Making the Unknown Known
Would you like a surefire way to clarify your message, shorten it, and make it stick? One of the best ways to do this is to relate the unknown to the known. In textbook language this is referred to as activating prior knowledge. Analogies help tremendously in this area.
Webster’s New World Dictionary’s definition of analogy is “similarity in some ways.”
Let me give you an example of an analogy I used that was extremely effective when I used to deliver this particular message 15 years ago.
Remember: Analogies help people relate what they might not know to what they do know.
A Powerful Analogy
In one of my stories, I start off by saying, “Nobody has ever died from a snakebite.” After the audience tries to figure out what the Dickens I am talking about, I say, “It is the venom circulating throughout your body afterwards that kills you.” With the audience still a bit confused, I go into a story of how one of my ex-girlfriends wronged me, and I compare this to “being bitten.” To carry the analogy further I compare the “anger and hatred” I felt towards her to the venom circulating inside of me.
Finally I state that the only way to get rid of that anger, hatred, and venom is forgiveness. Why? “Because just as a snake will bite you and crawl back in its hole, so will a friend hurt you and go right on with his or her life leaving you to be hurt over and over again.” I then go into selling the benefits of forgiveness.
Why is an analogy important?
Analogies are so important because of the following scenario that occurs occasionally with me. Someone approaches me and says, “Craig, I saw you speak 15 years ago and you talked about the snakebite. Something happened to me and I remembered what you said about nobody ever dying from a snakebite. Man, I realized I had to forgive the person and it really helped me get through that situation.”
Analogies help your audience for days, months, and years after your speech is finished
Whether it is one year ago or 15 years ago, people remember your message more clearly if you provide an analogy. Whether you have ever seen a live snake or not, everybody knows what a snakebite is. But not everybody knows that anger and hatred can work the same as venom and be just as destructive.
I used to tell my audiences, “If you are holding a grudge, that grudge is also holding you.” Next time someone in my audience is bitten, hopefully that person will vividly recall how to get the venom out (forgiveness) and return to a grudge-free life.
I’ve heard speakers (including myself) relate the following:
- Crabs in a barrel to negative people
- Being hungry for food to being hungry for their dreams.
- A malignant growth to slavery.
- Not setting goals to drifting aimlessly on a raft.
- Refusing to change to being stuck in the mud.
- A beautiful symphony to racial harmony.
- Opening holiday presents to using your gifts.
- Never going for their goals to living life on get-set
- A telephone call to your life’s calling.
- A train coming to your purpose in life.
- And many more
Here is a 3-Step Process for Developing your own Analogies:
- Take your main message and ask yourself, “What is this message similar to?”
- Make a list of all the ways the two things you are comparing are similar. For example, with a snakebite I might start my list with the following:
- The bite is similar to being hurt by someone
- The snake crawling back in its hole is similar to a person going away after they have hurt you
- The way the venom destroys your body is similar to how a grudge destroys your mind and life
- The freedom that comes from forgiveness is similar to the health you regain once the venom is out of you
- Once you make your list and draw out the analogy for several levels, then simply go back and pick the best one or two levels upon which you should focus. Don’t use all the levels because your audience will tire of it and say “Enough already.”
Another way to use the snake
(Personal note: In my early 20s, I had a Borneo Blood Python and a Columbian Boa constrictor so I thought of many analogies while staring at them. Actually, this leads to a solid point. If you look at something long enough, you’ll begin to see the similarities between it and something else).
Staying with the snake theme, I could use an analogy for change by comparing it to a snake shedding its skin. In that case I would make a list like the following:
- A snake that is not shedding completely is similar to a person who is holding on to some old habits and ways
- The temporary sight impairment a snake has during shedding is similar to the unknown zone we must go through during the change process
- A snake’s inability to shed leads to death, which is similar to an organization’s inability to change which leads to closing up shop.
One last point to keep in mind
Check to make sure the analogy you use is appropriate for your specific audience. For example, it may not be a good idea to use hunting analogies when speaking to an animal rights organization.