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


Metaphor Minute: The Metaphor President

The METAPHOR MINUTE Newsletter by Anne Miller

JUNE 19, 2018

The Metaphor President

Love him or loathe him, President Trump definitely has a flair for metaphors that not only underscore a point, but also do so with maximum emotional effect on listeners. They zing and stick. No, this will not be a political article. However, for those whose success depends on selling, influencing, and persuading others, an examination of his choices offers two useful lessons.

1. Know Your Audience

Rob Kyff, writing for the Hartford Courant, wrote “Trump’s figurative language isn't sophisticated or original, but it's clever. And that's precisely what makes it so effective. The fact that his metaphors and similes are stark, common and even a bit stilted makes them more powerful because they're comparisons that average Americans can understand.” (Emphasis mine)

Like a massive pile driver, he relentlessly pounds his metaphors — and his message — home.

Trump is very good at knowing his audience and he selects his metaphors accordingly. During his campaign, when he talked about wanting to “drain the swamp,” the image was a simple one, easily understood, and it captured exactly how many Americans felt about government in Washington.

The lesson here for all communicators is essential:

  • Think of your audience.
  • What is familiar to them?
  • Use that familiarity to create the strongest metaphor possible

A classic example of someone who clearly thought about his audience before a high stakes interview was now Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. You may recall that when he was nominated, he was thought to be too conservative and too likely to push the Court to the right. When he was interviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, he stated his respect for the law and neutralized that political concern by saying, “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.

Roberts didn’t just casually pick baseball for his metaphor. He knew his audience was not only the Senate, but also the entire country. What better metaphor (analogy) to use than baseball, a game widely known and loved across the USA, to reassure people of his commitment to objectivity.

2. Be as Vivid as Possible


Rose Hendricks from the Frameworks Institute Washington, D.C., looks at themes in Trump’s metaphors in his tweets. One of his popular themes is war imagery. In this example on immigration, notice that it isn’t just saying Democratic policy is bad. It is far worse!

Democrats are holding our Military hostage (Emphasis mine) over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration. Can’t let that happen!
10:27 AM - Jan 20, 2018

Holding hostage” conjures up all sorts of terrible deprivation and injustice that suggest an intolerable situation that must be avoided at all costs, and, incidentally, makes the Democrats out to be the bad guys.


At the recent G7 meeting in Europe, Trump accused the rest of the world of treating the U.S. like ”a piggy bank to be robbed.

Notice he didn’t say like a “safe to be robbed” or “a bank to be robbed.” Those two images would suggest a crime for sure, but “safe” and “bank” are cold and impersonal images. A “piggy bank” is much more evocative. You can see someone (maybe children) saving their hard earned coins and then some (big, bad) thief coming along to smash the bank and steal them. “Piggy bank” carries an emotional charge absent in “safe” or “bank.”

One of the best examples in business I have seen of a vivid metaphor comes from a portfolio manager. He wanted to dramatically crystallize the return advantages an investor can expect using an asset allocation strategy vs. a straight stock selection strategy. He said, "The difference in the results of these two strategies when you retire will determine whether you eat caviar or catnip for the rest of your life." Which do you want?

Hold the catnip. Bring on the caviar, thank you.

Notice Metaphors

Metaphors (and analogies) shape thought, structure arguments, and create change. They are a free and valuable resource available to anyone who cares about communicating for a specific result.

In addition to noticing the President’s use of metaphors, as you read or listen to the news, notice how reporters, politicians, and commentators in all fields from sports and the arts to science, technology and business also use metaphors to anchor their points.

The more you notice, the easier it will become for you to do the same in your business.

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

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Metaphor Minute Archives

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 "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. © 2018. 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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