The Power of Metaphors When You Speak
A big obstacle when you speak is overcoming the fears felt by your audience. They can be afraid of virtually anything – being taken advantage of, taking unnecessary risks, losing all of their money, etc.
The challenge for you in breaking through these emotions is that fears are often abstract. Until the audience has clarity about an issue when you speak, creating a trusting bond with them is difficult.
Overcoming Helplessness in an Economic Meltdown
For example, it was late 2008. The U.S. economy was in a downward spiral. Stock values were plummeting. People were emotionally paralyzed as they heard the daily accounts of ‘crashing markets,’ ‘collapsing real estate values,’ and ‘impending doom.’
As an investment advisor, I’d been taught methods to communicate with clients that weren’t going to work in those scary times. Clients were riding a train of fear that was heading toward terror, and I felt helpless.
Then, I read an article that described the power of metaphors. They can help people concretely understand abstract points. If there was ever a time when people needed that type of comprehension, this was it.
How One Metaphor Created Clarity
After talking with colleagues, we crafted the following story to help clients understand what was happening:
We started by asking, “What’s your favorite place on Earth to vacation?”
Typically the response was someplace like, “Hawaii.”
We then said, “Imagine you’re on a plane, flying to Hawaii. You’re 32,000 feet above the ocean. The sun is shining brightly through the passenger window. There are puffy white clouds below. How are you feeling?”
With a smile, the usual answer was “pretty good!”
“How are you feeling now?”
The responses varied:
“Sick to my stomach.”
“I need to change my underwear.”
After pausing to allow that feeling to settle in, we asked, “At that point, would it be a good strategy to unbuckle your seatbelt, jump out of your seat, and run to the nearest exit door, then open it, and jump out of the plane, hoping to catch another plane mid-air?”
Metaphors Can Reduce Anxiety
Most people would smile at this point, understanding the metaphor.
“No, that’s probably not the best way to handle it” was a typical answer to our ‘jump out of the plane’ scenario.
We would conclude by saying, “We understand that it’s scary right now. It might feel a lot like being on that plunging plane. Here’s something that we know for sure – this isn’t the first time our economic ‘plane’ has taken a plunge. It’s not always been this scary, but it’s happened before, and it’ll happen again.
“The most important point to keep in mind is that the plane has never crashed. If it ever does, stock values are the last thing you’d worry about.
“Tell you what. If you stay buckled in your seat, I’ll bring the drinks. We’ll get drunk together, but we will get through this.”
With that, the clients would smile. They would relax. The metaphor of the plane gave them a concrete understanding of the situation. They left the office feeling better.
The Emotional Connection Created By Metaphors
The interesting aspect of these conversations is that we weren’t changing the clients’ investment situation. We were helpless – just as they were – to control the circumstances of the economy or the stock market. What we did do is let them know we understood and felt their pain (apologies to any Bill Clinton haters out there). We didn’t do it by repeating worn out phrases like “We know how you feel” or “This is a tough time, and we’re here for you.”
By couching the situation in a metaphor, we communicated the scope of the problem and that we were sympathetic to their feelings, without sounding trite or cliched.
When you speak about an idea that is abstract or intangible — especially emotional subjects — avoid the trap of presenting data and statistics to make your point. When you make the abstract feel concrete, you create a bond that is difficult to break.
Sell More With Stories: Sail the 7 Cs to Sensational Storytelling
Salespeople all over the world are selling more products and services using storytelling. They’ve mastered the craft using 7 foundational tools. You can pick up these essential keys in the book: “Sail The 7 Seas to Sensational Storytelling.”
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– And Much More
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