Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies: The Special Sauce for Your Presentation Masterpiece
I like to think of myself as a pretty good speaker and writer. I always hated English class in high school and college, though. So, I always got confused between what was a metaphor, what was a simile, and what was an analogy. To me, these parts of speech were so similar, that I didn’t really see a lot of difference in them. (Still don’t, by the way.) However, these often confused parts of speech are the special sauce to really great presentation burgers. If you use them just right, these items will be like adding the perfect piece of jewelry to a formal dress. They will take a speech that is already pretty good, and make it exceptional.
Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies… What the Heck is the Difference?
- Simile: a figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by like or as. Here are a few examples. (1) Her stare was as cold as ice. (2) When he’s angry, he’s as fierce as a tiger. (3) That department is like a teenager doing chores.
- Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness between them. Here are the same examples above as metaphors. (1) Her icy stare said it all. (2) He is a tiger when he’s angry. (3) Their teenager work-ethic rarely accomplishes anything.
- Analogy: a comparison of two otherwise unlike things based on resemblance of a particular aspect. With an analogy, one aspect of the two items are being compared, but there is often a logical inference that other aspects are also similar. Analogies tend to be more complicated than similes or metaphors. Here are examples of them. (1) When I say something inappropriate, my wife is like a submarine. Her eyes shoot out a sonar-like signal, it bounces off my hard head, and later, I can expect a torpedo incoming. (2) He’s kind of like a volcano. Most of the time, he’s calm and mild-mannered, but when he gets angry, he erupts. (3) That department’s work ethic is like a teenager cleaning the garage — things get moved around a lot but nothing ever gets accomplished.
A good analogy often starts with a simple simile (or sometime metaphor). The fact that it does will often allow you to use a simile in a title or a bullet in your presentation, and then use humor to develop the analogy as content.
Five Ways to Use Similes, Metaphors, and Analogies to Add Flavor to Your Presentations.
- Attention Getting Titles (and Bullets).
- Add Humor to Dry Presentations.
- A Single Comparison Developed Throughout the Presentation.
- Use them with Other Evidence to Clarify Content.
- Make Technical Content More Easily Understood.
Attention Getting Titles and Bullet Points.
You can often use similes and metaphors to make your presentation titles bullet points more interesting. On a whim, I looked up the best-selling non-fiction books of the last few decades. Three of the top five used this technique. The #2 book is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Obviously, the criminal who the book is about has blood that is the same temperature as our blood, so the title is a metaphor. The title creates an emotion in the reader. The #3 book is Maya Angelou’s autobiography called I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Angelou is creating an analogy between her tough childhood and a caged bird. Finally, the #4 book is Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser. The author of this book is using an alliteration from Star Wars as a metaphor for the way that we eat in the modern era.
The great thing about these titles is that they use very few words to create an emotional impact. In some cases, they also add a slight bit of humor. This leads us to another major benefit of similes, metaphors, and analogies…
Add Humor to Dry Presentations.
Let’s face it — most presentations delivered in business are boring. Very few are laced with natural humor. However, if you add an analogy or metaphor every once in a while, you can add some fun and humor to even the driest subject. I’ll give you a great example from a coaching session that I did with Capital One executives many years ago.
One of the young managers was creating a presentation about how some of the departments within the company were working on the same projects together. The challenge, though, was that none of the departments were actually in-charge of the project. Miscommunication was occurring. The departments were communicating well within each of their groups, but the groups weren’t communicating well with the other departments. She said that it was like when she and her boyfriend moved in together and decided to share a single bank account. She said that he was keeping great track of his purchases. She was also keeping great track of her purchases. However, no one was keeping track of BOTH purchases together. She had the audience laughing as she let the story unfold.
Interestingly, the more different the items that you are comparing, the more fun the comparison becomes. This story is funny because departments doing a project together is in no way like a boyfriend and girlfriend moving in together. (That and the story in and of itself was pretty funny.)
A Single Comparison Developed Throughout the Presentation.
This technique can often be a little more challenging, but if you pull it off, your presentation will be very memorable. For instance, I was hired to deliver a keynote speech for a convention with the theme “Prepare for Lift Off!” As a result, I created a custom speech where I compared setting strategic corporate goals to an airline pilot flying across country. The steps that I outlined in the goal setting keynote were the following:
- Start with Training and Skill Development so You are More likely to Accomplish Your Goals.
- Create a Written Plan of Action.
- Look for Potential Obstacles that May Slow Your Progress.
- Set Milestones Along the Way.
- Take Corrective Action when Challenges Occur.
After I had the outline, I used the same airplane analogy all the way through the speech.
- Flight school and training.
- Create a flight plan.
- Check the weather map and make sure you have extra fuel.
- Flight following with towers along the route.
- Make course corrections.
So, as I delivered each bullet point and gave real-life examples of why each step was important, I also tied that step into the cross-country flight analogy. It was a fun way to tie my content into their theme. I worked beautifully.
Use Analogies and Metaphors with Other Evidence to Clarify Content.
These comparisons have a ton of positive effects on a presentation. There is one, very important area of caution, though. An analogy by itself is terrible evidence or proof. A lot of motivational speakers fall into this trap. In order to make their presentations more fun and funny, they add in a bunch of analogies.
I was once a speaker at a conference that hired a really famous keynote speaker as well. I was excited to meet this guy, because I had grown up in the industry listening to his speeches and reading his books. (I’m not going to say who this person was, because it’s really not important to the story, and I really respect the guy.) One of the points that he made in his speech was that the business world was constantly changing and to get ahead, you had to constantly change as well. To reinforce the point, he told a story about Albert Einstein.
A nervous teaching assistant approached Albert Einstein after the great physicist had mistakenly given the same final exam to two consecutive classes. “Dr. Einstein, I don’t know if you realized this, but it appears as though you gave this class the exact same questions on their final that you did for the class that you taught last year. Doesn’t that concern you?” Einstein thought for a second and then responded, “Yes, the questions are exactly the same. However, now, the answers are different.”
Of course, the speaker told the story very well, and the audience laughed. However, once the speaker finished the story, he moved on to another point. I remember thinking, “How in the world does physics test answers in the 1950 changing have anything to do with technology changes in the business world now?” The answer to that question is… well, nothing. All the speaker would have had to do was use an easy to find statistic or story about how fast the business-world is changing today. For instance, according to Experts Exchange, the iPhone 4 has three times the computing power of the huge room-size supercomputers from 30 years ago.
So, keep in mind that analogies when used with solid proof or evidence work really, really well. When used by themselves, though, they will make your presentation kind of fluffy. It would be like feeding sugar-free Jello to a starving person. The person will devour the treat, but because the dessert didn’t give any real nutrition, it wouldn’t be much help.
Make Technical Content More Easily Understood.
Here is a good rule…
The more technical your presentation, the more analogies you will need!
The facts, figures, and statistics are vital to teaching your audience a technical or complex topic. However, you need to add more flair or showmanship to make the content more interesting. Good analogies can help!
Here is a technical problem that we often have to teach people about in our classes.
Most often, when people come into one of our 2-day presentation classes, they come trying to eliminate a symptom instead of trying to fix the problem. Class members will tell us that they speak too fast or that they loose their train of thought while speaking. At times, we’ll even get people who think that they say uuhhmm too often. One of the first things that we have to teach our class members is that each of those concepts are just symptoms of the bigger underlying problem. Treating the symptom doesn’t work unless you get rid of the root cause.
I took a presentation class in college. My entire grade was based on three presentations that I delivered over a 12 week period. I got an 94% on the first presentation, but the instructor pointed out that I said uuhhmm seven times. I got an 84% on the second presentation. I said uuhhmm 14 times. I got a 74% on the third presentation. You see, I spent more time focusing on trying to not say “Uuhhmm” versus working on my nervousness and designing a better presentation. Whatever you focus on, you get more of. So if you focus on the uuhhmms, you’ll likely just say them more often. However, when I got a good presentation coach, she helped me design easier presentations which reduced my nervousness. The uuhhmms pretty much went away at that point.
A good analogy to describe this would be like having your “Check Engine” light come on in your car. You can crawl under your dashboard and snip the electrical line that goes to that light. The light will go out. However, the engine problem will still be there. Eventually, that problem will get bigger and more expensive to correct. So if you just try to reduce the uuhhmms or slow down when you speak, you are just making the light go off. You’re not fixing the engine problem.
Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies: The Special Sauce for Your Presentation Masterpiece
These simple figures of speech can easily add some flavor to your presentation masterpiece. Sprinkle in a few of these devices every now and then to spice up the bland speech. If you do, your audience will always want more from you.