Using analogies to get your message across

If you find yourself having to explain something important but potentially boring, it can be tough to find the right language and keep people listening. It gets worse when the subject also happens to be abstract and complex. And the pinnacle is when you’re called upon to do it live, in front of many of the country’s most influential people. So it was interesting to hear the approach of a guest commentator on this morning’s Today programme (BBC Radio’s flagship current affairs show).

The guest was Jerome Booth, head of research at London-based Ashmore, an investment management advisory firm. Booth was invited on to the show to discuss the reactions of individual countries to the ongoing financial crisis.

Presenter Adam Shaw’s introduction to the interview began with the notion that countries were reacting in a similar way to individuals when presented with catastrophic personal loss (death of a close  relative, a job, income, freedom). He cited the Kübler-Ross model, commonly known as The Five Stages of Grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. He then invited Booth to comment and this is what he said:

“I’d like to offer an analogy and it’s a rather vivid one. We have dead bodies. The dead body in the UK is very messy, there’s blood all over the kitchen floor. We know it’s there and we are trying to clear it up. In the Euro zone, the German part of the kitchen floor is spotless but the dead body is in pieces elsewhere; it’s all around the edges.

“Our approach to dealing with it is to cover it with a sheet, which doesn’t solve anything in the long term and we keep having to replace the sheet with a bigger one. In the US, they’ve taken the dead body, propped it up in a chair, put a cup of coffee in its hand and are trying to have a conversation with it. The level of denial really does differ.”

Anyone invited to do media interviews on business subjects can use this as a consummate example of how to paint vivid word pictures to keep audiences engaged and entertained. Booth could easily have droned on about financial history (he’s an economist) and lost his audience in five seconds flat. Instead, as we see here, using analogies to get your message across provides an easily  understood and powerful way of explaining what’s going on. What examples can you think of that do the same?

2 comments

  • Penelope Young  

    I heard this interview as I was wandering around my flat and you’re right, I stopped and listened. At first I thought it sounded inappropriate, a bit crass, in view of all those who are losing their jobs or have lost savings, (potential suicides) but then, like you, I thought it was brilliant. I completely understood what he was saying.

    I can’t think of any other sparkling examples right now. The analogy of Tony Blair being George Bush’s poodle always made me smile. I could see him trotting behind bush like a little lap dog would.

  • Andy M Turner  

    Penelope, thanks for taking time to comment. I agree the Blair analogy creates a striking and amusing mental image. What you do looks interesting – you’ve found a great and I’d imagine under-supplied niche.

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