3 Reasons to Use Metaphors in your Presentations

When I say the word “metaphor,” you might be transported back to English class. In case you need a quick refresher, literarydevices.net says, “A metaphor is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things.”

Ringing a bell? You might even be able to tell me the difference between a metaphor and a simile. A simile uses “like” or “as,” and a metaphor doesn’t—something all English teachers seemed to think was crucial to our becoming functioning adults. But being able to tell the difference between the two isn’t important for our purposes. We aren’t here to give you a quiz on literary devices. We are here to encourage you to use them in your presentations. Why?

Metaphors (and their subset category of similes) are some of the most powerful tools a speaker can use. And yet we often think of them as something that has to do with writing more than speaking. But any communicator can achieve better clarity, connection, and persuasion if she chooses to employ the help of metaphors. Here’s how.


One of the most important goals we have as presenters is to make our information clear. Metaphors can help us do that by giving us ways to explain abstract concepts and truths. I remember a specific time when a metaphor helped me. I was sitting in my counselor’s office in the months before my divorce, trying and failing to explain to her how I felt. Finally, I said, “it’s kind of like being trapped between trying to hang onto the quickly sinking boat I know so well and trying to make the decision to let go and let the waves carry me into the unknown.” That metaphor allowed me to be able to clearly express myself.

There will be times during your content development when you are grasping to find the right words. Pay attention to the things that you somehow internally know or feel that you are having trouble “getting out” or expressing to others. That’s a good clue that you need a metaphor. Start by asking, what is this situation like? Can I connect this to something similar that will make sense to my audience and help me to better express myself?


Another way that metaphors can help you deliver better content is by providing more opportunities for you to connect with your audience. Metaphors rely heavily on the ability to produce imagery. Whenever the audience has to recreate what you are seeing, it is highly connective.

I am reminded of this when I play a silly game with my family. We have “textured” ceilings in our home. Not popcorn, but not flat. They are filled with patterns that were created when the ceiling compound was applied with a brush. And we often see shapes and characters in the patterns and try to explain them to each other. We say things like “it’s kind of like Batman” or “the woman has, like, a big puffy coat on.” And we keep searching for just the right words to help the other person see what see—our vision, our perspective. And when they finally do, it’s magical. We are seeing the same thing. This is the connective power of a metaphor.

The same thing happens in presentations when you help the audience see things your way. A simple, “it’s kind of like…” statement can relate something abstract with something with which they are familiar. And in doing so, you create paths for connecting over a shared vision.


Once you’ve established clarity and connection with the use of a powerful metaphor, you are well on your way to persuading the audience. But there are cases when you and your audience see things very differently. Your audience might be strongly tied to their perspective and opinions. That makes persuasion difficult. It’s then that you need metaphors the most.

The Frameworks Institute says, “When we need to shift widely shared mindsets, the right metaphor can make the difference” because “metaphors can spark new associations and understandings, putting an issue in a new light and prompting people to rethink their opinions or assumptions.” Use metaphors in your presentations to help break the confines of old opinions with new insights.

Metaphors aren’t just for writers and poets and English classes. They are for everyone who wants to communicate clearly, connect to their audiences, and persuade their listeners. Which, I’m guessing, is you.

Ready to learn more about how to create compelling narratives and stunning visuals for your presentations? We can help.

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