What do you do when asked to give a speech to 600 middle school students…in the school gymnasium?
The answer to this question is…. you say, “YES,” you thank them for the privilege, and then you prepare like you have never prepared before.
This was my third middle school career day keynote event, and I still remember the first one I delivered in 2009 to over 1000 students. I smile, recalling the comment I received from a National Speakers Association (NSA) member when I told her of that upcoming event. “Good luck with that!” she declared jovially.
Prior to that first middle school career day keynote, I worked hard to develop material that would resonate with the students. I spent weeks talking to my middle school son to find out what was on students’ minds, what their concerns were, what they were talking about at school, what career aspirations they were discussing. I then started thinking back to when I was 12 years old and what was happening in my life in small town Ireland. Once I jotted this information on a mind map sketch, I recalled a personal story of crashing my homemade box-cart that I could use as a metaphor in my keynote speech.
This article discusses the uses of metaphors in presentations. A metaphor is a comparison between two dissimilar things, and the comparison is implied rather than expressed. The purpose of the metaphor is to clarify your ideas, to illuminate your points, and to make them memorable.
Success strategies for using metaphors in presentations:
- Make sure the audience can relate to the metaphor
- The audience should immediately grasp that the metaphor relates to your points
- The metaphor should be apparent and help clarify the information
- The optimal metaphor is one that weaves its way through your presentation from start to finish, illuminated with visual details.
The metaphor I used related to when I was 12 years old sitting in my homemade go-cart on top of a steep hill. I was getting ready to embark on a journey which would have challenges. I wanted the students to relate the go-cart adventure to the journey from middle school to college and on to the workplace. I took them on a career journey embedded with stories that related the trials and tribulations I experienced along the way. The career journey included signposts that would give them direction and sharp bends where bad things can happen.
The following video on YouTube shows the correlation between the box-cart metaphor and my school/college/career successes and challenges: [youtube]https://youtu.be/9ndfvTLoMjo[/youtube]
The storyline included:
- Young Dave failing his subjects when he was 12 years old
- Making a decision not to follow my parents’ advice on career choice
- Making stink bombs and an electric shocking machine
- Changing my study habits so I could increase my grades & get a full scholarship
- Nearly getting thrown out of college for an irresponsible incident
- Becoming a successful engineer
- Making mistakes as an engineer
- Changing careers to follow my passion
How to make metaphors work for your presentations:
- List the core concepts you are presenting (e.g. managing an unpopular change, overcoming obstacles, highlighting a technology breakthrough, using a new workplace tool, learning from mistakes).
- Taking the first example – managing a specific unpopular change, we can now look at the list of metaphors linked below to see if anything strikes us as being relatable to the details of the presentation and is applicable to the audience.
If the audience was in the medical field, I could illuminate the content of my presentation by comparing the unpopular change to a foul tasting medicine:
- Some medicines leave a bad taste in the mouth but are proven to have long lasting beneficial effects (supporting the change with credible statistics)
- Change can be difficult to swallow (normal human resistance to change)
- Taking the medicine sip by sip (implementing the change in small steps)
- The change will improve ongoing health of the organization (identifying the financial benefit of the change).
Metaphor List – http://www.metaphorlist.net/
Metaphor examples – http://grammar.about.com/od/mo/g/metaphorterm.htm
Humaphors: The Top 10 Metaphors of Stephen Colbert – http://grammar.about.com/od/rhetoricstyle/a/ColbertMetaphors.htm