A version of this story appeared in Total Annarchy, my fortnightly newsletter that helps you be a better writer, storyteller, marketer. Get it in your inbox; you’ll love it.
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I sense I’m being watched. Followed. Stalked, almost.
He’s quiet as a ninja. And like a ninja, he seems everywhere at once. Often I sense him before I see him. I think I’ve entered a room alone but then turn suddenly, and—yep—there he is: his silhouette in the doorway, backlit by the yellow hallway light. “Oh, hey. You good? Just keeping an eye on you.”
It would be a little creepy, except for… well, look at him.
Let’s start with his legs. They’re six inches long—too short to scale all the stairs to the second floor without needing a nap. He lies on the landing and cries.
He might be part ninja. But at that moment he looks and sounds more like an oversized Beanie Baby outfitted with a doll’s voice chip.
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There’s a meme on TikTok: Tell me without telling me.
Tell me you’re from the Midwest without telling me you’re from the Midwest.
Tell me how your brain malfunctions without telling me how your brain malfunctions.
Tell me you have a pandemic puppy without telling me you have a pandemic puppy.
The point is to dramatize something, to drop an insider-y clue. To show, not tell.
Tell me without telling me you’re from the Midwest: When a trip to run an errand is “only” 15 hours.
Tell me without telling me how your brain malfunctions: When we watch someone make an egg for breakfast and he slips the shell onto a preheated pan and drops the egg into the trash. (#facepalm)
Tell me without telling me you have a pandemic puppy: Well… I opened this letter with that one!
The Tell Me Without Telling Me TikTok challenge (which started a few years ago on Twitter) is—when you think about it—actually the world’s best writing advice moonlighting as a social media meme.
Tell Me Without Telling Me is the fastest way to give your writing or copy a living pulse. It’s the best way to paint a picture in the mind of the reader, to use action, senses, and feelings… versus basic, bloodless description.
And it’s a modern version of the advice attributed to Russian playwright Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of moonlight on broken glass.”
If Chekhov were still around, he’d be *all in* on TikTok. I like to think his social handles would be @ChekMeOut LOL.
Tell Me Without Telling Me snaps us out of our tendency to state things as we see them.
It puts us into the mind of the audience: What’s it like? How does it feel?
Let’s look at a few real-world examples.
Tell Me: The #1 video platform for virtual conferences
Tell Me Without Telling Me: Create virtual events that feel like a Netflix show. (via Goldcast.io)
IN EMAIL COPY:
Tell Me: New limited-edition face mask designs are here!
Tell Me Without Telling Me: Make Covid fight through skulls and switchblades to get to your face.
(“Get your sanitized hands on this…” is gold, too.) (via Liquid Death)
IN AN ARTICLE:
Tell Me: Clubhouse is a perfect networking platform for the quarantined professional.
Tell Me Without Telling Me: “Clubhouse feels…like everyone is passing around business cards. In short, Clubhouse feels like a space for people who miss attending in-person conferences.” (via Adweek)
IN ABOUT US:
Tell Me: Reliable cars at a price you can trust. (via actual billboard on the side of a highway)
Tell Me Without Telling Me: “I treat customers like adults, not like idiots.” (via LingsCars)
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So much of marketing copy and content I read Tells Me too much, and doesn’t Tell Me Without Telling Me.
So your turn. Here’s your challenge for this week:
1. Find a bit of “Tell Me” copy to rework. On your homepage. Email. Sales page. Landing page. Product descriptions. Social caption. Blog post. Or maybe it’s not from you at all: Maybe it’s from a company you want to work for? (That would be fun.) Your choice.
2. Rewrite from “Tell Me” to “Tell Me Without Telling Me.” Post it on social (Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn) so I’ll see it. (Not Facebook. I hate Facebook.) Be sure to tag me @annhandley.