Show Don’t Tell: How to Engage and Not Offend

by | May 20, 2022

She read the first draft of her acceptance speech for a prestigious award she received. There was a line along the lines of, “This group has always inspired me…”

I resisted interrupting. 

Then, a minute later, another line, “I had struggled early in my career, and I turned to this group and they supported me.” 

At this point, I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for her to finish. She did and I pounced: “HOW? HOW did they inspire you? HOW were they there for you? I need to know details!”

My client paused, took a deep breath, and thought back to the time when she was having a bit of a health scare and told me what the group had done to support her. She explained her struggle in a male-dominated field and how she found her “sisterhood of support” within the group. By the time she was finished, I had goosebumps all over and my eyes were more than a little misty. 

“We’re, no YOU–are telling those stories during your acceptance speech!”

I didn’t give her the option. We reworked her acceptance speech with my mantra/credo/chant/command as our guide: 

Show don’t tell. 

Don’t TELL me they inspired you, SHOW me how they inspired you.
Don’t TELL me they supported you, SHOW me how they supported you. 

Show don’t tell.

If I’m working with you on your presentation skills or re-imagining your keynote, you’re going to hear me say show don’t tell probably more than you’d like!

It’s a powerful concept. It also serves as a warning. 

The warning goes out for this trend I’ve noticed lately.  Maybe it’s the circles I’m hanging in, the articles I’m reading, or the posts filling my feeds.

This trend makes me cringe, shut my eyes, try to close my ears, and scream internally, “Please for the love of all that’s good in this world DO NOT…”

The trend? Telling, not showing, vulnerability. 

“I’m going to be vulnerable for a moment…”  


I cringe because I’m afraid. Afraid of the inevitable overshare.  Too many details. Too much. Too soon. Too fast.

Authentic vulnerability–vulnerability that’s shown not told–works hand in hand with building trust. I believe in its power as a leadership skill. I’ve seen the transformation of groups when they embrace vulnerability and its impact on collaboration and cohesion. Hell, it’s what I teach! When we show don’t tell with vulnerability, we get trust, closeness, and empathy. 

The declaration of vulnerability? Not so much. 

Let me experience it. 

Let me be the judge.

Let ME decide.

Let ME experience your vulnerability like I experienced the goosebump situation with my client. 

Let ME experience the impacts of your vulnerability, without you declaring they are coming and expecting a gold star for being vulnerable. 

Perhaps some of you have shared your vulnerable stories lately and my gold star assessment is hittin’ a little harsh. Perhaps there might be some differing opinions on my take on declaring vulnerability. I’m going to hit send and open myself up to and encourage your thoughts–agree or disagree. 

Show don’t tell. ⬆️

See where it leads you. 


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