Increase Understanding and Retention With the Tell & Show Method

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The purpose of your presentation is to create change. Maybe you want your audience to take some action or at least think differently about your topic.

A prerequisite is that they understand and remember what you say. There’s quite a bit of research about how to present information to maximize understanding and retention, but I’ll mention just two academic researchers.

  • Michael Alley: Michael Alley, an Associate Professor, Engineering Communication at Pennsylvania State University, studied various formats for technical and scientific presentations to his students and arrived at an approach he calls assertion-evidence. He says, “The AE approach builds presentations on key messages, rather than topics, and supports those key messages with visual evidence, rather than bulleted lists. Our research has found that an AE approach leads to presentations that are better comprehended, remembered, and believed.” You can find his research here, more information at, and his book at The Craft of Scientific Presentations.
  • Richard E. Mayer: Richard E. Mayer, a Professor of Psychology at the University of California in Santa Barbara, published the findings of his research in Multimedia Learning. He found that;
  1. students learn better from words and pictures than from words alone,
  2. they learn better when the words and pictures are presented near each other on the screen,
  3. they learn better when words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively,
  4. they learn better when extraneous words, pictures, and sounds are excluded.

What their studies found in common was the importance of using images.

To me, the concept of pairing images with text is a no-brainer and obviously helpful to the audience.

Another prerequisite is that your audience is paying attention to what you’re saying. To get their attention, you need to have compelling, relevant content but you also need to avoid Death by PowerPoint — that is, you don’t want to bore your audience.

What’s the problem with Death by PowerPoint?

When you put all — or almost all — of what you say on a slide, people naturally read it

Plus, it just looks boring. Even if your content is meaningful, relevant, and compelling, people tune out when they see all-text slides.

But, back to people reading your slides. Here’s what happens:

  1. You display the slide and people start to read it.
  2. While they’re reading, you explain the slide, going through the points.
  3. But people can read faster than you can talk, so they read ahead of you. I’ve confirmed this many times with audiences. A few try to artificially slow down their reading to match your explanation. A smaller number still ignore the slide and just listen to you. Over 50% read ahead of what you’re saying.
  4. They find your voice annoying because it’s distracting them from understanding what they’re reading. That’s not a good result.
  5. When they finish reading, they turn their attention back to you and discover that you’re talking about points they’ve already read.
  6. So they tune out a second time. They check their email. They look at Facebook. Anything but listen to you repeat the points. (This effect is even more pronounced on webinars.)

In multiple surveys, audiences say that the thing they hate most about presentations is presenters reading the slides.

Whenever you make people read and listen at the same time, you reduce understanding, retention and persuasion and increase the chances of annoying your audience.

What is the Tell ’n’ Show method?

I use the expression Tell ’n’ Show method to refer to Michael Alley’s concept of assertion-evidence and apply it to all presentations, not just technical ones. In fact, the Tell ’n’ Show method works for sales, inspiration, project updates, training and more.

And it’s SO simple.

Just use the slide title to actually tell your main point. For example, instead of “3rd quarter results” you would write “3rd quarter results were up 5%.” This makes it much easier for your audience to quickly grasp your point and then listen to you for the details.

Then add an image, chart/graph, map, or other graphic to show your point.

It’s just like the boys’ book. One side tells the story and the other side shows it, with a BIG picture.

The image attracts attention and helps the audience understand and remember what you’ve said. Images are also very helpful for persuasion.

Images should always be relevant and meaningful. They should never be just decorative.

Put one point on a slide

A corollary to the Tell ’n’ Show method is to put one point on a slide. There will be exceptions, such as for summary slides — slides where you want your audience to see the larger picture. But for the most part, just divide up your presentation so that each slide contains one point. Then add that graphic to help them get it.

In this video, you can see how I make over a slide using this principle.

How to use the Tell ’n’ Show method

Take a presentation you’ve already created that is mostly text. Divide up your slides as you saw in the video and add a relevant image, chart, or other graphic to each slide.

This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of Ellen Finkelstein – View the original post.


Published On: 27th Nov 2017

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