The Psychology of Metaphors in Presentations

Metaphors are a useful tool in presentations. They help simplify ideas, make concepts easier to understand, and add a creative touch to the content. Metaphors are defined as a statement that characterizes one thing in terms of another. This literary device has a deeper function when it comes to our minds. In this article, I will expand on the link between metaphors and psychology, and how metaphors impact presentations.

Metaphors of the Mind

Since the time of Plato, metaphors have been used to try and understand how the mind works. The British Psychological Society writes, “Throughout the history of psychology, metaphors have proved an invaluable way of gaining purchase on the unobservables of human cognition.” They reference how Plato used an aviary metaphor to describe the space between our ears. Many psychologists after Plato’s time continued this use of metaphors to deconstruct how the mind functions. Like in the novel The Gift, author Vladimir Nabokov describes the mind as a filing cabinet, a concrete objection capable of storing memories.

Metaphors can serve as an indicator of how we view the world. In Psychology Today, Susan Krauss Whitbourne writes that how we use metaphors can tell us if our worldview is optimistic or pessimistic. Using the famous like from Forest Gump, “life is like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re going to get.” Compare that to the 1930s expression, “life is just a bowl of cherries.” If you agree more with the Forest Gump line, your world view may be more pessimistic because we see life as a mystery and unpredictable. If you agree more with the “bowl of cherries,” you see life completely in view; like the cherries in the bowl, you know they will all taste the same and you know how many there are left. Your worldview is planned and predictable.

Metaphors also present opportunity. They can signify new beginnings. Whitbourne writes, “What should be exciting for you is the idea that the pathway metaphor gives you hope for changing the direction of your life if you are unhappy with it so far.  You can’t stop the clock from ticking the minutes between one birthday and the next, but you can alter the road that you’re on by changing yourself, your situation, or both.”

Metaphors help simplify complex ideas, express a creative outlook on life, and signal a change. This is how you can use that effect in your presentation.

The Effect of Metaphors in Presentations


The Title:

Using a metaphor as your presentation’s title is an effective and memorable way to start off. Our brains respond more to visuals, so by beginning with a strong visual, before you even start speaking, will already engage your audience. This visual language can set the tone and structure for your entire presentation. For example, let’s say you are giving a presentation on the growing commercial real estate industry. You can use a title like, “The Next Level” to represent upward movement. And you can represent a new level going upwards as you present each point. When the audience walks out of your presentation, they will have a visual that will leave a lasting impression.

The Explanation:

What if you have to present complex data and don’t want your audience to walk out more confused than they were coming in? Simply your content with a metaphor. Break down the complex ideas into something more simple that your audience can follow. You can do this by separating groups of data into teams or colors.

The Bookends:

Metaphors are a storytelling technique. Begin and end your presentation with one as a way to tie the bow (metaphorically speaking). Present your message with a compelling visual, move through your main points, and then at the end come back to your introductory image to drive your message home. Here one of our examples:

Now that you know all the power a simply metaphor can hold, try it out in your next presentation. Metaphors are a fun way to think about your content and construction your presentation.

More from the Ethos3 Blog:

A Quick Guide to Using Metaphors

The Power of a Visual Metaphor

How to Make an Emotional Connection in Your Presentation

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