Surviving the storm business concept with a businessman hanging on to a tightrope crossing over dangerous water as a concept and metaphor for conquering adversity and overcoming challenges.

Use Metaphors to Bring Ideas to Life

Looking for a way to spice up your speeches and presentations and connect better with your audience? Metaphors can help you do just that.

Last week my husband, Michael, asked me for some public speaking help. He was preparing to speak at a human resource conference about building a leadership coaching culture in business.

“I need help with the story,” he said.

He handed me 4 pages of typed notes and I quickly scanned the first page. Just as quickly I got bored.

See, Michael is VP of Talent Development at a growing Massachusetts bank. I know that his work is of interest to other human resource professionals. The problem wasn’t his content. The problem was how the content was getting presented.

He started like this:

Hello. Welcome. Thank you so much for coming to our session today. We appreciate your interest.

Blah, blah, blah, snooze. I propped my hand on my head to stay upright.

Finding Gold

I kept scrolling through his notes and found the following on page 4.

As a sailor I am always thinking about the sea. I watch the conditions and track changes. When it’s nice out I long to be on the water.


But the water isn’t always a safe place to be. Especially when the wind kicks up and a storm rips through.


Tiny ships get tossed. Captains scream orders. Crew members hide or jump ship. No one knows what to do.

“This,” I said, “You have to start with this. It’s gold.”

What does sailing have to do with business?

Great question! In this case, sailing acts as a metaphor for business. Sometimes business is smooth, people do their job, everyone gets along, goals are achieved. Sometimes, though, business is rocky.

  • Leaders scream orders
  • Employees disengage or leave
  • Chaos ensues and no one knows what to do

Use Metaphors to Bring Concepts and Ideas to Life

Michael agreed to start with the sailing metaphor. So, he reworked the opening and practiced again in front of me. This time I could follow him. As he made the connection between sailing and business I could picture leaders screaming, employees disengaging, and the chaos that follows.

I kept up with his message and I felt more connected to him as a person.

The metaphor paid off. Michael’s presentation went well and audience members told him it was one of the best they’d seen at the conference. His co-presenter was happy. And later that day, folks approached him to talk about sailing.

Not only did Michael get his message across in a more compelling and clear way, he created a meaningful connection with the audience.

That’s what metaphors do. They create connection and engagement in a way that “Hello. Welcome. Thanks for coming.” does not.

Here is another example. One of my clients recently held a company staff meeting after getting acquired by a larger company. Because this acquisition caused some distress and uncertainty, they used the metaphor of Modern Family (think TV show), sharing that they are still a family, they simply have more bodies at the dinner table.

Bottom Line

If you’re tired of messages that lack pizzazz, metaphors are a great way to create connection and engagement. Keep them relevant to the audience and relatable to your message and the next time you speak you may find that people sit up straight on their own.

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About the blog

Humor, stories, and insights, delivered 2x per month, to perform without the pressure.

Topics include mental health, work, human connection, creativity and more.


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