The Metaphor: Secret Weapon of Great Communicators

Being the professional spokespeople that we are, we are always quite sure that everything we say is perfectly clear to the listener, particularly in a well prepared sales presentation. After all, we are probably speaking English to English speaking people, so when we say black or white or high or low, they obviously mean the same thing to our listeners as it does us. Right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In fact, our real odds of a listener understanding precisely what we are trying say in the course of a sales call can be as low as 10%. Here’s why.

Psychologists tell us that there are at least six different personality types which can then be broken into multiple sub-categories. Each type processes information differently. Some are visual, some are auditory, some have a more literal bias and some are ethereal.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to clarify our message, as salespeople we often fall back on our own “industry jargon.” Thus, while terms like, “square feet,” “cap rate” or “whole life” may roll off our tongues, the listener may have no idea what they really mean but they are often too polite or intimidated to ask.

Great communicators are aware of this challenge and often deploy an age old technique that helps cut through the filters and establish common understanding . . . the metaphor. The metaphor usually starts out with the phrase, “It’s kind of like.” Let’s try one.

Let’s say you are a financial planner trying to explain the concept of diversity in developing a sound portfolio. After explaining the technical term (investments in several different categories to spread risk and, hopefully, avoid a complete loss), you could sum up by saying, “In other words diversity is kind of like riding an elevator with six cables. If any one of them breaks, the others will provide the necessary safety.”

Will Rogers, one of America’s greatest storytellers, made expert use of metaphors which made him universally popular with Americans across all demographics. This week, try to develop a couple of metaphors boiling down and translating the benefits of your goods and services. It is a great mental exercise and if you can develop some good ones, they can become powerful elements of your selling arsenal.

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