How many times have you started your presentation feeling that your material just wasn't impactful enough?
It's hard to cut through the information clutter that your audience experiences 24/7. Sitting in their seats as you start to present, myriad things are competing for their attention, in addition to your remarks. Any technique that can entice your audience to listen a little more sharply and remember a little more deeply is certainly worth consideration. Enter the metaphor.
Anne Miller, author of the book, Metaphorically Selling, defines metaphor as "any comparison that conjures up a visual in your listener's mind". Some common metaphors are:
- You are my sunshine.
- He's a pillar of the community.
- My computer crashed.
- Jethro was the Director's eyes and ears in the field.
Some not-so-common ones:
- Wit ought to be a glorious treat, like caviar. Never spread it about like marmalade. (Noel Coward)
- A sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to our steps as we walk the tight rope of life. (Anonymous)
- Be the change you want to see in the world. (Gandhi)
HOW DO THEY WORK?
Metaphors interrupt what the audience was expecting and, by therefore heightening their attention, increase the chance that your message will penetrate their clutter. Metaphors enable your audience to relate something you're saying to something they already know and understand, making a concept less complex by creating a frame of reference. Metaphors paint a word picture which greatly improves the memorability and "stickiness" of your message. And Miller cites another, more nuanced use: metaphors can make the mundane memorable.
HOW DO YOU CREATE A METAPHOR?
One of the best ways is to read, read, read. Every good writer, whether a novelist, a journalist or a business author, uses metaphor. Read The New Yorker which is bulging with clever, thoughtful writing and well-crafted metaphors.
Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, is a master of metaphor. One of his metaphors was so striking I had to write it down. In describing the scene of monks and scientists on the same stage at an MIT conference about what science and Buddhism could learn from each other, Pink says..."[it's] a visual display of reason breaking bread with spirit". What an evocative description.
For something more structured, grab Anne Miller's book which has exercises on Building Metaphor Muscle.