Analogy is one of the most powerful tools in communication.
An analogy is a comparison of two different things which shows how the two things are similar. Analogies are powerful because they encourage your listeners to consider your idea from a different perspective.
Let's take an example. In 2004 Reid Hoffman – co-founder of LinkedIn – needed $10 million so he started pitching his business idea to investors. The main message of his pitch was that LinkedIn's strength was based on its network of people. Today it seems obvious, but we're talking about 2004 when Facebook didn't even exist yet. The network was a new concept and Hoffman thought this could give rise to a new way of searching for and connecting with people online that could be very useful from a professional perspective and therefore very profitable for LinkedIn.
How did he explain this concept to investors? He showed a series of slides each with two logos: on the left the logo of a company that probably no longer exists and was already struggling in 2004 and on the right the logo of a successful company – such as Google, PayPal, eBay – all companies whose success was somehow based on their network. His message was this: if the network has allowed these companies to succeed, then LinkedIn will succeed as well. He used an analogy: he linked his idea of LinkedIn to companies that investors already knew. And it worked.
Even John Pollack – Bill Clinton's former speechwriter – says that in many debates the one with the best analogies wins, because analogies facilitate understanding. By comparing something your listeners don’t know yet with something they do, you make it easier for them to understand your ideas. And the more complex a subject is, the more effective analogies become.
Next time you give a presentation, if you need to explain a new or complex concept, ask yourself what analogy you can use. How can you connect your concept with something the audience is already familiar with? Explain how the two ideas are similar and you’ll dramatically increase the likelihood that your audience will understand what you are saying.
(The ideas in this article were partly taken from Carmine Gallo's book Five Stars).