Screenwriting and Leadership: show not tell


The first rule of modern screenwriting is to “Show not tell.”

What writers used to do when they wanted to give an audience background information about a character was to set up a ‘table polishing’ scene. The maid and the housekeeper, say, would start to ‘polish a table’ together. And then the housekeeper would say something like, “You’re new here, Mabel. Let me tell you a little bit about the background and personality of Mr Smith…”

This doesn’t work. It’s boring. And people forget.

Nowadays if you want your audience to know that Mr Smith is a nice guy, you show him helping an old lady across the road. If you want them to know that he is a bully or wanted by the police then you show him kicking a defenceless animal or ducking into a doorway as a cop walks by. Then later, when brings a large knife to a birthday party, the audience already knows whether he is going to cut up the cake or do something worse.

Showing, not telling, is what works with human beings.

As a leader, your ‘audience’ is your team. If you tell them what you want they will forget. If you show them they will remember. And if you show them enough different scenes, then they will begin to understand the narrative, and then they will become involved.

Do you learn best when people tell you or show you? What about the people around you — how do they learn best?

Photo By Michael Gil via

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