Does Your Story Make Your Listener’s Brain Work Too Hard?

In his bestselling book, ‘Building a StoryBrand,’ Donald Miller points out the human brain has two main functions:

  1. Survival
  2. Conserve calories

Too many speakers make their audiences work too hard to understand their main point. This is why you should use metaphors in your presentations.

In their simplest form, metaphors compare two concepts that at first seem unrelated. These are powerful for speakers because they make complicated ideas simple.

“Life is like a box of chocolates”

“She has the heart of a lion.”

“He is the apple of my eye”


There are three benefits to you and your audience when you use metaphors:

Metaphor Benefit #1It Creates a Clear Picture

The phrase, “Life is like a box of chocolates” perfectly sums up the complexity of life.

Some parts of it taste bad and you want to avoid those.

Some are good. You can take them or leave them.

Some are so delicious you want as much as possible.

Doesn’t that effectively sum up our lives?

In a recent blog post, I wrote about my mother teaching me a lesson when I was two about the dangers of a hot iron. The lesson I learned served me well at the time but outlived its usefulness when I was an adult.

I’ve turned that into a short speech about the long-term impact of lessons we learn in childhood. I challenged the audience to ask if those lessons are still valid in their lives.

I ask them if there are hot irons in their lives that need to be unplugged and put away because they’re no longer relevant.

What metaphor can you create to make a complex idea easy to picture in their minds?

Metaphor Benefit #2 It Saves Time

Metaphors not only conserve calories, they also shorten the time you need to explain a concept.

In my Iron story, once I’ve explained the importance of the iron in teaching me a safety lesson, the audience gets the point and the image is burned into their brains (pun intended).

When I refer to other “irons” in my life, they immediately understand those were experiences that carried potential physical, mental, or emotional harm.

When you create your metaphor, make sure it will carry relevance throughout your talk.

Metaphor Benefit #3 They’re Easy to Remember

Many speakers share complex ideas that can quickly tax the brains of their listeners.

When I was a financial advisor, this was a big problem. It’s difficult to understand the complexities of insurance, investments, and tax laws.

This is especially true during emotionally charged times. In 2008, real estate and stock markets were dropping 20%, 30%, 40%, or more in a short time. Investors were panicked and called us, wanting to make changes in their portfolios.

The traditional conversation of, “This is just a normal part of the process and we’ll get through it” wasn’t going to work. My team and I created a metaphor to help clients understand why they shouldn’t make panic moves.

We started our conversations by asking, “What’s your favorite vacation destination?”

They would typically answer something like, “Hawaii.”

We would then say, “Imagine you’re on an airplane flying to Hawaii. You’re 35,000 feet in the air, smoothly sailing above the clouds. How are you feeling?”

They’d usually say, “Great!”

Then we’d follow with, “All of a sudden, the plane plunges at a 45° angle, drops 10,000 feet in about two minutes. How are you feeling now?”


We’d say, “Us, too. Now, at this point, would it be a good strategy to unbuckle your seatbelt, run to the exit, throw the door open and leap out, hoping to land on another plane?”

Almost always, you could see their bodies visibly relax. They would smile, and say, “Of course not.”

We’d then follow with, “We understand how scary it is right now in the markets. We’ve got our own money in there and we’re concerned.

“But, we also know in the history of our country, the plane has never crashed. It’s going to level out at some point and start to head back up, because it always has.

“Stay buckled in your seat, we’ll bring the drinks. We will get through this.”

And our clients would tell us, “That makes a lot of sense. Thank you. That makes us feel better.”

In less than 90 seconds, we cut through all of the intellectual information and went straight for the emotions. Most advisors would take hours to talk about history and trends and then show graphs and charts. None of these helped calm emotions of terrified investors.

And it worked. Not one client left us or made panic moves with their money. And they were rewarded in the ten subsequent years for being patient.

Simplify Complex Ideas in a Noisy World

Our lives, and subsequently your topic, are getting more complex each year. Don’t make your listeners work too hard to understand what you’re talking about. If you do, their brains will shut down, because you’re asking them to burn too many calories.

Use metaphors and you’ll create an experience that’s as memorable as a boat sailing through the ocean.

See what I did there, I…

Well, you get it.

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3 Benefits Metaphors Bring to Your Speech ultima modifica: 2022-01-18T10:58:50-05:00 da Michael Davis