Article Category: Speechwriting

How to Make Metaphorical Magic in Your Speech


Juggling is a common metaphor

Metaphors help a skeptical or apathetic audience better embrace and value a new concept or idea.

Metaphors make the connection of that new idea to an object the audience already knows.

Read on to discover a treasure chest of metaphor speech examples.

The dictionary defines a metaphor as an implied comparison between two unlike things (e.g. human body and garage) that actually have something important in common (e.g. storage). “Your body is a garage to park your soul,” writes author Wayne Dyer.

Metaphors are Meaningful Bridges in Speeches

Think of a metaphor as a connection or a bridge between the new and the familiar. This connection provides a new perspective and a new meaning that can persuade an audience to reconsider its skeptical or apathetic attitude.

Metaphors are so powerful that Aristotle said: “The greatest thing by far is to have mastered the metaphor.” And the Spanish philosopher and writer Jose Ortega y Gasset added, “The metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man.

Metaphors provide a frame of reference to more fully apply new concepts or ideas. That’s why the first trains were called horseless carriages. After all, people already knew the purpose and the premise of a carriage. So a carriage without a horse must roll on wheels.

Think of a metaphor as a connection or a bridge between the new and the familiar.

-- Peter Jeff

Metaphors pique the interest of an audience to see the old in a new way. Even the students who think science is boring might reconsider if they thought that those who studied astronomy were “peeping Toms at the keyhole of eternity,” as author Arthur Koestler observed.

When Kodak invented the camera, the technology was so new and different the camera could only be valued by linking the new technology of a camera to something more familiar. Kodak called its camera a “mirror with a memory.” They connected two dissimilar things that actually have something in common. A camera’s film is the memory and the lens is the mirror. Link the two knowns to the unknown — a camera — and a metaphor is born.

Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, used his metaphorical thinking to expand the reach of his business. “In the factory we make cosmetics. In the store we sell hope.” Likewise Porsche pays homage to the metaphor in its advertising: “A Porsche is not a car. It is the best engineered executive toy in the world.” Metaphors are so powerful they can transform much like the antique dealer who says your trash is our treasure.

Metaphorically Speaking… More Metaphor Examples

Smile Stylist?Consider the following speech metaphor examples:

  • Chances are your audiences would see more value in making an appointment to see a smile stylist rather than a dentist.
  • Chances are your audiences would be more interested in learning how to purchase jewelry for their windows rather than window accessories such as curtain rods, rings, tie-backs and swag.
  • Chances are your audiences would do more research if they thought of themselves as infonauts and the library as the delivery room for the birth of ideas.
  • Chances are your audiences might enjoy exercise more if they thought of their treadmill as a flight simulator.
  • Chances are your audiences would eat more fruit if they thought they were eating God’s candy.
  • And chances are members of your audiences might more readily volunteer to become the designated driver if everyone kept calling him or her the Life of the Party.

Analogies: Close Cousins to the Metaphor

In addition to the metaphor, polished speakers show up with their “A” game to engage audiences and help them better understand a complex policy or procedure.

Use an analogy whenever you need to explain a new process or new procedure particularly to a general audience. The dictionary defines analogy as a “similarity in some respects between things that are otherwise dissimilar.” To create an analogy, find an object that your audience is already familiar with. Then look for characteristics in that object that could be compared to traits or various aspects of your process.

Example of an Analogy to Open a Speech

…begin your speech with an analogy that engages the audience and builds greater understanding…

-- Peter Jeff

Let’s say you are a nutritionist and you want to deliver a speech on the value of fasting for a general audience, many of whom would be completely turned off by the prospect of not eating every 4-5 hours. Let’s call up the A-team and begin your speech with an analogy that engages the audience and builds greater understanding first with something they already are familiar with.

In your research on fasting you find that one of the key benefits to fasting is that your digestive system gets a lot more efficient after a fast. During a fast it reorganizes parts and pieces of the digestive system that normally are too busy digesting food.

Is there something in your audience’s everyday lives that reorganizes itself and gets more efficient especially when you are NOT using that process as you normally would?

How about computers? Is there any way to connect computer processing to a fasting process that reorganizes the digestive system to make it work better? Consider the following analogy that opened a speech on fasting to a general audience:

My computer was running so slooooowwwwww. Defrag it, my friend told me. I thought he said “Rag it.” What! What was I supposed to do with a rag? Dust off the computer? Well after my friend had his good laugh at my expense, he explained that defragging helps the computer better digest information you feed it. And then your computer works better, faster and more efficiently, he told me.

I wondered if there was a defragging process for the human body… to make the food I eat digest more efficiently and make me feel that much better! Voila! There is! Fasting is like the defragging process for the human body.

When you fast, you make The Pit Stop of Your Life. And like that pit stop at a NASCAR race track for example, we stop briefly to reset repair, and restore. We stop. (pause) eating for several days or more.

And we free up our body’s digestive system, so that it no longer is expending 60 percent of the body’s energy on digestion. Now it can redirect that energy to reset, restore and repair itself to be that much more effective and efficient when eating resumes.

Another Speech Analogy Example

Here’s another example of an analogy that links specific processes of a stove and stomach to encourage people to eat breakfast. This one is written by John Gray in his book The Mars and Venus Diet and Exercise Solution:

“Think of your body as an old-fashioned steam engine. You need to feed the fire with coal. When there is no coal available, the stoker slows down so that all the available fuel is not consumed. Likewise, your metabolism slows down for the rest of the day when you don’t eat breakfast.”

Metaphor and Analogy: Tools for Every Speaker

The metaphor and analogy are two of the sharpest tools in the public speaker’s shed to weed out the confusion in your audience and plant the seeds of understanding.

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Comments icon4 Comments

  1. This article is a great reminder about how important metaphor is in human thought in general, and public speaking in particular. Most of us reason by analogy and metaphor; it’s the way we typically take on board a new idea (“oh, that’s like X, which I’ve seen before”). Because it’s hard to take in new information via a speech, metaphors and analogies are good ways to help the audience understand what you’re talking about. Of course, metaphors and analogies are by definition imperfect — things are not usually exactly like each other — and so we have to respect the limits of metaphor as well. But as an aid to understanding, they are essential.

  2. Some great examples… and they don’t sound forced or old fashioned.
    The best metaphors are the ones you hear and believe, but don’t notice that they are metaphors.

  3. Great article thanks! Metaphors are an excellent way to help individual coaching clients shift their thinking. Ideal for children too.

  4. I appreciate the tips you give. I do agree most opening are boring. I am high energy and want to grab their attention as soon as I hit the platform.

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David Newman @dnewman — Sep 21st, 2010

How to Make Metaphorical Magic in Your Speech: http://bit.ly/1vkXq6 #speaking

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Claire Robinson @clairerobinson1 — Jan 13th, 2011

I find english fascinating. Reading this stuff makes me want to study again. http://tiny.cc/p6shd

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