoint” appeared 11,100 times in newly created web content in the past week. Geez! That might qualify as an epidemic.

There are certainly other software options for workplace presenters. I like Prezi because it forces me to be visual rather than verbal. (It’s a struggle since words are my passion.) But it’s overly simplistic to blame software for a presenter’s lack of skill in using it to show the audience something meaningful and interesting. Gavin, the author of Show is better than Tell

is a PowerPoint obsessive, who has managed to figure out a way to use PowerPoint to communicate and message very effectively.

Gavin’s blog demonstrates what he’s preaching. It’s visually fun without being frivolous. Check it out.

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  1. I recommend something else: Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte, who is very anti-PowerPoint. You might not completely agree with him (I don’t), but some of his ideas can be very useful.

  2. By the way, Tufte’s book shows conclusively that what you call the “tell and tell” problem has nothing to do with amateurism.

    1. I agree Tufte is the modern heavyweight when it comes to the SHOW in show and tell. I certainly admire his insights. But I don’t personally like his snide preachiness: “Instead of writing a report using sentences, children learn how to decorate client pitches and infomercials, which is better than encouraging children to smoke” (Beautiful Evidence, p. 161).

      But why do you say his book shows “conclusively” that being an amateur is not one of the causes of the tell and tell problem?

      1. I agree that he is indeed overly preachy. And for the way he trashes infographics I don’t imagine he has many friends in graphic design either. (I might as well be wrong on this point, but I really cannot imagine why people who do infographics will like him.)

        But I think the words you quoted do show that he does not in fact equate the “tell and tell problem” with amateurism. He has high regards for “proper” reports and papers, and seems to think highly of graphics only when they serve a scientific visualization function. His main point for bashing PowerPoint is not so much as a lack of graphs but a lack of coherency of thought. So a set of PowerPoint slides that “tell and tell” would not be a problem provided that they are coherent and well written.

        That said, one of his complaints about PowerPoint is that the slide does not usually have enough space to actually convey coherent thoughts through words, so perhaps you might be right that “tell and tell” shows amateurism, but only for the reason that someone might be trying to do the impossible without realizing that what they are trying to do is in fact impossible.

        It’s been a few months since I read the book; I apologize if I have misquoted him.

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