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Finding the Right Metaphor for Your Presentation
When looking to engage an audience, using a metaphor can help tap prior knowledge and make a connection between what people already comprehend through experience and what they have yet to learn. Humans do this naturally in everyday conversation — for example, "The news hit her like a freight train." However, when speakers explain ideas in presentations, they are often hesitant to use a verbal or visual metaphor to relate to their audiences. More often than not, author Nancy Duarte wrote, a metaphor offers a shortcut to understanding. The trick is picking the right one.

One suggestion is for the speaker to tap into his or her own prior knowledge for connections that make the idea brighter in their mind. "The brighter that idea shines for you, the more likely it is to resonate with your audience," advised Duarte, who has penned two award-winning books on the art of presenting. Also know that very few people can develop a brilliant metaphor on the first attempt. When brainstorming, write down the obvious choices first to get them on paper. From there, you should discard those first ideas and come up with more creative ones. If your presentation centers on effective partnerships, for example, you might begin with a cliché like a close-up picture of a handshake before moving on to an old photograph of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Once you generate some really good options, do not stop there. It is important to keep pushing past creative blocks. "The more unusual the metaphor, the better it will stand out in people's minds," Duarte wrote. "The point is to reach beyond your first idea — or your seventh. And don’t start filtering out options until you've got a critical mass to work with." Some may grumble that a metaphor really is not worth that much effort. But Duarte counters such views by asking: How important is it for your audience to understand and embrace your idea?
Harvard Business Review (11/14) Duarte, Nancy
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JANUARY 2015 EDITION
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