Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Making a message: using analogy

Making a message memorable is like checking your looks in the mirror:  The result has to work for you and for your audience. When you're trying to get your message across, analogy's a rhetorical device you can use to help you recall what you want to say, and help your audience remember it, too--if you think it through with care ahead of time.  Here's what to keep in mind when you're drawing comparisons to make your message stick:

  • Look for analogies that carry your message through all three points:   This description of investment opportunities in a changing market builds on the well-worn phrase "that train has left the station," but carries the three points of the message forward, describing investor's uncertainty (they think the train's left), the opportunity they don't see (there's always another train coming along) and, finally, what they should be focused on (deciding when to get on board).
  • Want to convey movement through either space or time?  Use transportation analogies, like the train example above, or sports in which either the athlete or the ball are moving (think swimming laps or hitting the ball out of the park).
  • If you're describing scale and size, be careful with your measures and numbers.  Make sure they have some bearing in your audience's reality--stacking things up until they reach the moon sounds cool, but who knows what that really feels like? Check out this advice from Wall Street Journal "numbers guy" columnist Carl Bialik, who recounts some of the worst (and most effective) measures you can use in analogies.  Tip: Beware the odd comparison, like how many high-priced shoes all Americans could buy if we didn't go to war with Iraq--you'll just leave the audience members scratching their heads over that one.
  • As with most message tactics, don't overdo.  One analogy is plenty for a message--or even an entire speech.  And if you're using other rhetorical devices, like alliteration, don't use an analogy.  You'll dilute the impact, and, worst-case scenario, wind up confusing rather than cementing your points.
Related posts: Glue to make your message stick

Good speeches: Messages in threes

How to develop a message

Want to see how not to do this? Check out this post of funny, if failed, analogies.

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