Show is better than Tell

If you are a copywriter, a poet or you are working on the next great American novel, please stop reading. Your world is about to be rocked, shocked, and generally upset.

OK, now that we’re all alone, here’s a little secret. Remember back in school, Show and Tell? Chances are the kids were way more excited about your pet Terrapin than anything you said about it. Maybe some of them remember Tommy the Turtle to this day, but wouldn’t recognize you.

That’s something called the picture superiority effect*. According to people who study brains and the way we think (cognitive scientists), when information is presented orally, after 3 days, people will only remember 10% of it. But if pictures are added, memory recall improves to 65%.

Sounds good in theory, but still stuck to your bullets on a slide? Try this little test below.

No matter how great the line, it’s the picture that brings it home. That’s because, according to the neuro-boffins, our brains are translating words to pictures anyway. So when we save that brain a few extra cycles ( by supplying it with an image) it sticks better.

That gives you a simple, general rule when communicating: Paint a picture with words, AND use a picture. Before everyone goes crazy with clip-art, think about what else these examples have in common. Each picture reinforces a simple, understandable point. Each picture is very concrete, showing the claim. Where it is a little abstract it uses a common, easily understandable and recognizable device (the map).

Sorry copywriters, while I admire your ability to craft amazing lines, you cannot work alone.

*Nelson, D.L., Reed, U.S., & Walling, J.R. (1976). Pictorial superiority effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning & Memory, 2, 523-528.

More about the Picture Superiority Effect

Gavin_Animated-GifGavn is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.

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  2. captvoyager | September 19, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    Reblogged this on Writer on the Shark and commented:
    Sometimes, the internet truly gives you little gems, on greater scale than how to kiss better in 10 steps or how to lose weight while still loving chocolate. This is one of those moments. Please read, for this post is like calorie-less chocolate.

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  8. khhsocratica | August 10, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    This makes me feel like the time spent fiddling around looking for the right image to go with a blog post or video presentation is actually valuable and not just me wasting time/having fun/goofing off.

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