Clarity of message and clarity of metaphor

Many years ago, I worked for a company whose leader was a brilliant speaker.  In general, he also could create create thematically compelling presentations, but he tended to reuse his metaphors.  In his original presentation, the products of the company were represented by a triad metaphor.  Then the three principles of the company were represented by the triad.  And then… until he was reined in, any three things were represented by that one metaphor.

This is a problem.

Here is another problem, illustrated by the inimitable Fry and Laurie:

Stephen Fry’s character keeps trying to make his point with an ever-shifting array of metaphors.  Hugh Laurie’s character keeps trying to anchor it by saying, “Hello.  We’re talking about: _____.”  Fry’s lyrically tripping tongue speedily outstrips Laurie’s ability to keep the audience tuned in to the topic at hand – they are unmoored in a restless sea of images.

Neither of these approaches work to create effective business communications.  Metaphors need to be selected carefully, crafted carefully, and presented carefully.  When used correctly, a metaphor can be a great tool to connect with your audience.  When selected, crafted, or presented haphazardly, metaphors can only create confusion.  Or, in the case of Fry and Laurie, humor.

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