Your presentation slide is a canvas and you are the artist. You can bring it to life with a few strokes of your brush. You could also liken it to a garden. You can either let it run wild with weed or prune it to perfection.
See what we did there? We painted pictures with words using the powerful literary tool — Metaphor. Cambridge Dictionary defines a metaphor as, “An expression, often found in literature, that describes a person or object by referring to something that is considered to have similar characteristics to that person or object. The mind is an ocean and the city is a jungle are both metaphors.”
Why use metaphors? They have the power to:
- Add visual, sensory touch to words. Metaphors sketch a picture in our heads. You can instantly imagine a canvas and a painter standing before it with a brush.
- Capture attention of the audience. When you say prices have risen substantially (bland) versus prices have skyrocketed (you have my attention). The analogy of a rocket shooting up towards the sky paints pictures and successfully captures the attention of the audience.
- Make the narrative engaging. Thanks to their visual quality and richness, they turn ordinary sentences and thoughts into stories and make listening, reading or viewing a presentation an engaging experience.
Metaphors have become so embedded in our business conversations that you do not even realize you are using them. For instance, the road to success, career path, and customer journey are so commonly used in day-to-day conversations that you never realized you were being a literary genius. Yes, absolutely!
You can hone this skill further and start applying the same to your presentation slides. Our PPT slides definitely need a fresh coat of paint. It is becoming stale and damp with the repetitive hammering of bullet points.
But before we start polishing our metaphor skills, let us start with the basics and look at the most commonly used metaphors in presentation slides. You are most probably already using these but hey, no harm in a refresher course :)
P.S. We will publish more advanced business metaphors in the next blog post. Stay tuned!
Most Used Metaphors in Business Presentations
Business Metaphor #1- Ladder to Success
Duh! It’s been used zillions of times. But why feel guilty about using the most simple-to-understand analogy! There is no better comparison of steps than a ladder. Put the same information as bland text and nobody will pay heed. When visualized via a ladder, the steps are easy to remember and follow. So, use it without second thoughts.
The ladder is not just for visualizing steps of success. Steps to achieve any goal or target can be showcased via this metaphor. For example, customer loyalty ladder or product benefits ladder are far easier to remember through this metaphor.
Business Metaphor #2- Window of Opportunity
Very commonly used in business meetings, window of opportunity refers to the fleeting moments when opportunities present themselves and must be seized before the “window closes”. Any presentation on competitive analysis, opportunity analysis, and market analysis requires the presenter to share the opportunities that the business must act upon for market superiority. You can visually showcase the same to reinforce your message.
Business Metaphor #3- Maze of Challenges
A maze is a popular metaphor to showcase challenges, complications and confusions. Reaching a business decision after weighing in hundreds of factors — legal, political, environmental, social, technological — is no less than trying to find a way out of a labyrinth. Exit strategy can also use this metaphor to show an entrepreneur’s strategic plan to exit his company and sell it to another investor or company. Apply this metaphor to any problem and solution slide.
Business Metaphor #4- Road to Success
Another very commonly used metaphor to show the path to success or victory. It also has inspired many famous business quotes such as “The road to success is always under construction” and “The road to success is through commitment.” The visual of a highway is also a feel-good factor for an audience feeling boxed in the four walls of the meeting room. Take the prettiest highway you can find on image websites and add the adventurous look and feel to your presentation.
Business Metaphor #5- Building Blocks of Strategy
The metaphor of building blocks breaks down any complicated process into simpler, easily digestible parts. A building is made block by block. So is any organization or a product. It begins with an idea, a business model, workforce, and operations among other things. Take that one block out and the entire building can fall. That’s why, building blocks, be it lego blocks or some other, is the best analogy to show teamwork and compartmentalization.
Business Metaphor #6- Star Performers / Rock Star
This is one of those metaphors that we have been hearing since school days but probably never realized that we were using a metaphor. It is also something that each employee wishes to be compared to. The shining stars of any company or team are looked up to. Use this metaphor zillion times and people will be happy to know more about these star performers. Likewise, a great performer is compared to a rock star who shakes the stage with his/her electrifying performance.
Business Metaphor #7- Time is Money
Time is money analogy is more than just about time management. With speed of service delivery becoming the most powerful competitive advantage in the market for a brand, time literally means more customers and more money. Every second wasted is money lost. Everything has to be fast — the load time of your web page, the delivery of a service, the resolution of a customer’s problem, etc.
Business Metaphor #8- Sowing Seeds
In all business presentations, a startup is compared to a seedling which is nourished with good funding, resources, and processes. The startup grows to become a full-fledged plant and then a tree with several branches. The firm standing of a company is also compared to strengthening roots inside the ground. This metaphor is apt as any business starts from nothing more than an idea — a seed that germinates with the right support at the right time.
Business Metaphor #9- Lighting Up the Bulb
Coming up with an idea all of a sudden is often compared to the lighting up of a bulb in the head. This metaphor has become so ingrained universally that every innovation is compared to a bulb. Even when innovation can be shown through other creative forms, presenters and audience prefer the good old fashioned bulb out of habit.
Business Metaphor #10- Business is a Journey
Life is a journey and so is business. Any business outcome can be represented as the destination and its journey can be traced. That’s why we have customer purchase journey, customer satisfaction journey, learning journey, startup journey, digital journey, and so on. A journey helps you identify the main touch points along the journey and document the person’s positive and negative experience at each stage. The end goal of every business is to improve customer experience and his journey with the brand. Make full use of this metaphor to create better experiences.
Besides these, one can employ several other diagrams such as gears, puzzles, pyramids, etc. to show business concepts metaphorically.
The ones we shared above were very common metaphors used in business communication and presentations. We will next share some advanced metaphors to help you take your metaphorical skills to the next level.
Share with us some other common metaphors in the comments below.