Show Them

Making Speaking Magical: part 8

When you show them a picture, you give the idea meaning.

“Was that the time the lights were going up and down during the talk?”

“I remember you had a table and chairs with you on stage.”

“I may never forget the visual of those balloons.”

The above quotes are from people talking with me about specific talks I delivered. They didn't start with the idea, but because they remembered the visual, we were able to draw back the point I was making at the time. 

The brain loves visuals. 

Since our goal is to transform our audience, we have to be able to get an idea to stick in their mind - to go from short-term memory into long-term memory and hopefully change the way they live.  I believe it is up to you, the communicator, to help this one talk stand out in their memory from all the rest.

Pictures help ideas stand out. 

Imagine flipping through a pile of typed out pages about world rulers during the 21st century. You are looking for info on Queen Elizabeth but the papers are all the same colour, size, and shape. It would take you all day to find the one sheet of paper about Her Majesty (can you tell I've been watching The Crown?). Thankfully, the page you are looking for is the only one with a picture of The Queen on it! Not only can you retrieve the information quicker, but you can describe her better than anyone else in that pile.

This is what your brain is doing with all the information you have received from communicators in your life - flipping through, trying to call back the idea when all it needs is a picture to link it to. 

Showing them is all about making abstract ideas into concrete pictures. 

Without a doubt, this is my favourite trick to make speaking magical. If you learn how to use this trick appropriately, you will stand far out from other communicators. 

I often here people say, “I’m a visual learner, so I like it when you use objects.”

The truth is, we are ALL visual learners. You hear so many words throughout your day, and you see even more images. If someone can find a way to combine their words with an image, it stands out from all the other noise you experience in your day and sits at the top of your short-term memory. 

Really, what we’re talking about here is the beloved object lesson

Here are three tips to effectively use objects to show your audience what you’re talking about:


Use the Object as a Metaphor

This is the most popular object-lesson technique, have an object that represents your idea. If you’re talking about people having a lot of layers, cut an onion and peel the layers away. If you’re talking about the complexities of building a team, nail some 2x4s together. If you’re talking about burning out, fly a drone over the audience until the battery dies, or light a sparkler and let it burn down in your hand, or fill a balloon (above) nice and big then let the air out.

These pictures are usually accompanied with an explanation. For instance, (pull out knitting needles and yarn) “Marriage is like knitting, it takes two needles (or, people) working in sync with one another to create something warm and beautiful.” 

Use the Object as a Tool

Tools build things. Use this object to build up your idea. This is about using an object to help prove the point you’re making.

Once I was talking about being unnecessarily stressed. So I had a straw on everyone’s seat as they arrived and had them breathe in and out through the straw at a moment in the talk. The straw wasn’t the point, but it helped show the difference between stress and relief as they removed the straw and began taking long, deep breaths on their own.

Another time, I was talking about pain and suffering and I had the lights slowly go down in the auditorium to help demonstrate the feeling of life getting darker and darker. The lights weren’t the point, but they sure showed what I meant. This only requires an overt explanation if you think you’re audience isn’t going to ‘get it’, in which case it’s likely not a strong enough tool. 

Use the Object as an Object

Look, it’s simple. If you’ve got a great story about picking apples with your grandmother, have a basket of apples with you and hold one while your telling it. Don’t just tell us about what you looked like in the 8th grade, show us your school picture. If you are going to talk about when you broke your leg, stand on the crutches you used.

I once was talking about my dad’s incredible ground-breaking talent as a photographer. I could have just told the audience about his photography, but knew it would stick if I was able to show them, so I had two easel’s set up with a series of his prints to demonstrate his stylistic technique. 

Using objects in this way is a mega-story-enhancer. This is such a marvelous way to take some pressure off from your story only being remembered because of it’s pathos

Use the Object as a Form of Engagement

Typically when people think of using an object, they imagine showing it fairly quickly as a one moment shot to go with their point. But if you are able to extend the moment, or if you are able to get others involved, your audience will stay with you the entire way. 

Sometimes I paint while speaking. The painting is certainly nothing you would hang up on a wall - maybe a fridge, if I was 7 and you were my dad. But the process of painting engages the audience in ways my words never could. They are guessing all along the way. I can see them leaning to each other, telling them what they think I’m painting. And in the end, all these stories and points I’ve made are wrapped up in one cohesive picture they will take with them. 

Is there something you can do throughout your talk, is there some way you and your audience can keep building on something that relates to your point? It might be an object as metaphor, tool, or object, but the point is you are inviting the audience to be involved in some way, even if it is simply guessing what you are doing. 


Your audience is always looking for something to latch onto as a visual reminder of significant moments. They need something to look at or the moment will be filed away and lost in the pile of stored information. It is up to you to be intentional about what they are looking at. If you're not they will end up staring at the ceiling, the floor, or their phone. When you show them what you're talking about, you give them something to look at and help them remember.

If you can intentionally connect your significant words with a tangible picture, your audience will be transformed by the moment. 


Two bonus tips:

VIDEO - only use a video if it's short (under 3 minutes) and can stand alone without explanation. If you have to explain the point of the video you showed, you might as well have not wasted 3 minutes of your audience's time. Videos ARE great as a tool to get the audience laughing. 

NORMAL THINGS- the more 'normal' an object is, the more likely your audience will remember this moment later in the week. If you use a pillow as an object-lesson, they may be reminded of your idea when they lay down for sleep that night.