Our children are switched on, but we are powerless

The way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor’ – Lakoff and Johnson

You know your writing needs to stand out. You want to inspire your audience to take action, change their beliefs, or to buy an idea – but how to stand out in the crowd or get their attention? Try using metaphors.

‘Our children are switched on, but we are powerless’. What a great metaphor. I admit I saw it in somebody else’s newspaper, but it just stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t buy the paper, but I did read the article (which was about how young people are so tuned in to technology).

What is a metaphor?

A  metaphor, is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something important in common. For instance, fishing – is an expression which is used to signify that the person is looking for something that is difficult to obtain.

The word metaphor itself is a metaphor, coming from a Greek word meaning to “transfer” or “carry across.” Metaphors “carry” meaning from one word, image, or idea to another.

“Metaphors allow you to make the complex simple and the controversial palatable. Conversely, metaphors allow you to create extraordinary meaning out of the seemingly mundane.” Brian Clark

How do they work?

Metaphors can make your writing more personal, more memorable, and more persuasive.

According to the left-brain, right-brain dominance theory, the right side of the brain is best at expressive and creative tasks.  The left-side of the brain is considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic, language and analytical thinking. Metaphors engage the right brain, just as stories do. They by-pass rationality and lower defences.  That’s why metaphors are more persuasive.

Metaphors work best when they’re simple, unexpected, and concrete. Also, try making your metaphors sensory, so readers can experience your words. When readers can see, feel, smell, taste, or hear something, they’re more likely to engage and remember. For example: Her eyes were jewels sparkling in the sun; and She was so boiling mad she spilled the beans.

In his 2010 book, Speechwriting – The Expert Guide, Simon Lancaster covers metaphor in really skilful detail, explaining how they are used to effect in the political arena. To demonstrate this, he forensically examines a 2008 speech from Obama which is (metaphor alert) awash with metaphors – “the road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep.” We should “put our hands on the arc of history and bend it once more towards the hope of a better day.”

Why do they work?

Metaphors work because they:

  • Help explain abstract or unfamiliar content. By linking abstract information to a concrete concept, it becomes easier for people to understand the information.
  • Create Familiarity – Whenever we can’t recognize something, our brain tries its best to make sense of whatever we’re looking at.
  • Trigger Emotions – Emotions not only make your design appealing to people, but also more effective, pleasurable and memorable.
  • Draw the Attention of Users – Things we recognize draw our attention, just like when we recognize familiar faces in a big crowd of unfamiliar people.
  • Motivate Users into Action – Another interesting aspect of metaphors is that they can influence people’s actions.

Being good at metaphor is by far the most important gift for any writer. It is a sign of natural genius” Aristotle

I’d be interested to see your best metaphor – one that you’ve heard or read – or one that you’ve created yourself. We all know that “all the world’s a stage” (Shakespeare), but how much of a genius are you?!

  •  Speech Writing, The Expert Guide – Simon Lancaster
  • The Magic of Metaphor – Nick Owen
  • Politics and The English Language – George Orwell
  • Metaphors We Live By – Lakoff and Johnson
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