Using Metaphor is Like . . .

By | October 18, 2013 | 0 Comments

good marketing is like sushi.
It is concise, attractive,
presented in small pieces.
It has a few ingredients, creatively displayed.  And it leaves the consumer asking for more.

I used this metaphor when giving a presentation to non profit leaders about creating better communications.  I am still reminded by people who heard that presentation that I changed their thinking about messaging through this simple metaphor.
I cringe when I hear friends and colleagues deliver a flat unimaginative presentation or article.  I know these individuals have lots of great information to share, but it falls flat when they deliver it without giving the audience any foundation to build upon or way to relate to the materials.Metaphors help to build a bridge between a complex subject and a novice’s understanding.  They give a framework for the listener to plug in to and are learning devices to remember content.  In my example above, everyone in the audience knows sushi and can see it as a desirable object.  Also, metaphors can suggest good graphics that make more interesting presentations.You do not have to be a walking metaphor machine to use this technique effectively.  Rather — come up with a couple and use them well.  Below are a few that can be used broadly to convey process, concepts, group dynamic or mechanics.

Keeping a couple of metaphor cards in your back pocket can be a saving grace
in delivering information in a way that audiences will remember.  

gardenface  Gardening:  you can think of gardening in a number of ways:  the soil, providing nutrients; the weather creating ongoing conditions that strengthen your garden and yield (extremes in any direction are not good for your outcome).  You can also think about the stages of gardening: prepping the soil, planting seeds, weeding, harvesting etc.  You can apply these phases to any number of steps in a process, of diversity of skills and conditions needs for a desired outcome.
Music:  How is a particular project like a type of music?  Jazz — highly improvised, rock and roll, a little rebellious, country music–expressing certain moods; classical — many disparate parts well choreographed; marching band–familiar tunes conducted over a large space . . . I know you are thinking of some yourself here . . . keep going.  Angel Tavira as violinist and guerilla fighter Don Plutarco, as
piecing Quilting:  A cover consisting of many patches which are brought together and arranged, the batting which is invisible in the final outcome, but creates the substance of the pieces.  Quilt backing, which is . . . well, the backing upon which the piece rests.  There is also the quilting itself which is functional and artistic and requires the endurance of the quilter(s).   Quilting is the finishing detail which brings subtly and strength to the piece.
As my earlier blog posts, co workers and friends will tell you, I use these metaphors a lot and can almost always tie an explanation or answer to them.  However, there are many more that you can use:  preparing a meal, visiting a zoo, an archeological site, a museum, a physical city infrastructure . . .

The key is to get creative and identify some that work for you. Whether you walk around with metaphors falling out of your backpack or use this technique the next time you have to explain something to someone . . . work to identify a symbol, process or outcome that your audience can relate to and build the bridge from that shared understanding to your content.

 bellyflop2 Don’t do a belly flop:  be sure to keep your metaphor accessible to your audience.  I would not use the sushi metaphor if I were speaking to a group of pre-schoolers.   In that case, I might use a sandwich metaphor to express the same concepts.  With a well-selected metaphor you can build a strong bond with your audience.
If you know the group well you can select an apt metaphor that is going to convey your knowledge of their expertise or culture, which can increase their confidence and interest in you.However, beware, if you do not know the culture well this can backfire on you.  I would not use the garden metaphor in talking to soil scientists or landscape architects because they understand gardening and its elements on a different, more nuanced layer than I could ever convey.