In Analogies, anecdotes, Influence, Innovation, Persuasion, Public Speaking

“Attending a committee meeting and going to the toilet are in many ways similar. In both the places you go sit down, make a lot of noise and finally the matter is dropped.”

I haven’t yet used this analogy in a business presentation but whenever I mention this among my associates, a chorus of agreement rents the air.

Ray Anthony and Barbara Boyd define an analogy as a perceived likeness between two things. “The only real difference between a metaphor and analogy is the addition of the word “like” to “is.” Shakespeare used his famous metaphor, “All the world’s a stage.” If he’d used an analogy, it would have been, “All the world’s like a stage.”

Consider this line from TED speaker Bryan Stevenson- Developing products quickly is a lot like running a relay. It doesn’t matter how fast you go if the hand offs aren’t smooth”. I feel this conveys the message much more succinctly than an animated slide deck.

Here’s my attempt to bring out the difference, the subject being how I felt when I suffered huge losses in the stock market- “Last night I slept like a baby. Every half an hour I woke up and cried.” ( analogy)

When someone asks me, “are you a bull or a bear in the stock market?”, “I am an ass!” is my reply. (Metaphor)

Analogies create a vivid image which is easily relatable and thereby more persuasive. While talking about conflict resolution, I used this analogy of two wolves and received excellent feedback for the ‘stickiness’ of the message.

And in public speaking, analogies can greatly enhance your message. I remember Toastmaster Dr Uma explaining her role as a grammarian with, if words are like pearls in a necklace, grammar is like the chain that binds them.”

A critic commenting about the fast pace of delivery of a speaker- “he speaks so fast it is like you reading Playboy magazine with your wife flipping the pages.”

Public speaking instructor Peter Jeff highlights another use of analogies, to explain a new concept or process by connecting the familiar to the unfamiliar to a general audience. “ The dictionary defines analogy as a “similarity in some respects between things that are otherwise dissimilar.” To create an analogy, find an object that your audience is already familiar with. Then look for characteristics in that object that could be compared to traits or various aspects of your process.”

Giovanni Gavetti and Jan W. Rivkin in their insightful article in the Harvard Business Review cite the example of retail chains. “The supermarket, a retail format pioneered during the 1930s, has served as an analogical source many times over. Charlie Merrill relied heavily on his experience as a supermarket executive as he developed the financial supermarket of Merrill Lynch.

Likewise, Charles Lazarus was inspired by the supermarket when he founded Toys R Us in the 1950s. Thomas Stemberg, the founder of Staples and a former supermarket executive, reports in his autobiography that Staples began with an analogical question: “Could we be the Toys R Us of office supplies?”

In another interesting case, Dr G Venkataswamy of Aravind Eye Hospitals, Madurai drew the analogy of burgers rolling out in a McDonalds outlet and extended it to cataract surgery in his hospital by having 80% of the pre-work done by para medical staff with the surgeon spending not more than five minutes on each patient to perform the vital operation after which the patient is whisked away for post-operative care. Patients churning out in assembly line method and featuring in a case study by the Harvard Business School.

Steve Jobs and his concept of ‘desktop’ find frequent mention when we talk about analogies. Today, the Blockchain concept is demystified by likening it to a Google doc.

I was not surprised to read about analogies helping spark innovation apart from persuading your audience when I read this book SHORTCUT

In his book filled with contemporary anecdotes, the author deconstructs analogies thus

  1. Use the highly familiar to explain something less familiar.
  2. Highlight similarities and obscure differences.
  3. Identify useful abstractions.
  4. Tell a coherent story.
  5. Resonate emotionally.

On the flip side, analogies are not sacrosanct. Take the case of Ron Johnson, who pioneered the concept of Apple retail stores, making it the no 1 retailer in terms of sales per square foot. After his phenomenal success, he was hired by J C Penney to revitalise its operations and Ron Johnson tried to extend the Apple analogy but failed miserably because of so many variables in the new business.

When used appropriately analogies can work wonders to convey your message and I end with one of my favourite analogies cited in the British parliament and variously attributed to Lord Gladstone and the eternal favourite, Winston Churchill.

An MP giving his maiden speech in parliament rose from his seat and all he managed to say was, “I conceive…. I conceive….. I conceive…” and sat down.

Lord Gladstone got up and remarked, “the honourable member has conceived thrice but brought forth nothing…”

Do pitch in with your examples of analogies, metaphors and similies.

Recommended Posts
Showing 2 comments
  • Sivakumar

    Class as usual

    • Chendil Kumar

      Thank you, Siva

Leave a Comment