Show, don't tell (Part II)
In Part I, we talked about how critical non-verbals are (visuals, environment, tone, body language, etc.) and how they’re often an afterthought when communicating a message. This leaves massive opportunities on the table! After all, showing (instead of just telling) means providing evidence. It gives your message clout.
But there’s more to it than just making your audience more confident in what you’re conveying. And that’s what we’re going to focus on here.
In case you didn’t get to see the video in Part I, here it is again. Have a look (it'll take about two mins), and we’ll talk about some of the brilliant ways they made us feel what we feel.
Now take a look at some of the comments from YouTube…
For all you marketers out there, isn’t that the dream? Most content creators yearn just to keep people’s attention until the end of a video or blog post. And here, we have an audience member who’s watched this multiple times? Heck, I, myself, have not only watched it multiple times, I’m deconstructing it in a blog post 10 years after it was made!
For anyone who’s ever said that attention spans on the internet are too short to make anything longer than 30 seconds doesn’t know how to tell a good story. Yes, attention spans are short, but if the story is compelling enough, the limits can really be extended.
Now, here’s where it gets really interesting.
These two YouTube commenters feel proud that they “got it.” One had to watch it all the way to the end (and was interested enough to do so), and the other felt a sense of accomplishment because they figured it out way before the end even came!
Is there anything better than making your audience feel clever?
Ok, but what does this have to do with showing vs telling?
Well, the quick answer is that the creators of this film didn’t explicitly tell the audience anything. They simply gave us several puzzle pieces and had faith that we’d be able to put them together.
Why is this more powerful than just spoon feeding us the takeaway?
It’s because of something psychologists call Self-Determination Theory, which states that human beings have three innate psychological needs for optimal function and growth: Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness.
- The first, autonomy, is all about feeling free. Free to choose, free to be who we are. When we have freedom, we feel in control of our situation and it feels great. In contrast, when someone confines us or exerts control over us in a way that infringes on our autonomy, we feel compromised.
- Then you have competence, our need to feel like we’re good at something or that we can handle it. It’s the feeling that we can control the outcome of things we care about and experience mastery.
- Lastly, we have relatedness, the very human need to interact with, to feel connected to, and experience caring for others.
When we’ve got these three things going for us, we’re golden. We feel at home and like “we got this.” When one of these elements is missing, our “optimal functioning” becomes, well, suboptimal. It’s uncomfortable. And it’s not really healthy either.
Alright, so what does this have to do with the Mr. W video?
If you think about it, all the creators of this film gave us to work with was a somewhat vague monologue, mysterious actions on screen, a big variety of environments and scenarios… and none of them, on their own, would have given us the final message. But combined, by showing us multiple tidbits of intel, we got an even more powerful experience.
By giving us just enough information to feel a little bit special for having gotten the punchline, our sense of autonomy and competence got tickled. We feel autonomous because it was really up to us to figure it out (nobody told us what to think), and we also feel a sense of competence because it wasn’t easy. Our brains had to work for it, so we feel a level of accomplishment as a result.
All of these feelings happened because Mr. W didn’t tell us much—but he showed us everything we needed to know to come to our own conclusions.
Did they get lucky?
Not a chance. They absolutely knew what they were doing.
They thought about their audience (consumers and investors) and knew they needed to make them care about the wind industry without the experience feeling too educational. Best of all, they transferred thought ownership. The audience’s takeaway was theirs to have all along.
Autonomy and competence, but what about relatedness?
Right, I did say there are three innate needs, and we only covered the first two. That’s because I really feel that those two are most strongly influenced by this specific technique.
But that’s not to say that relatedness wasn’t an incredibly powerful tool in the Mr. W film as well.
Most people, at one point or another in their lives, have felt like they didn’t quite belong… like they were outsiders. Mr. W’s troubles are pretty darn relatable, and because he also has an air of charm to him, we feel for him. We can step into his shoes—feel empathy. We feel relatedness.
This short film hits on all three of our innate needs, which is probably why it’s won so many awards and gotten so many millions of views online.
Using this in real life…
It starts with understanding the specific audience we’re trying to sway. To do so, we need to ask some interesting questions: What can we do to make people feel more autonomous and in control? What types of things do they crave competence in? What kind of people are they and how can you relate to them better?
If we can then communicate our message in a way that gets at these attributes—but also in a way that shows more than it tells, that message will stick longer and have greater impact.