February 24, 2021 9 min read
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- Your business storytelling will improve if you master metaphors and use them to your advantage.
- Sketches, analogies and allegories bring various benefits to your presentations.
- Learn when it is most useful to use them and some tips to generate them.
Although there are different languages in the world, the phenomenon of metaphors is universal. Everywhere and everywhere, from the epic of Gilgamesh to the holy books or social media, humanity has conveyed complex ideas through simple meanings. Mastering this storytelling resource can help you make a difference in business.
What is a metaphor
First of all, we are talking about language tools. And, specifically, of rhetorical figures. Metaphors are ways of creating comparisons and similarities between things of a different nature. For example: we can assimilate the behavior of a person with that of an artifact when we say that someone “turns more than a fan.” Obviously, nobody is a fan, but when the person has been walking from one place to another for a long time, that mental image is worth a thousand words to us.
Metaphors help the recipients of our communication to be on the same mental plane and to understand the message more clearly. Metaphorically speaking, it could be said that they help “to put us all on the same page in the book.”
Business metaphors and storytelling
In an unconscious, though not innocent way, business language has been filled with metaphors, portraits, analogies and allegories in the last hundred years. This has happened because it is a way of making communication more efficient: by saving words, we also save time and resources.
How many times have you heard of the elevator pitch ? In itself, the concept is already an analogy. And it is understood much faster than the statement of its definition: “everything you can tell your boss about your project in the time that the elevator travels.”
You have also heard of ” data mining .” Another analogy. Everyone knows that data is obtained from observation and calculation, but never from mining in the strict sense. Again, a mental picture is worth a thousand words.
Types of metaphors
According to the American specialist Doug Rose , we can talk about three types of metaphorical figures common in the business world:
The semblance , which is defined as a “comparison between two objects or actions” posed with a phrase like: “more ( _____ ) that ( ______ ) ”or“ as ( ______ ) as ( ______ ) ”. Remember the previous example: “a person who turns more than a fan.” This is a quick think and speak tool. Help break the ice or reconnect with your audience. Sometimes you can use it as a joke (or even as a vicious criticism). The analogy , which is defined as “a prolonged comparison between two different objects or actions that are similar in more than one sense.” The goal of the analogy is to show two elements compared (one simple and the other complex) that have many things in common. And by explaining the simple, you discover the complex. An example: sometimes high-performance professional teams are compared to soccer teams in more ways than one. First: all its members play a role. Second: the goal of both teams is to win the competition. Third: all members must play in coordination. Fourth: there are always one or two “cracks” in each team … And we could continue indefinitely. But if you want to educate a high-performance professional team, it may be worth telling them about things that happen on a soccer team. Everyone will understand and better assume their role in the company.
The allegory , which is defined as “a fictitious story, a poem or a portrait that brings us a message or life lesson.” In this area I place the parables of Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament, or the fables of the Greek Aesop , or the reflections of Paulo Coelho, among many others. In this resource lyric and poetry are often used. Truly, there are very beautiful allegories. The famous book “Who has taken my cheese? ”Could be an example. When to use a metaphor
Whether in internal or external communication, interpersonal or collective, there are many occasions in professional life where metaphors can give you an advantage. I share two very valuable moments for me: the reframing of complex problems and the communication of feelings and emotions.
Reframing : Imagine that you are launching a new product on the market. You have discovered a need that no one else has seen and you see yourself able to satisfy it. But there is a problem: that need is not immediate and will not be visible for a couple of years, so there is no way to demonstrate it with data now. And that has its consequences: you are not getting your investors to support you because they do not see the need as you see it.
If you are faced with a complex problem that you cannot argue with data and that is also difficult to communicate, you can develop a refocusing. As Nadia Goodman explained on Entrepreneur.com, the reframing (or refocusing) technique consists of creating a new perspective on a problem from which you can observe, analyze and explain it more comfortably. With reframing you can, for example, find an analogy with which everyone understands you.
Do you want an example? When Steve Jobs launched the first Apple iPod in 2001 , he could have explained his idea with slang and complex words. He could have said: “we have connected a lot of chips and cables so that people have a cool device” or “we think there will be so many people who will buy the product if we sell it to them for so many dollars a piece.”
But he avoided all that. Instead, he preferred a metaphor to fix the attention of his audience: “What if we get everyone to put the entire disco at home (CDs, records, cassettes … ) in their pocket?” Today the concept seems obvious to us, but 20 years ago it was something revolutionary: pure analogy.
Communicating feelings : more and more organizations want to be excellent in their processes. They strive to put people at the center of their operations, taking into account the expectations of all stakeholders . But to do this, they must begin by understanding well how all these people feel and thus resonate with those feelings. And that is difficult.
Personally, I think that one of the most complex things to talk about in life is feelings. If I say “anger”, “sadness” or “joy”, surely you know what I mean. You know it, yes, but you don’t feel it. Instead, I can increase the impact of what I want to tell you by using metaphors.
An example: I once had a boss who was always grumpy. I could describe it to you in two ways, one long and the other short:
- Extensive: “My boss was a person who felt a lot of anger inside, but who took great care of his external forms. So your first impression with him was always favorable. But once you treated him daily, you saw that he was a bitter person. “ (42 words)
- Short: “ My boss was like a volcano covered in snow. ”(9 words)
- The second way is much shorter and is sure to create a more lasting image in your head. Therefore, it is more efficient: you accomplish much more with much less. Companies that want to be excellent could benefit by promoting a culture of metaphors that help them better convey and understand the emotions of their internal or external audiences.
Four tips to master your metaphors
If you want to enhance your business storytelling with metaphors, I recommend that you follow these four tips:
First : read and listen. A lot of. Read from others. Especially from novelists and authors who use those rhetorics that make you feel connected to their message. And listen to people who speak well and who make you feel better.
Second : observe the things that happen to you and the situations that surround you. If something reminds you of something different, think why. You could be facing an interesting metaphor.
Third : take notes of your readings, listens and observations. Many. Do not forget to carry a notebook with you at all times. There you will collect those ideas that resonated so well in your head. When in doubt whether to keep listening or score, score! Everything that you do not write down the moment it resonates with you will be a forgetfulness.
Fourth : practice. A lot of. As the months go by, your notebook will be full of metaphors. Analyze them, group them, meditate on them and, finally, apply them in your formal, informal, verbal and written communication. If they are successful, save them. If not, look for others. You will learn a new descriptive power. And your business storytelling will improve substantially.