Witchcraft? No, just a good metaphor

By January 25, 2011Presentation Skills

Do you ever have to speak about your specialised subject to lay people? We often find it difficult to find the right language to talk to the uninitiated.  The fundamental problem is putting yourself in the shoes of your audience, remembering what it was like not to know the things you now know.

Here’s a positive example from a think tank, institutions not always noted for their plain speaking. There’s a new report out on the subject of poverty in Britain by Kristian Niemietz at the Institute for Economic Affairs. Discussions of poverty usually get lost and then buried in Gini coefficients, life chances, arguments about relative versus absolute measures.

The author makes his definition clear and keeps it simple: “Poverty measurement without reference to what the least well-off can actually afford is like a Harry Potter story without any references to witchcraft.”

Whatever your line of business, ask “what’s it like?”. Even the driest subject is susceptible. A client recently described the sale of complex financial products as “like a shady car dealer, shifting thousands of BMWs without even looking under the bonnet” – not about their bank, I hasten to add.

“What’s it like?” is the key question for relating your world to someone else’s. Use a connection they have already made. The concept will be memorable to them. You can guide them into your unfamiliar content from a more familiar world.

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