Anne Miller — Words Matter Make What You Say Pay!
Presentation & Sales Specialist
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Words Matter – Make What You Say Pay!


Metaphor Minute: Getting to Your Best Metaphor

The METAPHOR MINUTE Newsletter by Anne Miller

SEPTEMBER 13, 2017

Getting to Your Best Metaphor

In our daily conversations, we use metaphors automatically (she’s walking on thin ice, we’re in a bull market, his presentation hit a home run, etc.) But for an important situation, a little more thought is needed for the most impactful image. Usually, it is not the first image that comes to mind. You have to play a little bit to wind up with the best comparison. Here are two examples…

“There’s a Hole in the Bucket, Dear Liza, Dear Liza…”

Among the many talents of Jonathan Weiner, former CEO of Kason Corporation, is the ability to identify where companies are losing money and then be able to remediate that problem to ensure sustained growth. I asked him what metaphor he might use to describe his service in a concise, memorable way. His response illustrated the kind of thinking you are likely to go through as you nail down just the right image to describe your own work to prospects. The process went like this…

Jonathan thought for a moment and said he “fixes the holes in corporate buckets.” A bucket of water with small holes in it can be carried from point A to point B, but it will lose a lot of water by the time you get to point B. Similarly, a company with weak financial controls and/or business strategy is like a bucket with holes in it. The company can still be viable but its growth from one year to the next will be far less because of the financial leaks in its operations or strategy. Enter Jonathan to “fix” those holes.

That metaphor seemed pretty good, but when you think about it, is “fix” the best word? You “fix” a flat tire or a child’s toy. Do you really “fix” holes in a bucket? Or, do you really “plug” the holes in a bucket?

We agreed “plugs” the holes in corporate buckets to ensure maximum growth year to year was a more accurate image.

In this case, the right metaphor came to mind pretty quickly, but it needed a little wordsmithing to get it just right.

Bears, Bats, or B…?

In this case, we had to hunt for the right metaphor first. Years ago, a trader was practicing a speech she was giving to a group of investors about a new mutual fund investment. The fund had a very long name (which I forget) and was something like “The Long Term Accumulated Assets Equity Investment Fund.” You had to invest in the fund for fifteen years, at the end of which period, you would have an accumulated asset that you could then withdraw. Every time she referred to the Fund, she had to repeat “The Long Term Accumulated Assets Equity Investment Fund.” It was an awkward mouthful to keep repeating.

I recommended we find a metaphor for the Fund that was shorter but still descriptive of what the fund did.

We needed a metaphor that conveyed the passage of time to produce something positive. First, we thought of bears. They hibernate for a period of time and then emerge with babies. “Your money hibernates and then you get a lot of babies (returns).” We liked the “hibernate” part, but the “babies” part of that metaphor was not quite right for investments or for that audience.

Then, we thought of using a sports metaphor, starting with baseball. Baseball teams practice all spring and then produce a winning season. But, that didn’t hold up under scrutiny either. The money in the Fund isn’t “practicing” and there is no guarantee in baseball a team will have a winning season. Try again.

Finally, we hit on the right image. Can you guess?

Butterflies! We nicknamed the Fund the “Butterfly Fund.” Just as a butterfly grows in its cocoon for a period of time before it emerges in all its glory, so, too, your money “cocoons” for fifteen years. Then you get your “butterfly,” the attractive appreciated asset.

Not only was the “Butterfly Fund” easier to say, my client also used the butterfly in her visuals, making it virtually impossible to forget what this investment vehicle did. With hundreds and hundreds of similar sounding mutual fund options available to these investors, she managed to distinguish her Fund with a simple metaphor.

Trial & Error

When you need a metaphor for a critical situation, don’t rush.

  1. Play with different comparisons from different worlds
  2. Then, wordsmith your final choice so that you get the most memorable, resonant, and successful metaphor possible. (You will get more ideas more quickly when you brainstorm with another person.)

Getting to the best metaphor is a little bit like picking paint colors. The first choice is not usually your best pick. You need to look at a few options and then compare them to find just the right shade that will work for your project.

Anne Miller
Make What You Say Pay! — with Metaphors.

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"The best arguments
dazzle with metaphor"

Gerry Spence,
Media Commentator & Lawyer

The Original “Metaphorically Selling” that spawned a movement, now with 25 New Stories.  Available in print, ebook & (new) audiobook formats.
Click here

7 Signs You Need A Metaphor (Visual Language)

  1. Your listener is not paying attention
  2. Your listener is stuck on an objection
  3. Your listener is confused
  4. Your listener sees no difference between you and your competition
  5. You want to drive home a point vividly and memorably
  6. You have to wiggle out of a difficult situation
  7. You want to wow or motivate a larger audience

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Metaphor Minute Archives

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"Anne and I recently worked together on a speech I gave at a large conference. She helped me turn a series of somewhat interesting points into an expertly crafted, compelling and actionable story. Together, we built a storyline with attention-grabbing headlines. We worked and re-worked the language, making sure every word was important. Finally, Anne coached me on the delivery. The result was so exciting - I've never been so well received in a speech before. Thank you, Anne!" Kate Griffin, Vice President,

 "The Metaphor Minute" is a brief monthly note with examples from business, media, or politics that illustrate the power of metaphors and analogies to make a point, solve a problem, and get results. Use these stories to stimulate high pay-off metaphoric thinking in your business. © 2017. Anne Miller. -- PERMISSION TO REPRINT -- Feel free to reprint in company newsletters or articles. Just include ©2017, Anne Miller, author, "Metaphorically Selling,"
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