October 13, 2013
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
– Anton Chekhov
What Chekhov is talking about here is the beauty—or power—of things left unsaid. Things left for the imagination. Using details to communicate a more powerful whole.
Yes, lovely for flowery literature. But it’s not something that we, as marketing professionals and communicators, can easily grasp as useful for our profession. I mean, we’ve got a plainspoken principle we’re supposed to be sticking to here, right? I need to communicate it as straightforwardly as possible. Except…every now and again we run up against a communications impasse where certain assertions are rejected no matter the evidence we put behind them:
Sometimes we can’t just TELL our audience. This is particularly an issue with “worn out” assertions—such as “added efficiency.” They are to marketing what a shining moon is to fiction: a cliché, a phrase leaned on so often as to be silly, jarring because of its history more so than its veracity. But then how do we convince them?
We’re all used to the adage that if we really want to convince our bosses of something, make them think that they came up with it themselves. Chekhov’s advice is similar. If you give your audience the information they need to reach the conclusion themselves, the conclusion feels truer (we’re channeling Leo DiCaprio in Inception a little bit here). So:
We don’t always need to provide our audiences with the answer. Sometimes we need to give them the building blocks to get there themselves. Thanks, Chekhov.