Metaphors are microphones – they amplify your message.
Presenters often employ metaphors, both in their slides and in their speeches. By likening a new thing or concept to something familiar, they facilitate comprehension and heighten impact. This mechanism is especially handy for introducing a theory, a concept, or other intangible.
Metaphors commonly used in slides include:
- An arrow hitting a target to indicate a goal or objective
- A chess game to represent strategy or tactics
- A chain or series of gears to represent a process
- A flag planted on a mountaintop to indicate success
- A number of clasped hands to signify teamwork
- A lock to convey the idea of security
- Thumbs up and down to represent pros and cons, or agreement and disagreement
- Magnifying glass to signify investigation, details or diligence
You probably recognize all those metaphors – they’ve been around for years. Not without good reason: They get the job done! But while there’s no reason not to use them, using new metaphors gives your audiences a refreshing break. Introducing something new makes your talk stand out, and increases memorability. It’s worth investing time – on your own or as a team brainstorming session – in dreaming up unique but easily-relatable metaphors for your presentations. Here are a few examples, all drawn from marine life:
1. Diversity – Coral reef ecosystem
Coral reefs only occupy about one percent of the ocean floor, but they’re home to 25% of all marine life, and vital to the survival of everything from microscopic plankton to the mighty blue whale. Coral reefs are considered the most diverse ecosystem on the planet, even more diverse than tropical rainforests.
2. Partnership – Relationship between a clownfish and its host sea anemone
Clownfish and sea anemones have developed a mutually beneficial relationship: The anemone protects the clownfish from predators with its toxic tentacles. In return, the fish provides “housekeeping” duties – helping to keep the anemone healthy by feeding on cast-off tentacles and the remains of the creatures it devours.
3. Teamwork – Shell-changing among hermit crabs
The hermit crab carries a discarded seashell as a “house” – a protective shelter against predators. As the crab grows, it must “upgrade” to larger and larger shells. Finding the right new shelter calls for teamwork with other house hunters. When a new vacant shell is washed ashore, crabs in the area gather together to inspect and measure it. When one crab moves into the newly arrived shell, the others come out of their homes and move into a bigger one. Watch the video below to learn about this fascinating “housing chain.”
4. Adaptability – Octopus camouflage
If you’re familiar with the octopus, (and especially if you’ve seen Disney’s animated film, Finding Dory) you know that they’re masters of disguise. They can shift their colors to blend with their surroundings, even if they themselves are colorblind. They can even change the texture of their skin to blend better with the rocks, corals or other materials in their surroundings.
5. Loyalty – Monogamous seahorses
Seahorses are faithful creatures, loyal to their breeding partners. Females are loyal to their male partners, who keep fertilized eggs in a special pouch until the baby seahorses emerge.
Do any other new or unusual metaphors come to mind? Are there any metaphors you’ve found to be particularly effective, as a presenter? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!