Review: Dan Roam’s Show And Tell

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When a book receives acclaim from Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds, and Guy Kawasaki, I know it’s going to be good.  After reading Dan Roam’s Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations over the weekend, I can confirm that yes, the book is good.

Dan Roam is a communications expert who believes our presentations aren’t as powerful as they could be because we don’t use enough stories and pictures.  His two previous books, The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas With Pictures and Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work ask us to incorporate more visual communication in our everyday lives.  Just like those previous books, Show and Tell includes Roam’s signature look: hand-drawn pictures.  Unlike his previous books, Show and Tell focuses specifically on the presentation medium.

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Roam begins by laying out three rules for effective presentations: 1) tell the truth, 2) tell it with a story, 3) tell the story with pictures.  This simplicity really helps, and I can see these ideas connecting with my students who don’t have a lot of public speaking and presentation experience.  However, I found that these simple ideas aren’t just for new presenters.  As someone who presents for a living, who teaches public speaking and presentation for a living, and who studies effective communication and presentation on the side, I can say I learned quite a bit from this text.  It really helps me to hear a perspective like Roam’s because I can use it to teach my students in the campus and online classroom environments.  Explaining things the way Roam does may help me connect with more students in a more powerful fashion.

How?  Well, first, I can use three tools Roam teaches us in his preface: a pyramid to help my students with the truth; an outline to help with stories; and a pie to help with the pictures.  So far, the only tool I am using with my students is an outline.  I would love to teach them to back up and pyramid their presentation first and to use that pie instead of a storyboard after their outline has been completed.  I also really liked Roam’s “Bucket Rule,” which I think is one of the strongest explanations of idea + presenter + audience that I’ve ever heard.

An important piece of Roam’s book was that it applied to almost any presentation.  The author has experience in management-consulting for a variety of clients such as Google, Boeing, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Wells Fargo, and even the US Navy and Senate.  Because of his vast experience with a variety of different companies and organizations, Roam’s book examines wider range of presentations than I’ve seen before.  For example, he says 100% of presentations can be created and delivered using four storylines: 1) report, 2) explanation, 3) pitch, and 4) drama.  These four structures can help my students see that no matter the type of presentation, this approach will always work.  I like this because my students do sometimes have a hard time seeing how the approach I teach them in class will apply to the presentation they deliver in their next class, their Final Project pitch, or a Skype interview.  Roam also shows us four shapes that match the four storylines, and this reminds me of the Kurt Vonnegut “shape of stories” post I shared with you a few days ago.  Some of my students feel like learning about organization and structure becomes boring and frustrating, so I think the “PUMA” shape Roam shares is an effective tool I can use in the classroom.

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In Chapter 4, Roam introduces slides, and his advice is on point with anything you’d hear from Duarte and Reynolds.  He also points out that during his explanation of each of the four storylines (report, explanation, pitch, and drama), he has created strong slides to go with each main point.  Chapter 4 examines each of the different types of visual aids (flowchart, equation, portrait) and explains when and how to use each one.

Chapter 5 touches on presentation anxiety, but I did feel this section seemed like a bit of an afterthought.  If Roam had been going into delivery in more detail, the presentation anxiety chapter would have felt like a natural tie-in.  Standing on its own, with no advice about effective delivery, this chapter did leave the last “leg” of the presentation stool unexplained.  I would have liked to see more information about strong, powerful delivery to go along with detailed chapters on content and slides.

One final drawback was that there was no mention of an online presentation via Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, etc.  Since Roam covered so many other types of presentations (a cooking show, the commentary of a sports game, TED Talks, a report at a meeting), at least one mention or example of an online presentation would have been helpful.  For my students, especially my online students, practical examples of the 21st century communication they will be doing in the future is incredibly helpful.  Interviews, meetings, and presentations online are increasingly common, and this is one thing I feel many books on public speaking and presentation leave out.

I enjoyed Show and Tell more than any other Dan Roam book, and I would recommend it for both beginning and advanced presenters.  Read my previous blog posts about Roam and his work here.

Have you read Dan Roam’s latest book yet?  What did you think?

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