Show and Tell: A book review by Bob Morris

Show and TellShow and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations
Dan Roam
Portfolio/The Penguin Group (2014)

How and why the heart will follow the truth, understanding will follow a story, and the mind will follow the eye.

In my opinion, Dan Roam is among the most innovative business thinkers now publishing books and articles that can help almost anyone think more clearly, make better decisions, and communicate with greater impact. His previously published works offer abundant evidence of his highly developed skills. In The Back of the Napkin (2008), he explains how to solve problems and sell ideas with pictures; in Unfolding the Napkin (2009), he introduces a hands-on method for solving complex problems with simple pictures; in Blah Blah Blah (2011), he explains what to do when words don’t work; and now in Show and Tell, he demonstrates with text and illustrations how everybody can make extraordinary presentations.

Some may say, “Wait a minute. He keeps writing essentially the same book every two years.” On the contrary, although there are some insights and techniques common to all four books, each can and should be read on its own. True, he published an expanded edition of The Back of the Napkin in 2011 so I recommend that edition rather than the earlier one. However, each of the four has its own scope and focus. Moreover, because Roam has an insatiable curiosity and eagerly welcomes feedback from those who reads his works, each of the three work is the beneficiary of substantial reflection and feedback.

Now let’s shift our attention to Show and Tell. Here’s a statement by Roam to keep in mind as you read it: “If I tell you the truth, if I tell it with a story, and if I tell that story with pictures, I can keep you glued to your seat. Let me show you how.” In essence, an extraordinary presentation is truth well-told. How so “well-told?” Truth is anchored in human experience, in a narrative; it is illustrated; and it is communicated with effective non-verbal skills (i.e. tone of voice and body language) as well as with eloquence.

In Creative Confidence, David and Tom Kelley insist that almost anyone can be creative; in Show and Tell, Roam insists that almost anyone can prepare and then make an extraordinary presentation if they are guided and informed by three rules of show and tell:

1. Lead with the truth and the heart will follow. “When we tell truth in a presentation, three good things happen: We connect with our audience, we become passionate, and we find self-confidence.”

2. Lead with a story and understanding will follow. “When we tell a story in a presentation, three great things happen: We make complex concepts clear, we make ideas unforgettable, and we include everyone.

3. Lead with the eye and the mind will follow. “When we tell a story with pictures in a presentation, extraordinary things happen: People see exactly what we mean, we captivate our audience’s mind, and we banish boredom.”

Roam created this book to show and tell HOW to achieve these and other objectives. He devotes a separate chapter to each of the three Rules and includes dozens of exercises that serve two separate but interdependent purposes: to get the reader actively engaged in the show and tell learning process by interacting with the sequence of material, and at the same time, completion of the exercises will require each reader to assume ownership of the concepts and techniques by applying them.

Time Out: At this point, I want to strongly recommend having a lined notebook near at-hand when working through the narrative and the exercises that accompany it. My personal preference is the Mead Composition Book (“Marble” wide-ruled) but any other will do just fine. True, some of the exercises can be completed within Roam’s book and key passages can be highlighted. However, when working my way through a book such as this, I also use a notebook to record doodles as well as diagrams and annotations.

In Chapter 5, Roam shares his thoughts and feelings about how to overcome fear of speaking in public. It is the #1 fear among Americans and probably among most everyone else. “Which is totally understandable. And totally fixable.” He devotes this entire chapter to alleviating that fear by developing helping his reader to develop a mindset based on four articles of faith:

o Enjoy your idea.
o Enjoy yourself.
o Enjoy your audience.
o This is going to be fun.

Easier said than done? Obviously, and Dan Roam knows that. His “fix” consists of several do’s and don’ts as well as specific, practical suggestions that can help most people overcome their anxiety. My own opinion is that the greatest value of the material has less to do with overcoming stage fright to make solid (if not extraordinary) presentations and more to do with helping each reader to think more courageously, to organize and clarify their thoughts more clearly, and thereby increase their self-confidence and self-assurance even if they never make a public presentation.

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