There are few communication techniques as effective and powerful as analogies, similes and metaphors. This goes double for oral communication, since the receiver does not have the freedom to pause you mid-speech and reflect on what you’re saying.
There is often confusion about which means which, so in this post, I explain the difference between analogies, similes and metaphors, and I describe how to use them most effectively.
Analogies point out the similarity of two things whose features can be compared. For example, since it is important for leaders and managers to have a high degree of technical knowledge in the tools that accomplish the work they oversee, I use the following analogy to demonstrate this concept:
A lot goes into managing a restaurant, from ordering supplies to scheduling the wait staff. But every manager should also know how to operate the cash register.
In a communications shop, the manager must know how to use the tools of the trade: from MS Word to Adobe Photoshop, from Excel to InDesign. If you are in the communications field but have never edited a video, customized a Google Analytics report, or composited a digital image, you better get yourself some training!
A simile is a phrase, or combination of phrases, in which two unlike things are explicitly compared. Here’s a great simile on teamwork by the mighty Steve Jobs (as reported by www.teamworkandleadership.com). I’m paraphrasing here:
Team members are like dirty, rough jagged rocks that get picked off the ground and thrown together in a rock tumbler. After some time, bumping and shaking and grinding against each other, they come out polished, shiny and smooth.
By comparing team members to rocks in a rock tumbler, Jobs is saying how conflict, creativity and resolution result in individual growth and refinement. It is a beautiful comparison, and because of the simile, his message is crystal clear.
Metaphors are like similes, except they do not employ comparative words, such as “like” or “as”. Here is a common metaphor on leadership:
This company is my ship and I am its captain, and I will chart its course through the storm.
By using metaphors, you automatically attribute the qualities of one subject, such as a ship, with its different parts (sails, rudder, masts, hull, etc.) that keep it afloat and propel it forward. Without explicitly saying it, you infer that all the parts of a company also act in unison in the same fashion.
Try to use analogies, similes and metaphors in your presentations, as well as vivid imagery and descriptions, to better engage with your audience and make your message as sticky as possible.
Are there any other analogies, similes or metaphors that you would like to share? Please leave them in the comments below.