- You are my sunshine.
- All the world’s a stage.
- Laughter is the music of the soul.
One of my favorite classes in college was on Metaphor and Communication. It made me aware of the pervasiveness of metaphors in everyday life and how they shape our thinking.
When done well, metaphors are a differentiator. They strengthen communications by explaining one concept by using another. Here are 3 tips to keep in mind the next time you use metaphors in your rhetoric:
1. Be consistent: Don’t mix metaphors
Metaphors are more powerful when the same one is used throughout a speech or marketing campaign. For example, if you’re comparing business to a marathon, stick with the running theme for your whole message, don’t switch and start talking about flying. The same for imagery—you tell a more cohesive story when consistent images are used throughout a speech.
2. Be relatable: Know your audience
Spend some time thinking about your primary audience and use a metaphor that they’ll understand. If you’re talking to a bunch of millennials pick something trending now rather than an old and dusty concept. Remember they might not get 1980s movie references.
3. Be balanced: Harness the power
When picking your metaphor don’t go for something too far-fetched that makes drawing the connection difficult, especially for an audience in the room. For example, “We are all shadows on the wall of time” uses a couple of images (shadows, wall, time) and it can be hard to put them all together to understand the concept quickly. But on the other hand, if you use something too ubiquitous (time is money) it loses the power of metaphor. So go for something in the middle, your audience will grasp it quickly and it will stick with them after your speech is over.
I started this blog by saying metaphors are a great way to beef up your communications, but we have really just taken the first bite. If you want to learn more about metaphor theory (yes, there is such a thing) then check out this Wikipedia article or read Metaphors We Live By by Lakoff and Johnson.