Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

Stop Telling and Start Showing

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Have you ever sat through a presentation in which the speaker failed to get through to you?

The speaker was boring. The slides were nauseating, covered with facts and information and bullet points. When you walked away, nothing about you changed except that you were an hour older than when the presentation started.

The speaker may have had an important message, but they failed in their efforts to communicate it.

photo by John W. Iwanski (creative commons)

Do You Communicate?

An important aspect of living a better story is communication. It isn’t enough to live the story, but how we engage others in that story is just as important.

In an effort to battle poor presentations, speaker and author Seth Godin, wrote a an eBook about what does and doesn’t work.

To help us understand what it means to communicate, he defines the word in simple terms.

Communication is the transfer of emotion.

It isn’t enough to transfer information. Anyone can do that. In fact a book or a website can probably do that better than you.

But if we can transfer emotion, then we begin to reach out and touch the hearts of our audience. Especially when that message is about love.

You can’t force anyone to believe anything, but if you choose to tell your story in a certain way, you can make it much easier for them to feel it.

Show, Don’t Tell

In creative writing, authors deal with this tension of telling stories that make an impact. The temptation every writer faces is to tell their audience what is going on. To tell them how to feel. And worse of all, to tell them how they should respond.

So how does a writer put together words that add up to a story in which the reader becomes completely enraptured with? She shows you what is going on instead of telling you.

Instead of telling you that a patient is nervous about getting the results of a biopsy back, the writer will try to show you by describing her nervous behavior. Biting fingernails. Bouncing feet. Heart racing. Sweaty armpits.

Instead of telling you that a sunset is beautiful, the writer will show you. The orange and purple and red hues of the sky. The quiet stillness. The dissipation of all worry. The transcendence.

Instead of telling you that someone has fallen in love, the writer will show you. The goofiness of the once confident man. The pitter pat of the girl’s heart. Both of them forgetting what was once important in their lives, preoccupied with the other. The personal sacrifices made.

Showing is more powerful than telling because it allows the audience to develop their own feelings about what is going on using their own experience and their own perspective on life.

You Already Know How to Show

Chances are you already do this, but not in a desirable way. Most of us are really good at showing when we become angry.

My kids know without a doubt when I am angry. They can read it on my face, especially my eyes. I don’t have to say anything and they know. And then they always respond to my anger.

Even if I tried to tell them otherwise, they wouldn’t believe me. I am ashamed to say that my emotions definitely transfer.

The Best Thing We can Show

We are already good at showing anger, but what would happen if we became good at showing love?

I am good at telling my wife I love her. I am good at telling my kids I love them. I am good at describing and discussing the love of God for the world.

But I am bad at showing it.

Telling people that we love them is fine. But to truly communicate it to them, to truly transfer that emotion, we have to show them.

Anybody can put together the words, but showing love involves doing something. (Feel free to tweet that sentence.)

Instead of telling people we love them, we show them by:

  • being there when they need us most.
  • listening to them instead of speaking at them.
  • giving them space instead of trying to change them into what we think they should be.
  • helping them with their needs.
  • inviting them into our circles and making them part of our communities even when they don’t meet our standards.
  • Feeding them when they are hungry.
  • Clothing them when they are naked.

How do you show others you love them?

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About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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7 Replies

  1. Thanks for the reminder, Jeremy. I’m good at showing some people love, but the ones closest to me seem to get the raw end of the deal. They get more of my anger and selfishness. Thankfully they extend grace and mercy, and realize that I’m a work in progress, just like they are.

  2. Yes! One of my friends always talks about how things (like love) are better caught than taught. You can teach/tell all day but it doesn’t make a difference until you show and let it be caught.

  3. I love this post. I’ve been thinking about this a great deal lately b/c I moved from part-time to full-time in July. My kiddos, 3 & 7, have felt that shift in their life dramatically as have I and I have wondered lots what I can do to show them my love more than just saying it often…and of course, I’m finding that it’s harder that way! much harder! so hard, in fact, I’ve felt downright terrible in realizing how much I’m coming up short…this is a great reminder to keep at it…to keep pushing through. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  4. I definitely had my own kids in mind while writing it. We can never show them too much love.

  5. And when we show it, we grow far more than we ever could by talking about it.

  6. I do the same. My level of patience is less for those who are closest to me. Very sad. But grace is a beautiful thing.

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