Business writing can be awfully dull, especially when it’s a topic that is unfamiliar to the reader. Haven’t your eyes ever glazed over when you’ve been trying to make sense of what something means?
That’s why imagery in the form of analogies and metaphors is so powerful in clarifying your intentions. I decided to write about visual imagery after reading a story about the growth of China as a world power in the The New York Times a couple of days ago.
An analogy explicitly compares two things that are seemingly different but actually have something in common. The comparison starts with either “like” or “as.”
Take the analogy that got me started on this blog: “China is like an adolescent who took too many steroids…it has suddenly become big, but it finds it hard to coordinate and control its body. To the West, it can look like a monster.” I don’t know about you, but I can just see this monster in contortions. It’s out of control and that’s scary to the rest of the world.
That analogy is so much more powerful than if the speaker had said something like, “China is getting very large but it’s finding it difficult to manage its growth.” Boring.
Have some fun filling in the blanks in these analogies:
President Obama is like a ______ pushing through health reform.
Comparing the Western world to the East is like comparing _______ to ________.
The cheerleaders are like ________when they try to energize people in the stands.
Unlike analogies, which compare two different things, metaphors say that something is something else. Most often metaphors personify or de-personalize. Using China again, “China stiff-armed us with trade barriers.” China becomes a person and we see the powerful image of someone pushing us away.
Or, something can be de-personalized, as in “He was a beast tackling the quarterback.” Here the human is transformed into the image of an animal. How much more interesting than, “the defensive lineman got to the quarterback.”
Using a metaphor more akin to business, “The CEO was a bear beating the competition at its own game.”
Try filling the blanks in these metaphors:
Vice President Biden is a ______________ when he speaks.
He was a __________ piling the logs in the driveway.
She was a __________on the way to becoming head of the company.
Do you have some interesting analogies and metaphors you can share?