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Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don't Work

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Ever been to so many meetings that you couldn't get your work done? Ever fallen asleep during a bulletpoint presentation? Ever watched the news and ended up knowing less? Welcome to the land of Blah Blah Blah. The We talk so much that we don't think very well. Powerful as words are, we fool ourselves when we think our words alone can detect, describe, and defuse the multifaceted problems of today. They can't-and that's bad, because words have become our default thinking tool. The This book offers a way out of blah-blah-blah. It's called "Vivid Thinking." In Dan Roam's first acclaimed book, The Back of the Napkin , he taught readers how to solve problems and sell ideas by drawing simple pictures. Now he proves that Vivid Thinking is even more powerful. This technique combines our verbal and visual minds so that we can think and learn more quickly, teach and inspire our colleagues, and enjoy and share ideas in a whole new way. The No more blah-blah-blah. Through Vivid Thinking, we can make the most complicated subjects suddenly crystal clear. Whether trying to understand a Harvard Business School class, or what went down in the Conan versus Leno battle for late-night TV, or what Einstein thought about relativity, Vivid Thinking provides a way to clarify anything. Through dozens of guided examples, Roam proves that anyone can apply this systematic approach, from leftbrain types who hate to draw to right-brainers who hate to write. This isn't just a book about improving communications, presentations, and ideation; it's about removing the blah-blah- blah from your life for good.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2011

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Dan Roam

26 books164 followers

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5 stars
470 (36%)
4 stars
435 (34%)
3 stars
277 (21%)
2 stars
70 (5%)
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26 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 118 reviews
Profile Image for Tamara.
1,420 reviews555 followers
November 27, 2011
A book about how to pair words with pictures to effectively relay information to others.

Side note: I found this one to be much better than The Back of the Napkin by the same author.

Favorite Parts/Quotes

"When we say a word, we should draw a picture and vice versa."

The story of Dr. Seuss on page 19.

The six different types of pictures for verbal grammar:
If you hear a name, draw a portrait.
If you hear a number, draw a chart.
If you hear a list of objects, draw a map.
If you hear a history, draw a timeline.
If you hear a sequence, draw a flowchart.
If you hear a "stew" of facts, draw a multivariable plot.

"[T]his is exactly where PowerPoint presentations go wrong. When we polish our slides to a high finish, we leave our audience with nothing left to add. Since they can't evolve the idea in their own minds [i.e. connect the dots], they never fully engage."

Profile Image for C. Spencer Reynolds.
50 reviews3 followers
May 3, 2012
While reading this book I really got clear on the need to draw little drawings as I talk with people to make the ideas vivid and understandable on many different levels. It made my new found enjoyment of Draw Something on my iPad even more meaningful as I now I get to practice making words come to life with a very simple and fast drawing. ;-)

That may sound like I am kidding and I was as I typed that, but the reality is I have gotten much better at the simple little things that will work to do as Dan Roam teaches in his book. I so quickly identify the BLAH BLAH BLAH that completely surrounds us all each day.

I would HIGHLY recommend this book to business people that communicate to make a living, sounds a little too broad, but it really is worth reading!
Profile Image for Bchara.
104 reviews5 followers
January 20, 2016
I do not want to sound ungrateful, this book was a rather good read, easy and fun, i learned many facts and book references as well, and i did appreciate two bits of infos in the appendixes.

But, it seems to me the author have started by creating a problem, or at least exaggerating it, where there was almost no problem. At least, how i see it, pictures ARE already involved everywhere. Charts, maps, graphs, are all over there. Yet the author make it seem as if our culture is only verbal, and goes from there to expose his methods and tools as something totally new, using original names for his tools (Forest, blahblahblah meter, etc)
So, and again, on a personal level, the book's real help to me was way less than what the book wants me to think. As a matter of fact, in a quick seminar last year, we were told basically the same ideas : say the essential, use graphs and plans and charts etc.
This book is a good way to remember these thoughts, but it's message could have been said in lot less of words itself.

One thing intrigued me though : the author use "she" instead of "he" when referring to any third pronoun.
Profile Image for Eustacia Tan.
Author 15 books260 followers
June 27, 2018
One of my colleagues recommended this to me because I’m more of a words person and she thought this might help me become more balanced in my thinking. Blah Blah Blah is basically a book on how to balance writing with visuals for better communication.

So disclaimer: I’m not a visual person. I like taking photos but I express myself much better in words than pictures. Even when I read books about mind maps and get really excited about them, they never really work for me. So I was a little wary of the book, despite its claims that it’s for everyone.

The basis of this book is the idea that words aren’t enough - we’ll need pictures to fully understand an issue. The land of Blah Blah Blah is a land where words are boring, foggy, or even misleading. And by checking things out against the Blah-blahmeter, we can check use ‘vivid’ to clarify things, make the message even more appealing, explore ideas, or debunk fake news.

Now what is vivid? Vivid stands for VIsual + Verbal InterDependent thinking. Basically using words to illustrate words. The idea is that by using both halves of the brain, we can see connections and communicate more clearly than we can without only words or with only images. And the way to use vivid is to use something called the vivid grammar graph:

In the vivid grammar graph, people are represented by portraits, numbers by charts, positions by maps, tense by timelines, interactions by flowcharts and reasons by multivariable plots. The third section, and the majority, of the book is on how to use vivid to improve your ideas.

The book was very nicely written and illustrated. It’s easy to understand and representing the verbal mind with a fox and the visual mind with a hummingbird was a very cute touch.

The book’s summary of The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson’s did convince me that visuals can help in understanding. But is it a method suitable for me? I have no idea. I’ve tried to use it as I read it, but I didn’t really see it expanding the way I think.

That said, I can see vivid as a useful tool for summarising and communicating. While I like words, I know that not everyone does and a picture can be a very effective way of communicating. I’ll definitely be keeping vivid checklist in the back of my mind next time I have to present something.

This review was first posted at Inside the mind of a Bibliophile
Profile Image for Jay French.
2,053 reviews76 followers
July 9, 2012
Excellent re-conceptualization of his first book "Back of the Napkin". Roam simplifies the concepts presented in that book while adding back in "the other half" of the tools used to present information -- words. While I found "Napkin" valuable in work I was doing as I read it, I feel this book provides a more basic and more usable and memorable way to embed these concepts (showing and telling) into my presentations.

In the writing of this book Roam included many simple drawings to help illustrate concepts. I believe because the drawings were simple the verbiage tended to be simple as well. Roam had more than this to tell and he resorted to including many, many footnotes (along with a few pages of endnotes). I found this an interesting by-product that will also need to be taken into account when giving presentations. BTW, I only noticed one footnote with its own drawing.

I see a possible follow-on question to the concepts in Roam's books -- dealing with unintended consequences of simplification. This approach leans heavily on using analogies, and while they may illustrate the point, the audience can take the analogy beyond its intended purpose, no matter the analogy. I'd be interested in seeing Roam talk about how to control how the audience expands concepts beyond their purpose, as that seems to happen often and it can hijack an otherwise good presentation.
Profile Image for Aaron Bolin.
Author 1 book9 followers
June 11, 2012
This book actually delivers on the title promise. Dan Roam provides an application-oriented structure to turn weakly-presented ideas into really elegant communication tools.

If you've read the Back of the Napkin or Beyond the Back of the Napkin, then you'll recognize his engaging style that mixes text with oddly compelling simple drawings. In Blah Blah Blah, he extends his earlier work and reinforces the same basic message: words go better with pictures.

I am a fan, and I really liked the overall book. In terms of criticism, the presentation felt a little padded in some parts -- saying in 5 pages what could be said in 5 words. I also missed the exercises that Roam included in his other volumes. In this book, readers are more passive; the text was less interactive.

This book would be useful to anyone who routinely presents information: teachers, executives, students, politicians, etc. This book would be a poor fit for readers looking to be told specifically what to do. That is, Roam presents principles and a general framework -- the details are left to the reader.
Profile Image for Denise.
71 reviews
May 28, 2012

Dan Roam's Blah Blah Blah: what to Do When Words Don't Work is a clear, practical guide to visual thinking. Roam moves the focus of visual thinking away from creativity and places it firmly on clear thinking and communication. He provides a context for why the visual is so powerful -- it accounts for most of our brain's processing! -- and then goes on to provide an approach to communicating visually that's tied closely to our verbal processing, with a grammar and structure all its own. And he does it delightfully, as a storyteller.

It's going to require practice, but Roam's approach has given me a structured, simple way of breaking down complex topics and serving them up as stories. I look forward to applying it at work, especially, where our presentations are rife with mind-numbing blah-blah-blah. (I would have loved to have applied it here, but I have a few technological constraints.) I think our entire team will benefit from Roam's approach.
Profile Image for Pavlo Huk.
37 reviews21 followers
December 24, 2016
Книжка хороша і корисна, можна дарувати друзям і не прогадаєш.
Але хочу ще версію у вигляді картинок і схем, бо іноді навіть в самого автора попадається "бла бла бла".
Profile Image for Katelyn Jenkins.
204 reviews7 followers
August 19, 2019
What to say!! Wow. I love the bigger picture this book presents on effective teaching and understanding!! Recommended to all, this really is a beautiful piece of work.
Profile Image for Dani Shuping.
572 reviews41 followers
February 16, 2012
Electronic Copy provided by NetGalley

I thoroughly enjoyed Dan’s first book “On the back of the napkin” and loved the way he presented his ideas and his information. So I was excited to get a chance to read this new book of his that deals with speaking and presenting ideas better, and killing the blahs--complexity, boredom, and misunderstanding. Dan gives us his theory of “Vivid Thinking” which combines the right and left side of the brain so that we can think and learn more quickly. In short, he shows the reader how not to be boring and explain ideas clearly and engage people. Dan also practices this idea in the book as he walks us through his theory with a host of different characters, ranging from Einstein and Captain Sully to his old math teacher.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable book and one that I would recommend to folks, no matter what their job maybe, so that they also might improve their presentation and speaking skills. I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.
Profile Image for Ben Love.
125 reviews22 followers
December 29, 2012
It was 2007 in a conference room in Paris when one of the great product minds in payment, Stephane Jacquis, uttered “blah blah blah” in reference to some fluffy, irrelevant details being talked about. I loved the expression, the sheer audacity and “cut to the chase” of it, and I’ve used the phrase ever since.
Then the absolute best author in visual communication releases his new job entitled “Blah Blah Blah”. His “Back of the Napkin” completely and positively changed how I communicate – I had very high expectations for this book.
It delivered, complete with too many ‘aha’ moments and insights that will stick in all my written interactions from here on. It’s a grand book and a complete work on its own, not an augmentation of “Back of the Napkin”. It weaves grammar and drawing, simplicity and impact. This is a tremendous book and, if you ever have to convey ideas and concepts to others, you should read it.
19 reviews
November 22, 2011
I purchased this book yesterday on my kindle. I was searching for a way to simplify complex ideas and make them understandable and memorable. I work in a very technical environment and have many things to read and understand, and it's a bit overwhelming. Let me say that this book was exactly what I was searching for. It's very easy to read, and describes a very exciting method for understanding and communicating information so that everyone gets it. I finished this book in less than a day, I was so excited by it.
Profile Image for Pavlína.
497 reviews8 followers
January 6, 2013
Jsem velmi spokojená. Kniha sice navazuje na "Ubrousek", ale není nutné číst tyto knihy popořadě. Nabízí zase nové "berličky", jak propojovat lišku a kolibříkem, tj. vnímání slov a obrázků. Výstupem jsou vcelku jednoduché návody, které je možné si uložit a opakovaně se k nim vracet.
Čtení je vhodné i pro učitele, protože si musíme uvědomit, že i grafická zobrazení (ano, nemusí to být jen obrázky) jsou pro pochopení učiva stejně důležitá jako výčty faktů. A navíc svět "bla, bla, bla" bychom také z pozice učitele měli omezovat a používat pro naše "přednášky" BLABLAMETR :D
Profile Image for S. Lakshmi.
Author 1 book3 followers
December 29, 2014
One of the best books in the market on visual thinking and conceptualizing. The author makes a case for using images to create thinking as opposed to words and he does a top notch job of convincing us on this.

I have been using his principles to great effect in my writing, training and speaking exercises.

If you want to get away from boring text and step into the world of images and visuals, this is the book. Go get it.
Profile Image for Scott Haraburda.
Author 2 books51 followers
October 21, 2017
A good book to understand why many meetings result in very few actionable outcomes and what to do to reverse that so that you can communicate better.
9 reviews
November 25, 2022
Our entire education system evolved to believe that pictures are like training wheels: They’re useful to only get us started reading - and drawing should be discarded the moment we’re able to write. No wonder we believe we’re bad at drawing - we have been neglected from it all along. Dan Roam has come to enlighten us about believing that pictures are the part of our thinking that provides us with guidance and direction. Pictures aren’t the training wheels; pictures are the front wheel. The mechanism for making good verbal communication great is to add visuals. Words alone aren’t enough to deliver a clear, efficient message.

The visual thinking tools provided in this book are truly exceptional to kickstart “vivid thinking”, a concept the author labels when our visual and verbal minds work in conjunction.

Profile Image for ThePeacockLady.
556 reviews35 followers
April 16, 2021
Bezpochyby zajímavá, čtivě, roztomile a vtipně napsaná knížka. Ale tak nějak si nejsem jistá, jestli to Dan s tím, jak moc nepoužíváme vizuální část mozku a jak moc velký je to problém, trochu nepřehání. Nějak zvýšenou koncentraci bla bla ani odpor ke kreslení ve svém okolí nepozoruji.

Ale s některými závěry lze souhlasit a část tipů je též fajn. :)
Profile Image for Manu.
56 reviews1 follower
February 1, 2016
Dan Roam has expressed the basic concept of "Picture is better than a thousand words" very well with detailed implementation strategy and examples. The best take away from this book is how one can use a combination of words and pictures to express new ideas in most persuasive way. This entire book is based on the premise of leveraging both the sides of human brain when it comes to expressing thoughts. Dan calls this concept as "Vivid Thinking" which is combination of verbal & visual skills. To make it easy for the readers to start using vivid thinking right away, Dan has given 3 interlinked frameworks in the book namely:

1) blah-blah-blah meter (to measure the noise in the ideas expressed)
2) Vivid Grammar (to link verbal grammar to visuals)
3) Vivid Forest (to implement vivid grammar)

Vivid Grammar is the most innovative concept presented in this book and this is something one can start using right away to express new ideas, concepts, business plans visually.

In the world that we are living in, it is becoming increasingly getting tough to persuade people with new ideas as they already have access to lots of information. This approach of presenting new ideas could help the presenters of new ideas to stand out and make it easy for the people to act!
Profile Image for Amy.
Author 12 books37 followers
June 22, 2015
I picked up this book to prepare for a speaking engagement, and I'm glad I did. Reading through it has helped me clarify my message and come up with several drawings to show my ideas. As a writer, it also helped me realize where I can use more visual examples to get my ideas across.

The book is not perfect, however. It's twice as long as I expected or wanted. It's full of a lot of confusing drawings, and a bunch of ideas that didn't gain traction in my mind or felt too... lame. The phrases "blah" or "blah-blah-blah" or "blah-blah-blah-meter" are used hundreds of times, to the point of annoyance, and the fox and hummingbird that represent our different types of thinking felt confusing. There's a Visual Forest, and Six Vivid Tricks to... something. There were too many disparate ideas for a book on clarified thinking and communication.

It's still worth reading, in my opinion, especially if you are a person who needs to present new ideas to an audience. I picked up several worthwhile tricks to help me communicate more clearly, especially in an environment when I have a pen and paper or a white board and markers in hand.
106 reviews2 followers
March 21, 2012
The author makes a case for communicating with pictures and words instead of just words. We start by figuring out why 99% of meetings and speeches make our eyes glaze (they are boring -> you have no idea what's being said -> the speaker is actively trying to deceive you). The rest of the book tells you how to present your ideas or understand other people's ideas better via visualization (draw portraits, charts, timelines, flowcharts, etc) and clarification.

The book was short, clear, and easy to understand. It contained plenty of pictures. (It's always a good thing to find an author who practices what he preaches. I've read a few books where the author is telling the readers to do X, which the book conspicuously fails to do, itself.)

Finally, the short section on English grammar was torturous to get through ... even with the pictures. ;)
23 reviews
October 22, 2016
Playful and encouraging journey from the word-dominated world where good ideas often remain unheard to a quiet forest where the verbal staff is balanced by the visual one. In that forest all ideas get a form, become clear and vivid. As soon as an idea become "vivid" we can bring it back to people - the idea is ready to change the world.
I enjoyed reading the book. I like the idea of supporting any message with an image. The author shares his vision of what the images should be in each situation. The tools which allow to illustrate any idea are very easy to use but powerful at the same time.
Profile Image for Paul Ohlson.
22 reviews1 follower
December 6, 2012
Got this at a content marketing event where Dan was a keynote. His presentation was amazing. This book gives great insight into how our minds work. If I could post pictures in my review I'd post the cover of this book and me giving a thumbs up.
Profile Image for Andy Doyle.
114 reviews1 follower
April 4, 2018
This is a great book to help make you into a super communicator ! I've already seen a difference in how I look at letters, emails, and presentations. I've also started demanding better communication from myself. I highly recommend this book if you have to communicate idea's to others.
59 reviews3 followers
January 29, 2012
This is a must read for anyone who writes or teaches. The concept is so simple. I appreciate the reminder that not everything I say or write has to sound erudite. Simple is really best.
88 reviews2 followers
July 29, 2016
Disappointings. Lots of blah-blah about how to draw pictures when words fail you. Some interesting ideas but 345 pages, really?
309 reviews
October 2, 2012
I'll have a better idea of how useful this book is when I start trying to apply some of what it says. That said I like the ideas and the presentation - very easy to follow.
Profile Image for Sylvia.
5 reviews
October 6, 2012
Wow. This book delivered. I would recommend it for anyone in any kind of human relations role... actually I would recommend it for everyone who wants to improve their communication.
December 5, 2012
This is a must-read for teachers and anyone who regularly leads meetings, gives presentations or creates marketing materials.
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